In the wake of the highly publicized gun deaths brought about by a Kansas City Chiefs football player who killed the mother of his child and then committed suicide, I’ve been thinking seriously about the issue of gun violence in America.
I’ll be honest: I don’t know what the right answer is on this issue. I am not a gun owner myself, but many of my male relatives are avid hunters and own plenty of guns. None of them have ever used any of their guns improperly, and I have no doubt that the same is true of the vast majority of gun owners.
That said, the statistics clearly demonstrate that this country has a serious problem with gun violence and gun-related deaths as compared to almost every other country on earth, and certainly as compared to other modern, advanced democracies. There are only a handful of countries that average more gun deaths, per 100,000 inhabitants, than the United States, and most of these are countries that have severe drug violence (such as Mexico and Colombia) or persistent civil unrest.
I’ve done some research online, and in recent years, U.S. gun homicides and accidental gun deaths average more than 4 out of every 100,000 Americans in a year’s time. This is compared to less than one-tenth of a person per 100,000 in England; slightly more than two-tenths of a person per 100,000 in Scotland; slightly more than half a person per 100,000 in Australia and about half that rate in nearby New Zealand; about 1 person per 100,000 in Canada; and just slightly more than that in Ireland.
I’ve often heard it said that “Guns don’t kill people; people do,” and that you can’t blame guns for the actions of bad people or those who are mentally ill. However, on a per-capita basis, we have anywhere from four to 40 times more gun deaths per year than other socially and educationally advanced countries that are very similar to us historically and culturally. Does that mean we have four to 40 times as many bad people or crazy people as our contemporaries? I don’t think so.
While banning guns is not the answer (and clearly unconstitutional), other post-industrial democracies are having much more success avoiding gun deaths than we are. We need to be having some discussions as a country as to why this is and what we can do. Can we make it harder for the wrong people (those with criminal backgrounds or a history of mental illness) to get guns? Can we at least regulate guns that have an exclusively military purpose? Let’s face it, folks, you don’t need an Uzi to shoot Bambi—unless you’ve got a taste for some Bambi McNuggets. And a shooter who needs to reload occasionally will be able to shoot a lot fewer people before he is stopped than he could shoot with an automatic weapon.
Unfortunately, because of the National Rifle Association (NRA), and its skillful lobbying and public relations efforts, we as a country are now afraid to even broach the subject of gun violence. Our politicians, both on the right and on much of the left, have been so cowed by the NRA (and its vast reserves of campaign cash) that even suggesting we might have a gun problem in this country has become politically problematic. As a result, we have closed our collective eyes to the fact that, statistically speaking, we clearly do have a problem. So the problem persists, and every time we have a highly publicized gun tragedy, we move on without even talking about how we can avoid similar tragedies in the future. This is shameful, cowardly—and bordering on criminal neglect.
America isn’t the only place where there are gun massacres. There have recently been mass shootings in Germany and Norway, for example, but those were notable because they happen so rarely. Here, we’ve gotten to a point where we barely even notice whenever we have a new Virginia Tech or Northern Illinois or Columbine or Tucson.
We’ve got a problem. I’m not entirely sure how we should deal with it, but we at least need to start by admitting a problem exists. We can’t just continue to bury our heads in the sand and hope that if we ignore it, it will go away. America has a problem with gun violence. What are we going to do about it?