Tuesday in Portland, a crazy man woke up, donned his paramilitary gear, picked up a semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle, and then drove calmly to the mall before opening fire on random strangers, killing two and severely injuring a third before killing himself.
This after last week’s Jovan Belcher shooting in which the Kansas City Chief's linebacker shot his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins before driving to the teams’ training facility and shooting himself in front of coaching staff.
As MotherJones observes, 2012 has been rife with horrific gun violence, including mass shootings at a premiere of Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado that killed 12 and wounded 58 on July 20th, a neo-Nazi attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that killed 7 on August 5th, and a September 29th massacre at a signage company in Minneapolis that killed 5.
Add in the Trayvon Martin shooting and Michael David Dunn’s execution of a black youth, Jordan Russell Davis, over loud rap music last month, and you begin to see a clear pattern of countless situations in America worsening because of the ubiquitousness of guns.
The list goes on and on and on. There are currently 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the United States. Americans pack more heat than Iraqis. 68% of American gun owners have at least one handgun while the percentage of Americans who own guns is decreasing (41% in 1994 to 36% in 2011). The jump in firearm possession is due to a rise in the average number of guns per gun owner, which rose from 4.1 in 1994 to an astonishing 6.9 in 2004.
In other words, a shrinking group of Americans is stockpiling more and more weapons.
In the wake of each of these prominent shootings, pro-gun commentators have been tripping over themselves to be the fastest to proclaim that a discussion on gun control is “inappropriate” so soon thereafter. But if major, ugly incidents involving gun violence are not appropriate times to discuss America’s gun problem then when is?
Conservatives like to talk a lot about how guns are not really all that dangerous. Fellow PolicyMic'er Emory Babb, for example, claims that “the Portland shooting actually shows very little by way of the numbers,” and that handguns kill 1 per 100,000 people in the Portland area while car accidents account for 6.8. True. But while cars have a variety of uses, non-hunting firearms really only have one purpose: to injure, maim, or kill. Babb’s statistic is also cherry-picked, because Portland is a peaceful city. According to Mark Rosenberg, president and CEO of the Task Force for Global Health, in 2009 there were 34,500 motor vehicle deaths and 31,400 firearm deaths. “So there may actually be, this year to come, more firearm deaths than motor vehicle deaths,” he said. Every single one of these deaths is preventable.
That’s why many doctors want to discuss guns with their patients: because they know gun ownership is a major preventable health risk.
Scientific American even expresses worry that there is not enough research on the impact of concealed carry laws on assaults and homicides, despite the rapid growth of such laws.
Here’s a great article/response by Jon Davis, a former Marine Corps weapons instructor, who explains why owning a gun for self-defense, particularly in public, is a bad idea. The gun lobby wants you to think that guns make you safer, but Davis explains:
A gun will be used in an infinitely small percentage of the time that you own it. At any point when you are not using it in self-defense, something can go wrong. Weapons are more difficult to properly use and maintain without special training than realized by most people. Guns are harder to aim than people think and firing one accurately in a crisis situation is even more difficult. Emergencies are unpredictable. “You can’t say you will be prepared and safe because you have a gun. You never know what you might be facing. You will be able to hedge your defenses much better if you instead invest in a very good security system.” Guns are dangerous. “There is no safety that can’t be overcome, by a six year old....In another horrifying scenario, what if you are disarmed…? Now your weapon is his weapon…” Even in a best case scenario, you might have to kill someone. 65% of offenders are known to their victims; consider the possibility that the target will be a loved one, friend, or neighbor.
I’ll add one more: every gun owner that insists that if they had been at that latest mass shooting, with their trusty gun, that lives would have been saved are assuming flawless execution. Who knows what happens when you start a crossfire in a crowded public space? That’s why police prioritize evacuating as many people as possible from the area before engaging the shooter.
Despite this, 67% of American gun owners say they use their firearms for protection against crime.
The Constitution says you have the right to bear arms. It doesn’t say you have the unqualified right to bear any gun you want, wherever you want, or when you want. The context in which the document was written has little to do with the guns of today. The Founding Fathers did not intend for people to hold more weaponry than a Marine fire team. They did not intend for so many guns to be floating around that 2,869 minors would die from firearm incidents in 2007 – roughly 17.29% of all non-natural deaths.
I’ll be the first to admit that responsible gun owners aren’t the problem. The problem is that the statistics prove that there are enough irresponsible gun owners to make firearm injuries and deaths a major public health and safety problem.
That’s why the debate needs to shift away from protecting gun ownership at any cost to taking reasonable measures to reduce the amount of firearms in America and making sure people that do own guns are using them responsibly and safely. It also means taking measures to stall the explosion in the number of firearms in circulation.