Even following Sandy Hook, gun violence continues.
Sunday night, two police officers were shot in the head and killed in Kansas while responding to a report of a suspicious vehicle – the 43rd and 44th policeman to be killed this year. In 2012, guns have been the leading cause of police casualties. Authorities were involved in another violent incident Sunday night involving guns at a showing of The Hobbit in San Antonio, Texas, where a gunman rushed into a restaurant and then movie theater, shooting a man in the back before being shot by an off-duty police officer.
Clearly there is a problem here. However, in the wake of these tragic shootings, it is important to keep in mind that we cannot accept the explanations of some pro-gun advocates that the problem was that not enough people are carrying guns, thus no one was able to prevent the shootings. Some have even suggested we arm school teachers and staff.
This delusion is widespread within our public representatives, as well. Some, like Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson (R), are so committed to the idea of expanding gun ownership in the name of safety that they are now calling for public school teachers to carry firearms. (Richardson took this reaction one step further, claiming that he personally could have stopped the attack.) To quote:
“If I had been a teacher or the principal at the Sandy Hook Elementary School and if the school district did not preclude me from having access to a firearm, either by concealed carry or locked in my desk, most of the murdered children would still be alive, and the gunman would still be dead, and not by suicide.”
He’s not the only one. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) was also in hot water recently for claiming that “I wish to God” the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dawn Hochsprung, had been carrying an M4 assault rifle:
“Chris, I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office locked up. So, when she heard gunfire she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”
Evidence shows that Gohmert is taking this debate in exactly the wrong direction.
Will Oremus of Slate discusses how Australians handled a similar situation. In 1996, there was a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania. A deeply unstable man killed 35 people and wounded 23 more. In response, Australians did something that seems impossible to imagine in the U.S.: newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard announced a sweeping bipartisan deal to enact major gun-control measures. The government bought back 600,000, or one-fifth, of all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. It prohibited private sales, required individual registration, and required that those seeking to buy a gun provide a “genuine reason” for purchasing guns. Self-defense was not accepted as a reason.
The result? Gun homicides dropped 59% between 1995 and 2006. There has not been another mass shooting in Australia since then.
Japan bans almost every form of firearm, and sometimes there are as few as 2 shooting deaths a year. While those restrictions are extreme – and no one is debating they should be brought here – again, we see the incontrovertible truth that enacting gun control is correlated with a drop in the usage of guns in citizen-on-citizen violence.
Howard, for one, visited the United States after the Aurora shootings, and walked away with this impression:
“So deeply embedded is the gun culture of the U.S., that millions of law-abiding, Americans truly believe that it is safer to own a gun, based on the chilling logic that because there are so many guns in circulation, one's own weapon is needed for self-protection.”
It is an argument based on fear-mongering and a refusal to accept reality. Arming more Americans is not going to reduce the number of bullets being fired. At best, pro-gun advocates are suggesting we live in an age where public shootouts between responsible citizens and gun-wielding maniacs is the new norm, and we might as well just accept it. They want you to believe that children are safer when everyone locks a rifle in their office and itchy trigger-fingers are the only thing between them and death.
There is no acknowledgement that even as the number of guns has risen dramatically, 68% of all homicides in 2011 were committed with guns. That number is approximately the same as in 2005 (67.9%) and slightly higher than 2000 (65.4%). If gun ownership reduces the number of gun homicides, then why is a slightly higher percentage of murders being committed with guns than in 2000? (The previous spike in gun violence in the early 1990s corresponded with both higher rates of gun ownership and, as evidenced by the spike of gun deaths in those aged 14-24, is likely correlated with the 1980s-1990s crack cocaine crisis).
Pro-gun advocates say that their trusty guns make them safer. This is statistically very wrong. The risk of suicide using a gun is 17 times greater for persons who live in a home with a gun, and people who keep a gun in their home are almost 2 times more likely to be murdered with a firearm.
Guns kill children. Gun and shooting accidents are “one of the top ten leading causes of accidental deaths for all age groups outside of newborns and infants.”
It is more than time enough to step back, take a deep breath, and reconsider whether guns are making us safer, and what impact the proliferation of guns has had on the country.
And the last place we need to be packing with more guns are our public schools.