Voters are ready for Tuesday night’s special election for the seat of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head in an assassination attempt in January 2011. She stepped down earlier this year to commit herself to recovery.
While sympathy for victims of the Tuscon, Ariz.,shooting should not decide the vote on Tuesday night, the public seems to have forgotten or ignored why Giffords’ seat is vacant in the first place — a gun in the arms of a disturbed citizen. The special election should remind us that guns lead to more violence and for practical reasons should not be so widely circulated. So we should regulate access to guns and address the socioeconomic gap in gun-violent neighborhoods through a national policy.
Guns don’t always cause violence, but they tend to make environments more unsafe. Having a firearm at home increases the risk of a violent death, whether homicide or suicide. Indeed, we kill more people by firearms than any other developed nation. In 2010, firearms caused 8,775 of 12,996 murders in the U.S. but well under 100 out of 600 murders in the United Kingdom. The correlation between greater gun access and greater incidents of violence is hard to write off.
There’s also no practical reason for guns anymore. The Founding Fathers wanted a citizen army because they had been oppressed by a professional army, but today things have changed. We no longer need personal firearms to protect ourselves (unless you’re going rogue in a totalitarian police state, which is hard to overthrow even with a gun), and in normal day-to-day life they cause more death than safety. Moreover, the Second Amendment doesn’t protect “the right to bear arms” unconditionally — it guarantees the right for a “well-regulated militia,” emphasis on well-regulated and militia. Neither of these terms mean unrestricted private sales. Finally, health care costs for gun violence are estimated to be $100 billion annually, paid by taxpayers.
Giffords’ case is not even the norm. Despite the media’s focus on suburban white middle-class victims, most gun violence affects minority kids of color. In New York City in 2008, 61% of homicide victims were African American and 27% were Latino in impoverished neighborhoods; firearms were involved in 70% of these deaths. Inner-city communities need not only regulation, but also socioeconomic support.
The president and Congress must both regulate and address socioeconomic factors in gun violence. To improve regulation, background checks should happen at gun shows and other “private sale” locations. Gun dealers and law enforcement need better access to criminal and mental health records, and authorities in general need to keep gun purchase records. Finally, gun makers need incentives to create child-proof or personalized guns that shoot only when the owner intends it to fire. To address the complex issues of poverty, they need to embrace job creation and training, mentorship, and social services in these dangerous neighborhoods.
It’s unfortunate that the fierce gun lobby makes navigating the politics much more difficult and that Obama is unlikely to take a stand on such a politically divisive issue, as otherwise simple regulatory steps would reduce the violence in inner-city neighborhoods and beyond.
As Giffords reminds us, our nation seriously needs to address our addiction to guns. We need to let go of them. Guns are designed to kill, and only to kill. Guns may give us a sense of security, but actually burden us with more violence, higher taxes, and more partisanship.