Unhappy New Year
A Promised Land, by Stephen Golub, January 25, 2023
California has kicked off 2023 with a bang: two mass shootings in 72 hours. (Mass shootings constitute events in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the murderer.) This has probably been the country’s most massacre-intensive January ever – and certainly since the Gun Violence Archive started tracking this data in 2014. Only a small fraction of these nearly twice-daily horrors (647 in 2022) gets much media coverage. Still, this seems like a nightmarish Groundhog Day.
Over the course of nearly nine years, the satirical, fake news outlet the Onion has regularly summarized such slaughters 30 times with the same headline, “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”
I won’t regurgitate most of the grisly statistics you’ve heard before. But it’s worth noting a few:
- We’re the only country where the number of guns (390 million) exceeds the population: 1.2 guns per citizen. The next highest is war-torn Yemen, at less than half the rate.
- Gun deaths over the past three years have averaged 44,000 – with suicide slightly over half of that number, and murder the bulk of the rest.
- Though most of us are aware that gun deaths in the United States vastly exceed the rates in other wealthy nations, the comparison works domestically as well: By and large, the states with the strongest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths.
Here’s one more statistical nugget: America is the only wealthy country in which gun violence is the top cause of death for children and teens.
The comparative data leaves other rich nations buried (so to speak) in the dust. Firearms killed 4,357 young people here in 2020. The next highest nations, based on a recent research review of selected similar societies: Canada and France, with 48 each. Correcting for Canada’s far smaller population, its gun mortality rate for folks aged one to 19 is still less than 10 percent of ours.
Even that shameful ratio under-represents how bad our relative situation is. Canada and France themselves have much higher rates than other wealthy nations. The next highest number on the list is that of Germany, where only 14 young people died due to guns in 2020. Given that its population is one-quarter of ours, that figure would extrapolate to just 56 if we were the same size.
Now, this is not to say that most gun-owners are fanatics about their weapons. Many are responsible, or support at least some gun safety measures, or legitimately use firearms for protection or hunting.
Still, why are so many Americans (though by no means the majority ) so dedicated to deadly weapons, including assault rifles?
Pick your poison. The National Rifle Association. Our distorted democracy. The self-perpetuating cycle of easy access and ease of use making for a way of life. The legacy of racial animus. The fear of guns being taken away, which drives the purchase of yet more. The related conviction that more guns equal more protection from more guns. Gun collection as a hobby. Americans loving (ahem) Freedom, as long as it’s that of a gun owner and not a gun victim. The reliance on a Second Amendment adopted at a time of muskets and citizen militias. Or maybe all of the above.
There’s yet another view of what drives our gun culture and gun deaths, courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Terminator 2. Though the context for this clip was the threat of nuclear holocaust, it works equally well for a different kind of self-destruction:
Another answer is even simpler and better than the one Ahnold offers. It’s asserted by the Australian comic Jim Jefferies, in mimicing a hypothetical American gun devotee:
“I like guns!”
Here are the two parts of Jeffries’ brilliant commentary on Americans’ penchant for firearms – though be forewarned, he’s very profane, is politically incorrect, and employs a word that’s apparently much more commonly accepted in Australia than here:
A Shot at Success?
Is there any light at the end of the gun barrel? There are glimmers of hope.
In 2022, the United States adopted the first national gun control law in decades, with even a bit of Republican buy-in. It looks like legislators voting for the bill suffered few if any negative electoral consequences. Though an increasing number of states have adopted “open carry” laws – which allow gun owners to carry firearms in public without the need for permits – last year also saw a range of state-level victories for gun safety.
As I’ve noted, loads of evidence indicates that countries and states with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths; maybe someday such data will mean something for our nation’s public policy.
In fact, we’ve seen instances of public opinion or legislation shifting on other issues more than previously thought possible. The examples range from acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage to last year’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which for all of its flaws was an unprecedented environmental step forward.
Still, manyof us have remained politically unmoved by the Sandy Hook and Uvalde school massacres, by a lone Las Vegas gunman murdering 60 concert-goers and injuring over 400 others, and by so many other atrocities that we lose count.
Now, the sure way to lose the fight is to lose hope. But for now, Americans face the reality of constantly shooting ourselves in the foot, the head, and everywhere in-between.
Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.
To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.