Gun Violence: A National Epidemic

The killing of seven and the wounding of ten students and faculty at Umpqua Community College is one more jarring reminder that gun violence in America is epidemic.

  • The Oregon college shooting is the 994th mass gun attack in the US in three years. The Umpqua killings was the 45th school shooting this year in the U.S. and the 142nd school shooting since the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago.

  • Guns remain the second leading cause of death in children and teens in the U.S. On average, 3,439 children and teens were killed by guns every year from 1963 to 2012. A child or teen dies from a gun every 3 hours and 18 minutes. Further, 171,933 children and teens died from guns on American soil between 1963 and 2012 while 52,816 were killed in military action overseas in the same period.

  • The United States is third on the list of gun homicides among developed nations. In the U.S., there are 10,000 gun deaths annually compared with 50 in Japan, 150 in the countries of Germany, Italy and France, and 200 in Canada.

  • The U.S. accounts for less than 5 percent of the global population, but owns an estimated 34 to 50 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. Police officials have noted that at each mass killing, the perpetrator is increasingly better armed with lethal fire power and protection.

The notion that the answer to the issue is to increase the number of guns in America and oppose and eliminate any restrictions to their access is patently insane. In the wake of gun deaths, laws have been enacted for the open carrying of guns: the permission to carry guns into bars, the right to carry guns on college campuses, etc. It reminds me of an illustration of institutional insanity that went something like this: A group of hikers were gathered around a campfire one chilly evening. To warm their hands they all held them in unison above the flames. After a while they noted that their hands were growing hot. Seeking a solution to their discomfort they devised a plan: to put their hands closer to the flames.

President Obama is dead-on. Our response has been routine. Carter Turner recently described that routine after the killing of Allison Parker and Adam Ward. “Let me tell you how this will go. Left says, ‘It’s too easy to get guns in America.’ Right says, ‘It’s too easy to politicize the tragedy.’ Left says, ‘There is never a “good” time to discuss it.’ Right says, ‘It could have been prevented if more people had guns.’ And so it goes…. Right says, ‘Did you see those new pics of Kim Kardashian’s baby?’ Left says, “I’m so proud of Caitlyn Jenner.’ CNN says: ‘Breaking News-there has been another shooting.’”

There seems to be some recognition by scholars on both sides of second amendment interpretation that allows for reasonable regulation. All rights including the right to free speech are not unlimited. Free speech does not embrace perjury or speech in support of terrorism. According to conservative Justice Warren Burger in 1991, the idea that the second amendment permits unregulated and unlimited access to firearms is a fraud on the American public.

Requiring that gun ownership meet the same standards of car ownership is compelling. Cars and guns are examples of technology capable of lethal impact. Requirements could include: registration, owner safety testing, liability insurance, and legal requirements for transfer of ownership.

All organizations for gun safety embrace the call for federal background checks of all hand gun sales. That alone has been shown to increase gun safety.

The idea that the unfettered access to guns is the major deterrent to tyranny is misplaced. Protecting the vote is far more important. The prospect of another armed civil war as a solution is romantic but ignores the lessons of history. Modern civil wars kill millions and wreck a nation. The overturn of dictatorships in India and South Africa were the result of non-violent opposition.

There are signs of hope. Everytown for Gun Safety, The Brady Campaign, the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Gabrielle Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions. In Australia, tightened gun laws and massive buybacks of semi-automatic weapons have greatly reduced gun homicides and suicides.

I fully agree with the President’s recent comment: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” One in three Americans know someone who was killed with a gun. That is more than enough to bring sanity and safety to our communities – If we act!

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