Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sandy Hook One Year Out: Business (Still) As Usual

Photo by Additing Infor
It has been one year since the massacre at Sandy Hook.  A year ago, I wrote a blog entry in which I asked,

 "How long will we continue to allow a 'well regulated militia' to kill nearly 3,000 children per year in our country? If we are not willing to do anything about it, who could actually claim to care that these children have been killed?"

I repeat that question now.  Additionally, footnotes in this blog post link to primary sources showing the link between gun ownership and shootings, both intentional and unintentional, deadly and non-deadly.  If anything, the reported statistics are lower than actual numbers because not all injuries are categorized and captured in statistics. 

The World Health Organization has compiled evidence regarding rates of gun ownership and gun violence. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health studied this data and concluded  that where there are more guns, there are more gun deaths.1  The USA has the highest per capita rate of gun ownership in the world.  It also has the highest rate of any country with regard to death by gunfire. 2  This translates to 31,000 gun deaths every year in the USA.3    In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings.  This is the equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day.  It equals more than three deaths each hour. 4    In 2010, 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds.5  

Children are affected physically, mentally, and emotionally.  For purposes of brevity, the most cursory numbers:  
  • In 2008 and in 2009, the number of preschoolers killed by guns was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in that same time period.  
  • The 5,740 children and teens killed by guns in 2008 and 2009 would fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each. 
  • The 5,740 children and teens killed by guns in 2008 and 2009 was greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.6
These statistics are a bit old, so here is a new one:  Since the Newtown shooting, there have been 23 mass shootings in schools (defined as shootings where the shooter shot more than four people).7  That translates to one mass shooting in a school every two weeks.8

Are we responsible for this?  The simple answer is, "yes," if we have failed to raise our voice in favor of gun control.  Why?  Because every choice in life is a decision involving ethics. Our ethics guide or views and decisions. Our decisions provide a window through which our values can be observed. 

 When it comes to decisions regarding guns, there are two key interests at issue:  liberty and safety.  Decisions must be made which balance these two values.  For instance, a decision in favor of safety would involve curtailing liberty.  A decision in favor of liberty would result in reduced safety.  In the case of guns, it is clearly foreseeable that increase in liberty results in increased morbidity from guns across the spectrum:  accidental injuries, deliberate shootings, suicides, assaults, and homicides.  Whether the ordinary person thinks of this as a deliberate decision or not, the fact of the matter is that when consequences are clearly foreseeable, the consequences of that foreseeable act are deemed to have been deliberate.  In the USA, therefore, it can fairly be said that we deliberately pursue a policy that increases death from guns.  It can fairly be said that our culture places a higher value on liberty than we place on the lives of our children, our law enforcement officer, and all members of our society.  

It is not solely a matter of the Second Amendment.  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that reasonable regulations of guns are consistent with the Second Amendment.  Common sense measures on gun control, strenuously resisted by the gun lobby, include: 
  • require background checks for all gun sales, including private sales at gun shows and online; 
  • make gun trafficking a federal crime;
  • limit availability of military style weapons and weapons with high capacity magazines that carry more than 10 rounds;
  • repeal the Tiehrt Amendments (which make it harder to trace and prosecute federal gun crimes).
Other authors have discussed the ways these measures would decrease access to guns by unstable people, criminals, and people with antisocial intent.   My goal here is to show that there are some easy and non-controversial ways to reduce access by a few of our most risky population to weapons which are often used. These changes should be non-controversial, if only people would think about it:

  • Does anyone in their right mind really want people with paranoia and violent tendencies to be able to purchase a gun without any kind of background check?  
  • Does anyone want cartels to be able to traffic guns as part of their underworld businesses?
  • Does anyone want to see a guy with a machine gun walking around in the grocery store aisle? 
  • Does anyone want prosecutors to be unable to access information about gun crimes?     
The extremist rhetoric threatening that the apocalypse will happen if we regulate guns needs to end.  Until and unless society supports these changes, we are collectively choosing to value firearms over human life.

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