Gun Violence: Who’s Killing Whom?

                If we really want to do something about gun violence, it’s time to sit down and have a sober, serious and thoughtful discussion based on facts.  Not based on opinions, not based on political agendas, and not based on rantings and ravings about the 2nd Amendment.  Based on facts.  Here goes:

Fact: 31,000 people died from gunshot wounds last year – 19,000+ suicides, 11,000+ homicides and 800+ accidents.  More children drowned in backyard pools than died from guns.

Fact:  90% of all gun deaths involve a handgun.  The “official” figures tend to over-count long guns because many death and crime reports do not actually describe the type of weapon.

Fact:  50% of gun suicide victims are white males, age 30-50, most legal gun owners.  60% of gun homicide victims are African-American males, age 17 – 30, most shot by other African-American males using illegal guns.

Fact:  If we deduct white male suicides and African-American homicides from the overall gun death rate, the U.S. gun death rate falls from 3.4 per 100,000 to 1.6, well below the gun death rate for such advanced countries as Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg and Israel.  Note that our 1.6/100,000 rate is for a country in which the number of guns circulating amongst civilians exceeds the total of all guns found in the six countries listed above.

The U.S. does seem to be the one advanced country in which shootings involving mass or multiple victims occur on an episodic but not infrequent basis.  And it is these mass slaughters that invariably (but not always) ignites our debate over guns. But the numbers cited above have been published again and again, and the numbers testify to the fact that, with the exception of certain specific groups, we are a law-abiding and basically non-violent country.  Even with 250 million guns floating around.

So what should we do about gun violence?  First, we should tell the truth.  We should stop talking about the assault rifle “threat” on the one hand, and the protections afforded by “armed citizens” on the other.  The nut who walks into a movie theater or a classroom with an AR-15 is in no way typical of the people whose use of guns results in 30,000+ homicides and suicides each year.  For that matter, the guy or gal who takes a two-hour class in gun safety (if a class is even required) is about as ready to defend themselves with a gun as I’m ready to finally go on a real diet.

Telling the truth about gun violence also means telling the truth about the argument over guns.  And the truth is that it’s not really an argument about guns, it’s an argument about the role of government. We long ago decided that government should playa significant role in regulating behavior when the behavior in question impacts the common good.  Try starting an argument about seat belts. Or vaccinations.  Or the design of infant cribs.

The problem with regulating the behavior of gun owners is that there’s no common good because the majority of Americans don’t own guns.  So telling a large, well-organized and extremely vocal minority that they have to suffer more regulations isn’t going to win friends or influence people in the gun world. It’s just going to piss them off.

We know who’s shooting whom with guns.  We need to figure out how to regulate their behavior and the guns they use without worrying about everyone else. I have some ideas that I’ll share with you in blogs to come.

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