American Culture

The sin of gun violence

GunShowI have been asked many times in my life whether I “believe that Jesus died for your sins?” Well, yes I do.

But I also believe that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. died for our sins. Hey, I’m a Unitarian-Universalist.

And I believe that people continue to die every day for our sins. For the sins of greed, and

Cleveland’s homicide rate just topped 100 for the year. Up 80% from 2011—although the numbers have been rising every year.

In the past month that number includes 5 year-old Ramon Burnett, 3 year-old Major Howard, and 5 month-old Aaivelle Wakefield who was shot while strapped into her car seat. Five. Month. Old.

The past twelve months also saw the shooting of 12 year-old Tamir Rice outside a picnic shelter at a rec center on the West Side of Cleveland by police. That case is still under investigation. Police claim to have shot Tamir in self-defense almost immediately after confronting him. We are the kind of society in which the police assume that toy guns are real—because they could be. Because there are so many guns that even children can access them.

It is a sin that as a society we talk and act as if we can do nothing—as if we are powerless. As if we have to accept that the mounting death toll is normal.

We have to accept that mass shootings are now more than a daily occurrence. So far in 2015 there have been 299 documented mass shootings (defined as 4 or more people shot in one event) and we are only on day 281.

This week someone threatened the high school 3 blocks from me, “just be ready everyone in that school will have their heads blown up or die in an explosion by the end of the week.” Kudos to the school administrators for being open with the community and the student newspaper for writing responsibly about the situation.

Politicians trip over each other to support the rights of gun owners, the NRA, and, by extension, gun manufacturers. They promise repeatedly that they will not take away guns. In Ohio, the state legislature comes up with new ways in every session to be more accommodating to the gun lobby: rolling back local gun laws, expanding concealed carry locations, reducing the education requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit.

Presidential candidate Ben Carson is being excoriated on social media asserting that he would have encouraged (if not actually led) people in fighting the gunman in Roseburg, Oregon. But more troubling was his claim in a Facebook Q&A session that he “never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”

Let that sink in.

The pro-life Dr. Carson finds losing the right to bear arms “more devastating” that “a body with bullet holes.”

An article in the Washington Post this week concluded that there are now more guns—perhaps a lot more guns—than there are people (that’s based on ATF statistics) in the US. And the number of guns being manufactured annually has doubled since Barack Obama took office in 2009. In a market driven by supply and demand, lots of supply means that the price is low.

If you combine the fact that there are more guns than people with the fact that about a third of American own guns, you come to the realization that either A) most gun owners have more than one gun OR B) some gun owners have a LOT more than one gun. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

People are encouraged to arm themselves, mostly out of fear. Fear of criminals. Fear of mass shootings. Fear of terrorism. Fear of relatives. Fear of the police. Fear of the government. Fear of not being able to buy more guns.

We’ve all heard the arguments:

“Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“If you criminalize gun ownership, then only criminals will have guns.”

But the truth is that no one knows how many guns there really are in the US. No one knows where they are. No one knows who has them. No one knows who shouldn’t have them.

But we all know that guns are really easy for people to get their hands on, legally or not. And from Sandy Hook, Connecticut to Roseburg, Oregon we know that people who in retrospect should not have been allowed to buy guns—many guns—were able to do so legally. With the apparent support of their family members.

I heard a really interesting discussion recently among some proponents of concealed carry. They were discussing one of the fairly common stories of someone who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon being caught with it someplace it was not supposed to be because the person forgot he had the weapon on him.

“Well it’s so easy to do. You just forget you have the gun until you walk in someplace where you can’t have it and then you remember.”

I think about that now when I hear the argument “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

What if the good guy forgets he has the gun on him? Because apparently a pound or two of steel in your pocket is so easy to forget about that it’s just like carrying your wallet or keys or cell phone. Shouldn’t someone carrying a gun be mindful of its presence?

But the truth is we just have too many guns too readily available.

And that’s the first thing that will need to be addressed by someone—how do we reduce the available number of guns?

The Washington Post article points out that that “roughly 1 percent of the American gun stock gets destroyed, lost or broken in a given year.” So the flood of guns will not be solved through attrition.

How about buying them back? The last few gun buybacks in Cleveland were accompanied by guys on nearby street corners offering to pay more than the buyback price. All perfectly legal. So unless the financial incentive is sufficient—better than fast food and grocery gift cards—the flood of guns will not be solved by buying them off the streets.

At this point in the argument, it’s easy to run out of steam and just throw up my hands. And just accept the status quo.

After all, it’s a matter of being a constitutionally protected right.

Just like slavery was a constitutionally protected right.

Until the constitution changed.

But that took a civil war.

True—and lots of people died.

But lots of people died before the Civil War opposing slavery. And Abraham Lincoln died because he preserved the Union in opposition to state’s rights and the right to own slaves.

Dying for our sins.

It may not take another civil war to resolve this crisis, to wash this blood from our country. To change the Constitution and remove the right to own the means of destroying the lives of so many.

To repeal the Second Amendment.

But it might. Certainly people have already died and will continue to die over it.

And because of it.

Repealing the Second Amendment would not automatically take away people’s guns. It would move the biggest impediment to sensible regulation. We have laws now permitting gun ownership. If, as cities, states, and a nation–citizens–we decide that gun ownership is still a good idea, we can continue to make it legal. But it would have to be legal on its own merits–providing for truly well-regulated gun ownership that we cannot achieve now. It would remove the assumption that we are not allowed to legislate gun ownership more effectively.

Image: Wikipedia

5 replies »

  1. The NRA gun lobby and the American citizens who staunchly support it AND staunchly oppose any changes to Second Amendment gun policy have become what they have feared: a huge, well-armed political group that is taking lives and at least two of the Four Freedoms (Freedom of worship, Freedom from fear) away from ordinary American people.

    They are the invading force, the occupying army, the ‘domestic’ from the phrase “defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic”. They are children threatening to kill us all in order to keep the keys to the armory.

    • Well said, Dan.

      Unfortunately “Freedom from fear” is not in the Constitution. Fortunately “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” IS in the First Amendment. We just need to go back to emphasizing both parts and get our definition of “WHO” and “in what capacity” right when it comes to religious freedoms.

      We are, indeed, under threat. The solution is NOT to go out and buy a gun. That’s what they want us to do. When people who would otherwise have no interest in owning a gun go out and get one because of the fear the NRA spreads, the NRA wins. I have a widowed relative whose best friend went out and bought a gun after her husband died out of the fear of having to protect herself. Now the friend, who is not trained to handle a gun, is trying to scare my relative into a purchase. So far reason is winning in the scenario.

  2. Any valid value equation involves pluses and minuses Cat. You’ve fairly stated all the minuses and completed omitted a significant plus. Guns save lives as well as take them. How often? The CDC says there are 500,000 to 3 million defensive uses of firearms a year. How many lives saved? Hard to say but certainly not an insignificant number.

    I know you hate guns and truthfully, if we could make all the guns disappear overnight never to be replaced, I’d be for it. But we can’t and the brutal reality is, when seconds count, police are minutes away.

    What would my suggestions be for reducing gun violence? I’m OK with universal background checks assuming no national registration component. I’d also be OK with a sporting goods tax paid training requirement for firearms ownership. And I certainly agree with modifying HIPPA privacy requirements and better FBI IT systems to allow collection and immediate background check query results on prohibited persons.

    Good for your relative’s friend. She needs to take a class though.

    • I’ve tried to do the math before so that it makes sense. If there are 3m defensive cases a year, that means that one person in a hundred does it EVERY YEAR. I know a lot of people – well over a hundred. I’m 54. Being conservative, I figure I ought to know one person a year who successfully defends him/herself with a gun.

      And yet I don’t know a single one. IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. Zero.

      I have no doubt that it happens. But that number is the product of bullshit methodology. Somewhere I wrote a post on this and damned if I can find it, but the short version is that this research relies on surveys, which are about as reliable as reading tea leaves.

      Meanwhile, stack that up against the numbers of deaths that we know are a result of guns – 11k a year or so if you don’t count suicides.

      And I say all this as a guy who owns several guns.

  3. Agreed Sam, we are dealing with incomplete data sets and some are hopelessly narrative driven by both pros and antis . That doesn’t diminish Cat’s error of omission in this piece. Every powerful tool organic to our society is accompanied by costs and benefits. Any discussion of value regarding a particular tool should include both or it’s just partisan ranting.

    Here’s a link to the CDC study I referenced above and in it they state the low end of estimated defensive uses of firearms at 108,000 per year
    If, and admittedly I’m pulling this number right out of my ass, if 10% of those uses resulted in a life saved, then defensive use would be a direct offset to lives lost excluding suicide. Is that true or is that false? More neutral study is absolutely in order.

    As to bullshit methodologies, your or my personal experience has no statistical value in this discussion as each of us represents something less than .000000004% of the adult US population. You do however know people who have successfully used firearms defensively, I guarantee it. You’re talking with one right now. It’s just not a subject that comes up very often without direct query.

    Guns being used for mayhem and crime is social problem, you’ll get no argument from me on that and I made some reasonable proposals above for addressing some of their negative effect. My real point here is that if we’re going to have discussions about gun violence, let’s keep them honest.