Since I heard about the mass shooting in Las Vegas this week that killed 59 people and injured nearly 530 others, I’ve been refocused on the topic of guns in the US.
I read a long and angry list of things that the author claims are more regulated than gun ownership, things like building a shed in your backyard, pumping gas, cutting hair for a living, and buying unpasteurized milk.
I read an article that described the circumstances that led to funding for research into gun violence being cut off more than 20 years ago (a study finding that having guns in a home led to increased risk of people dying was thought to be bad for gun sales, so the gun lobby exerted their influence).
I thought about how gun violence in the United States compares to rates in other developed countries in the world. From The Interpreter email newsletter by the New York Times, here are a few facts:
In the US, there are 89 guns for every 100 people. In Canada, there are 30 per hundred. In the UK, 6 per hundred people.
Gun-related deaths (from homicide, suicide, accidental shooting, police shooting, etc.) track closely with gun ownership, as illustrated below:
I know the labels are tiny–that dot all by itself up in the top right-hand corner–that’s the US.
Americans are 4.4 percent of world population, but own 42% of all the world’s privately owned guns. The homicide rate in the US is 30 per million. Canada’s is 5 per million, the UK’s is 0.7. That puts the US rate at 6 times that of Canada, and about 42 times that of the UK.
I read statistics tallying the number of mass shootings that have occurred in the last few years, but was reminded that while they make headlines, they account for only a small fraction of the people who die by gun violence.
Looking at statistics (again from the Interpreter) on American gun-related deaths from 2013, there were 21,175 suicides, 11,208 homicides and 505 deaths from accidental shootings, for a total of 32,888. In contrast, Japan, with one third the population of the US, had 13 gun deaths during that same year. That’s a difference of 32,875 lethal gunshot wounds.
It can be really hard for such large numbers to sink in. The suicide statistic above, 21,175 people, each alive at the beginning of one day and dead at the end, would be roughly the same as the number of people who were killed (not just shot) on Sunday in Las Vegas, repeated every day for just shy of a year. Today, queue up another 59 people to die. Tomorrow, another 59. For 373 days.
To equal the homicide deaths, line up 59 people to die each day, but only for six months, one week. To get the job done of matching those killed accidentally (they’re just as dead, but with less anger involved than with a murder, I assume), you need 8 1/2 days.
I talked to my daughter-in-law Ginger. In the course of her studies to become a therapist, she has met many people who have tried to commit suicide. She has had the chance to meet them because they failed in their objective. Not one of them used a firearm. People using a gun tend to accomplish their goal to be dead.
Mass shootings tend to produce a lot of writing, but in the United States they also tend to produce a rise in stock prices for gun manufacturers who anticipate an increase in sales in response to discussions about tightening gun control. In other places, it hasn’t gone that way. After mass shootings in the UK and Australia in the 90s, gun restrictions were strengthened, and in one instance, a gun buy-back program resulted in nearly half a million guns being taken out of circulation.
I can’t help thinking that while it looks like this situation is all about guns, it also makes sense to look at it as very much about defiant self-determination. Many US citizens celebrate their right to own and store in their homes (and in many cases, openly carry in their purses or pockets) a device that vastly increases the risk that someone in the vicinity could die a gruesome death.
If keeping that device close at hand were a requirement imposed from the outside by some government department and not a right adamantly defended, I doubt that anyone would stand for it. After all, we complain (and litigate) when we find out that there’s a chance that small plastic parts might come off of a Happy Meal toy, increasing the risk that some small child might choke. We get worked up about the possibility that flakes of old paint that are underneath other coats of paint might contain elevated levels of lead. Who would sit meekly by and let some outsider increase our risk of being shot?
The first shows how the electoral votes would have gone in the 2016 US presidential election if only gun-owning households had voted, and the second shows how it would have gone if only non-gun-owning households had voted.
It looks like gun ownership is an extremely potent differentiator.
The article notes that if we’re talking about actual questions of policy, there’s lots of bi-partisan agreement–nearly everybody (except people who make lots of money selling guns) thinks universal background checks are a good idea. But when it comes to identifying with a tribe, that’s when distinctions get more primitive. Quoting from the article:
“But at the end of the day, gun owners know that Republicans are for people like them — while Democrats are for stuck-up, urban elites; or corrupt globalists; or undeserving minorities; or the one-world government that wants to take everyone’s guns and put people in FEMA camps.
“And so, for the moment, we’re stuck with a majority party that wants to make changes to taxes and spending that almost no one in America wants, while mass shootings come and go like bouts of bad weather.”
Now would be a good time to come up with ideas for how we can talk across political lines about how to pull America back from the huge lead it has in number of citizens dying from bullet wounds. In this case, America First is not a good thing.
[Images: Wikipedia, Tewksbury Lab, surveymonkey]