Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Is America Safe?

Is America Safe?

In many ways the answer is yes. But we’re not as safe as we could be and the reason is the proliferation of guns. Some say it’s not possible to change our gun culture but we can change if we want to.

Australia used to be a country with a robust gun culture. But after a massacre in Tasmania that left 35 people dead by guns, the country implemented a ban on semi-automatic and automatic rifles and shotguns – and instituted a mandatory buy-back program for newly banned weapons.

Now, since gun violence in Australia was much lower than it is in the US, the results of the ban are not as clear-cut as we would like to see. However, what is clear is that suicide rates have gone down dramatically. Lives have been saved because of the restrictions placed on gun ownership.

We in the US have made the collective decision that guns are important. The NRA has assisted in that effort, assuring us that we’ll all be safer if only we’re packing. Unfortunately, the facts don’t bear that out. Guns in the home equals greater risk of dying by gun violence – mostly from suicides or murder by family members.

When the District of Columbia banned handguns in 1976, the suicide rate in the city fell by 23 percent (according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine). 23 percent! Yet the Supreme Court found the ban unconstitutional – and 75 percent of Americans polled about that decision agreed with it.

Suicide rates in states that have high gun ownership are much higher than suicide rates in states with low gun ownership (per the National Center for Health Statistics), and the US as a whole has a very high level of suicide rates compared to other industrialized countries – mostly because of easy access to guns.

What about violence toward others?

It would be nice to have more studies done in that area but, unfortunately, in 1996 Congress passed a law that banned federal funding of gun violence studies. The NRA lobbied heavily to get the law passed. So for more than 20 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been unable to study the causative effects of access to guns and gun violence.

Thus, we’re largely in the dark as to how many deaths could be prevented by limiting access to guns. Guns kill far more children than cancer; Americans murder each other with guns 20 times as often as people in other wealthy countries do. But that’s not enough to get us to change our ways.

After the killings at Sandy Hook, President Obama finally lifted the ban on federal gun research. However, Congress hasn’t followed through with funding. So we wait while 289 people on average are shot each day (per the Brady Center to prevent gun violence). If anything else caused premature deaths like that, we would call it an epidemic. But for Americans, it’s just business as usual.

The biggest problem is that ready access to guns makes an impulsive decision to kill oneself or others far too easy. I wonder if we’ll ever come to our senses. I wonder if the NRA will ever become an organization ruled by sane people rather than radicals as dangerous as Islamic terrorists. I suspect it will take much more than what happened at Newton or Charleston or Columbine. The 200 mass killings in the US over the last decade (per USA Today) aren’t enough to get us to change our ways. Maybe nothing will.

But make no mistake: gun violence is an epidemic in America and it doesn’t have to be.


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