Sometimes things happen in your periphery that make you stop and think. Make you truly wonder how you feel about a particular subject, make you stop and decide what side of the fence you are on.
I have been around guns most of my life. I was raised around guns – my family did small amounts of hunting, we had small rifles. I went hunting a few times, my brothers went hunting, though none of them liked it much. I had an uncle who had a pheasant farm for a while for hunting. My community was a hunting type community. I never felt badly about hunting or people who hunted. I have eaten dear and elk and other types of game meat. I like it. My husband has a pistol. He needed it when he was working on armored trucks and now he just uses it to shoot once in a while – go to the firing range and shoot. I am careful about the gun safety since I have a son, but not overly so. I am comfortable around a gun. We keep our gun locked in a digital safe, with the ammunition in a different place. I don’t discourage my husband from teaching our son about the gun, and it’s danger/uses. I think it’s important for all the people in the house to know about any gun the family owns and how to be safe around it. He has showed him how it works, how to load it, how to make sure it isn’t loaded and doesn’t have a round in the chamber. I have encouraged him to take him to the firing range soon to let him see the power a gun carries and let him get his curiosity out about this thing we have in our house. I think he is big enough physically as well as mature enough now to go try it out with his dad in a safe setting. I am not anti gun in general by any means.
Lately, though, I have wondered what I really believe about guns in the general population. Last night there was a news clip about a shooting in a Portland Mall right before I went to bed. I didn’t hear the whole story about how many people were wounded, etc until this morning. This summer there was a shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Co not 15 min from my home. I have been reading a book which has at it’s beginning and as a recurring theme the Columbine shootings. I lived here in the Denver area then, and remember the horror of watching that – the terror of it’s unfolding on the TV before me. The feeling of shock and anger and sadness in our community is still fresh in my mind and heart. I have watched since then for years as every year another school or college or church or mall or theater is attacked by gun wielding “madmen”.
Last night as I lay in bed thinking about all of these things I decided I need to think about what my position on guns and the general population is.
I do not know if this will be the first in a series of posts yet or not. I will say I am researching as I write – I am looking at facts. Numbers, statistics, meaningful and measurable things. I am formulating opinion as I go along. Let me just say right up front that I don’t know WHAT the solution is right now. I don’t know HOW we change this problem, but I do think it needs to change and that we as a population need to change it. I hope to find some answers in this discovery process. Answers I can be a part of.
Violence in America is an epidemic and gun violence is a big part of that. Compared to other industrial countries, an American child under the age of 15 is 5 times more likely to be murdered, 2 times more likely to commit suicide, and 12 times more likely to die of a gun related death.
On average 24 people in the US are killed every day by people with guns. This does not include suicides or accidental shootings. It is one person being shot by another person. If we include all of the accidents and suicides and attempted suicides and the cases where police officers are forced to shoot someone, that number increases to 268 people a day.
268 people a day are shot by a gun in America.
Shockingly (to me) according to the Brady Campaign, “Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.” That’s compared to the 23 most wealthy countries in the world. (Obviously places like Darfur and the Sudan have more gun deaths, I assume.) This fact floored me.
So, what goes into this whole “Americans with guns and violence” equation?
First – why do people own guns in America? 1. For hunting. If you own guns for hunting you only need to own rifles or shot guns. No one needs a pistol or a semi auto gun for hunting. I have read the forums with people arguing that semi autos have a place among hunters. I don’t buy it. If you can’t shoot it with a rifle or shotgun, you don’t need to be hunting it. People shot bears and moose and caribou for hundreds of years with regular rifles. If our forefathers could kill all of the meat their family needed for the year with a musket, we can shoot animals we mostly shoot for sport with a rifle. There is no reason to own a semi auto for hunting. That is my opinion and I am sticking to it. 2. Protection. This is where the pistols come in. People feel that pistols are more powerful and more easily accessed in an emergency. Also, they are easier to carry with you. 3. For sport. Some people keep guns for hunting as a sport (not to eat), some people skeet shoot or target shoot. This is a common reason for owning guns. Especially the big, semi auto guns and the pistols.
Let me get the hunting part out of the way first. According to several gun owner organizations, between 11 and 15% of Americans report being active in hunting. That certainly can’t account for the enormous number of guns out in our population. I feel people should be able to hunt for food if they want. Really, I don’t mind trophy hunting all that much, I don’t see it as necessary, but there are a lot of things we do that aren’t necessary. I’d like to see people who hunt use the meat for food and leave the trophy part out of it. That being said, am not really in huge opposition to it. I think hunting helps keep elk, deer and other populations down, and I think it is good for our ecology. I think rifles should be used in hunting and I think that if used/stored properly, hunting rifles are fairly “safe” type of guns. In fact, hunting rifles and other long barrel guns make up less than half of the gun deaths in our country per year and are mostly accidental deaths, not homicides and suicides.
I was surprised to find out that in homicides from 1976 to 2004 in the US handguns were used more than 2 times as often (some years 3 times as often) as other types of guns (including assault riffles), more than 2 times as often as knives, more than 3 times as often as “other methods” and more than 5 times as often as “blunt objects”. Some years the handguns were used up to 8 times more than other methods. I know that if someone wants to kill another person, “they will find a way”. I also think that guns make killing another person easier. They put some distance, some anonymity, between the victim and the killer. They take away the up close and personal part of the killing usually. They make it an easier split second decision.
Now, let me address the home protection part. I think people have a right to protect their homes and their families. I also think that guns are rarely used in this type of protection. (By rarely I mean comparing how many people say they own a gun for protection, and how many of those people actually USE the gun for protection.) The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence states on their website:
“DID YOU KNOW? On the whole, guns are more likely to raise the risk of injury than to confer protection.
- A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide (11x),criminal assault or homicide (7x), or unintentional shooting death or injury (4x) than to be used in a self-defense shooting. (Kellermann, 1998, p. 263)
- Guns are used to intimidate and threaten 4 to 6 times more often than they are used to thwart crime (Hemenway, p. 269).
- Every year there are only about 200 legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens (FBI, Expanded Homicide Data, Table 15) compared with over 30,000 gun deaths (NCIPC).
- A 2009 study found that people in possession of a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault (Branas).”
Those statistics say a lot to me. If less than .6% of all deadly shootings are legally justified self defense, I would say that self defense is really a negligible part of this equation. I would also go on to say that it is a poor excuse for owning a gun. IF there were to be some sort of foreign invasion on our soil (the type that includes large numbers of people coming into our country by foot or car which we could actually shoot at), or IF there were to be some sort of zombie apocalypse, or IF there were some sort of “post apocalyptic fall of society” then yes – guns would be useful as protection. Except with the zombies. Everyone knows shooting zombies doesn’t stop them. Unless it’s in the head. (A little humor in this serious blog post.)
I would like to address the issue of guns as recreation. I suppose I really don’t have a problem with this part either. Though the kinds of guns generally used in recreation are the kinds often used in crimes.
The problems we have, then, become criminals owning or finding a way to get guns into their possession, people using guns they already have in a crime, and domestic violence/home accidents.
Obviously, making gun safety and education a priority in homes that have guns is an important factor. This would cut down on the accidents. Domestic violence involving guns is a much more complicated matter and will have to be an entirely different post, I suppose. But needless to say there are things we can do to help prevent domestic violence in general, including incidents involving guns.
The guns which most often used to commit crimes? Handguns, as we have already established, are the type of guns most often used in crimes. So… how do we keep handguns out of the hands of people who use them for killing?
Now, I am not one of those people who think that rounding up all the guns and taking them away is a good idea. I am not naive enough to think that the criminal element will not still retain the ability to purchase/locate guns and I am not naive enough to think that there wouldn’t be major fall out from something like this. I know that in studies done on the Australian gun ban and buy back, it has shown to not be extremely effective in reducing the number of gun related homicides and crimes. There has been a healthy decline in the rate of suicides in general and gun relates suicides in particular. But there are still guns in the population and people still die by gun violence. I do think something has to be done here in the US to lower the rate of gun related crimes and deaths. So what is that something?
I think we need to look at gun violence as a bigger picture. Why are Americans so violent in general? Why do we have such high homicide rates? Why do we have people walking into malls and theaters and schools killing each other? Why do we have children killing other children? Why do we have children being bullied so terribly that they kill themselves? Why do we have strangers walking into public places shooting at people that they have never even met before? These aren’t all robberies gone bad or home invasions turned murder or abusive husbands being shot or one child being angry at another child or group of children. These are very often random killings committed by Americans who don’t even know each other, without an explanation as to the reason. Why? Why are we so violent.
I would like to mention 2 things in the wake of those questions I posed above. First, we are a violent country. We have always chosen war over peace. We were birthed in war. The Europeans slaughtered Native Americans and African slaves. They fought against their own mother country for the right to be a separate nation. Less than 100 years after becoming a country we were at war with ourselves. We have fought many wars since then and I am sure will continue to fight more. We go off attacking other nations, trying to democratize them, saying they are a threat to us, saying the way they do things is wrong. We go to war to help others, sometimes without them asking for our help. We go to war over things like oil and land and control. We go to war claiming that our way of life is the best way and everyone else needs to do it our way, all the while having our own problems here at home that need to be addressed. We are a warring country. We teach our children to fight, we use words that are violence based when talking about most things. Our entertainment is more violent than not, even in the children’s entertainment. Movies, games, music and more all condone and promote violence. We tell our children “stand up for yourselves”, “be brave”, “don’t let yourself be picked on”. While I tell my son these same things I realize only now that they are violence based. Fighting is the solution for my 6 year old boy? Being brave at night in his room alone is the solution? Where does it end? We war with everyone and everything that even slightly resembles a threat. And yet, even war has changed – become faceless and less personal. We have unmanned planes and weapons that go into battle that are controlled by someone no where near the strike zone. We used to fight face to face and hand to hand, looking into the eyes of dying men and women, but now more often than not, it is impersonal, at a distance, and more deadly with the stronger, faster, better weapons we have. Then we bring those soldiers home and expect them to go back to real life without help. And our returning soldiers now have a suicide rate unparalleled to any other group of soldiers in our history.
Second – we are an easily frightened people. Easily frightened people are not only easily controlled, but also easily spurred to violence. Part of the problem with violence in this country is the fear we all have. Fear that the government is “taking over”, fear that the violence is coming to our home, fear that people of a different race or class are coming for us, fear that poverty will take us over. (*one thing that would help our violence problem would be for us to work on our poverty, race, and class issues) Michael Moore spoke about our fear in a very well written post after the Aurora shootings:
“What are we so afraid of that we need to have 300 million guns in our homes? Who do we think is going to hurt us? Why are most of these guns in white suburban and rural homes? Maybe we should fix our race problem and our poverty problem (again, number one in the industrialized world) and then maybe there would be fewer frustrated, frightened, angry people reaching for the gun in the drawer. Maybe we would take better care of each other.”
We are a violent people. I don’t think anyone can deny that. Look at the statistics. We have the most violent crimes in all of the free world. The most homicides, the most gun violence.
In my readings I came upon the best answer I have found yet. I believe, after reading a lot about this, that he thing we need to change is the way we look at this phenomenon. We need to change our perspective. We need to look at this violence as a human health issue. As a disease that can be treated. I don’t believe that guns should be ripped from the hands of “well meaning citizens”. I do believe that there needs to be a lot of changes made. Do we make it harder for people with a mental illness, a past record of violence, a previous attempt at harming someone with a weapon to get a hold of guns? How do we decide what needs to be changed and when and where to make those changes?
If we take a step back and look at gun violence in a public health approach, it becomes more cut and dried. It becomes less emotional. People stop freaking out that there is “so much gun violence” and that “someone is going to take their guns away” and start looking at the causes, repercussions, and treatments of the epidemic. (Let me note here, I think looking at all violence from the perspective of a public health approach would help as well, but since gun violence is the topic of this piece, I will focus on that here.)
I don’t believe the answer is going to come to us in a drastic way. I don’t believe taking guns away, banning guns, dramatically changing gun laws will help. I believe the answer is going to come in subtle, scientific ways.
On of the doctors who found himself treating victims of the Sikh temple shooting last year has written in the Wisconsin Medical Journal about the gun violence epidemic. He says that just because it is becoming the norm doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. Dr Hargarten has stated that looking at it as a public health issue is the way to go. I think I like his (and many others) way of thinking.
“Unlike almost all other consumer products, there is no national product safety oversight of firearms,” he wrote in the Wisconsin Medical Journal. Why is this? We are so afraid of loosing our right to own guns that we don’t even want to make sure the products are safely made? We don’t want them to go through the same testing and oversight as a car or a child’s toy? This is our first step. To make sure that guns are being produced properly and safely.
If we look at the issue as a “public health issue” there are certain classifications we look at. It gives us a scientific method to follow. Some of the things to look at are as follows:
“_”Host” factors: (for example) What makes someone more likely to shoot, or someone more likely to be a victim. One recent study found firearm owners were more likely than those with no firearms at home to binge drink or to drink and drive, and other research has tied alcohol and gun violence. That suggests that people with driving under the influence convictions should be barred from buying a gun, Wintemute said.
_Product features: Which firearms are most dangerous and why. Manufacturers could be pressured to fix design defects that let guns go off accidentally, and to add technology that allows only the owner of the gun to fire it (many police officers and others are shot with their own weapons). Bans on assault weapons and multiple magazines that allow rapid and repeat firing are other possible steps.
_”Environmental” risk factors: What conditions allow or contribute to shootings. Gun shops must do background checks and refuse to sell firearms to people convicted of felonies or domestic violence misdemeanors, but those convicted of other violent misdemeanors can buy whatever they want. The rules also don’t apply to private sales, which one study estimates as 40 percent of the market.
_Disease patterns, observing how a problem spreads. Gun ownership – a precursor to gun violence – can spread “much like an infectious disease circulates,” said Daniel Webster, a health policy expert and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore.” “There’s sort of a contagion phenomenon” after a shooting, where people feel they need to have a gun for protection or retaliation, he said.”
That was evident in the wake of the Colorado movie-theater shootings. Reports came up around the nation of people bringing guns to “Batman” movies. After Columbine some teachers reported thinking teachers should have conceal and carry permits.
The above examples are just a very few of the things we can look into and find answers in. Subtle changes can make a difference. Treatments to health epidemics often come in the form of education and prevention as well. For example, the spread of HIV slowed down dramatically when how the disease was spread was discovered, and education about how to prevent the spread was widely distributed.
If we take a logically based approach there is actually a lot we can study and use to make gun violence decrease. If we stop freaking out about our second amendment rights and our NEED to have a gun, we could do a lot of good. If we stop freaking out about “the enormity” of it all and stop trying to ban all weapons and work WITH gun owners and gun sellers and gun organizations, we could learn a lot. We could study how guns get into the hands of people like the theater shooting perpetrator or the columbine kids (their 18 year old friend went to a gun show and bought them – no background check, no wait time), and we could make gun laws based on how they are bought/procured and by whom. (why do private sellers not have to do background checks? What happens to guns that are in evidence lockers around the country? How do illegal gun runners operate and what can we do to stop them?) We could study what kind of people are more likely to commit gun violence, we could increase our violence prevention tactics.
I feel like I have started to find an answer here among my research.
We, as Americans, have a gun violence problem. A handgun violence problem to be more specific. We, as Americans, want that to decrease without loosing the rights of the majority of people. We, as Americans, don’t have a crystal ball to see what might happen in the future, but if the last 20 years is any indication, gun violence will continue to rise.
I would like to finish this part of my journey into “how I feel about guns” by saying this: I know that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but really, how many of those people would kill with a different weapon? There are plenty of estimates on this, some say as high as 85% of violent crimes and 80% of suicides by gun would not happen without access to a gun. In other words, when asked if they would have tried the same thing without a gun, perpetrators said no – up to 85% of them. Yes, violence happens without guns every day. A small town close to where I grew up (Casper Wyoming) was recently devastated by a suicide murder in which the perpetrator shot 2 other people with a bow and arrow before turning the weapon on himself. I ask you this, would the Aurora theatre shooter been able to kill or hurt so many people in such a short amount of time without the weapons he had? If he had a knife or bow and arrow, would all of those people be dead or injured? I don’t believe so and I doubt you do either.
Only we can change the violence in our country – only we can heal this epidemic of gun violence. Please, stand with me to stop the dramatic extremes in our opinions about guns, look logically at the problem, and find ways to fix it. We can all play a part. Leave the emotions at the door and look at it through the eyes of scientists and doctors and public health nurses and help to heal this disease.
****EDIT: in talking with some like minded friends about this article it seemed to me that I had left something unclear in it. I don’t think anyone needs to have a military grade weapon in their possession unless they are active military/police force. There are plenty of very responsible gun owners out there who take the time and care to store and use their weapons carefully. But there are some people who don’t. Weapons end up in the hands of criminals all the time – through home invasions or store robberies. These guns, when used in mass shootings such as the Aurora shooting, are more damaging and much easier to use to hit a large number of moving targets. The gun the Aurora shooter used first was an Ar-15 assault rifle which can expend up to 50 rounds per minute. This gun would have been illegal to buy from the early 1990’s until 2004. This year he was able to buy it with no problem. My biggest problem with a gun like that is this: during a mass shooting like this a shot gun, a handgun, a normal hunting rifle, etc – they all have to be aimed and fired and reloaded. This man just shot and moved the gun, pointing it into the crowd. He didn’t have to take time to aim or time to reload. These things may seem trivial, but it could have given some people a chance to run, escape, hide more, try to get away from the bullets. The rounds this gun uses are also very powerful. They shot completely through the wall of the theater into the theater next door and wounded and killed people there. Those walls have sound containing panels and everything. That is a pretty powerful round I think.
I have to admit, I used to think that taking these weapons out of the hands of the majority of the population would do the most good. I don’t anymore. I think it’s part of the equation that needs to be addressed, but it also happens to be a small part of the equation. Hand guns seem to be the weapons most often used in gun violence, and while it might help with the mass shootings we have seen, it won’t help with the other 200 + people shot on a daily basis.