The epidemic of gun violence continues in America, but our leaders fail to stop it. The latest gun-related tragedy involves a 14-year-old boy who was accidentally shot to death by his 12-year-old brother in Kansas City Missouri. The younger boy— who was charged with involuntary manslaughter—allegedly buried his brother with the help of friends. And to make things worse, the family’s house caught fire during a memorial service for the dead 14-year old.
And in rural Burkesville, Kentucky, a 5-year-old boy accidentally shot his 2-year-old sister to death with a rifle—a gift he had received last year.
At least 3,800 people have died from gun violence in America since the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy in December, when a gunman took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Meanwhile, with the daily stories of accidents, suicides and homicides caused by firearms, it is all the more disconcerting that Congress has failed to take action.
The power of the pro-gun lobby
Despite the public outcry for gun control and overwhelming support for it among Democrats, Republicans and NRA members alike, the Senate failed to pass legislation which included expanded background checks for firearms sales at gun shows and online, and other measures.
The 54-46 vote in favor of the bill—60 votes were needed under the warped rules of the Senate—was a testament to the power of the pro-gun lobby to buy lawmakers. This lobby consists primarily of weapons manufacturers who, for the sake of lucrative profits from these gun sales, create the extremist’s illusion that the Second Amendment allows individuals to amass unlimited, private arsenals.
“They have made a choice,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA, which addresses gun-violence prevention in Pennsylvania. “Instead of standing up for Americans, they stood up for the gun lobby.”
Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), one of four Republicans to support the bill, said his party did not “did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.”
Doing something is better than nothing
There is every indication that gun control advocates are fighting back against at least five of the senators who voted against the bill and whose popularity has dropped, but the damage has been done. This should not be a partisan issue, but rather an American issue. Given the epidemic this country faces, it stands to reason that sensible gun control measures such as trigger locks, restricting gun purchases to one per month, or requiring the storage of guns in a safe, secure place could have made a difference in Kansas City or Burkesville.
Whether such measures would have saved the lives of these children, it is sensible to believe these rules would help create a culture where gun owners would not allow such easy access to their weapons. Further, President Obama has promised to “encourage the development of innovative gun safety technology” such as personalized or smart guns that will not fire if placed in the wrong hands.
Certainly, these options are better than doing nothing, which is what the nation’s political leaders chose to do today.
According to the Joyce Foundation, nearly 100,000 people are killed from gun violence in the U.S., due to gun laws that allow for easy civilian access to military weapons, and provide unlimited opportunities for convicted criminals, domestic abusers and the mentally ill to obtain these weapons. The evidence shows that stronger gun laws result in fewer deaths.
“This is not about people who responsibly own guns. This is about the guns being in the hands of people that should not have them,” said Dorothy Johnson-Speight, the founder of Mothers In Charge, a community-based organization that advocates for violence prevention and supports families who were touched by violence. Johnson-Speight’s son Khalliq was gunned down in 2001 from a dispute over a parking space.
“Firearm issues are among the most contentious in American politics. The United States has, by far, the worst firearm injury problem of any high-income country,” said David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Hemenway, who is the foremost researcher on gun deaths and injuries and access to firearms, says it is a tragic that we do so little to address this huge public health problem.
300 million firearms
With nearly 300 million firearms, the U.S. is a leader in gun violence. And gun proliferation, according to Hemenway, is at issue.
“People think we have a violence problem in the United States, but we really don’t. We’re an average country in terms of all the violence measures you can think of, in terms of crime,” he adds. “But where we’re very different is guns. We have lots more guns than anybody else, particularly handguns. A lot of countries have hunting rifles, but we have these handguns, and then we have these assault weapons. Secondly, we have by far the most permissive gun control laws, the weakest gun policies of any country. It’s not even close. Not surprisingly, we have more gun crime and more gun homicide.”
In his research, Hemenway found that a child in the United States is 13 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than a child in Finland, France, Japan, Italy or New Zealand. The gun suicide rate for children in the U.S. is eight times higher than in other developed nations, and unintentional gun deaths are 10 times higher. In addition, American children between ages 5 and 14 commit suicide twice as often as children of other advanced countries, which is driven by the high gun suicide rate. Typically, these kids use the family gun to take their own life.
More permissive gun laws equal more deaths. States with more guns have higher suicide rates, and households with gun ownership experience a higher rate of suicide and gun suicide. The solution, according to Hemenway, is a broad public health approach to tackle gun violence, one which changes social and cultural norms, and examines behavioral, educational and product safety issues that go beyond mere gun ownership. In other words, treat the war on gun violence like the war on smoking.
Meanwhile, if we continue to do nothing with this unsustainable gun madness, America will continue to resemble the Wild, Wild West. If you cannot shout “fire” in a crowded theater, why should you be able to fire a semi-automatic weapon into one?
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove