Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guns and Violence - Memories and the Data

Some of my friends are gun owners, and may even be members of the NRA. I was raised in a gun culture. Guns were in our homes and they were kept loaded. How else was my Aunt Mary able to deal with the threat of diamondbacks she was likely to encounter just outside the back door at the ranch? 

My father worked long hours as a pharmacist in the Texas Panhandle, often eight hour shifts at a drug store in one town and another in a town fourteen miles away. But he took time to teach me how to handle guns and how to hunt quail, ducks, and rabbits. By the time I was twelve years old, he had given me a Winchester single-shot 22 and a Mossberg 410 shotgun. Although I kept the guns for fifty years, I kept them as mementos of the special times I had with my dad. I hadn't hunted in forty years. It seemed like I was following my grandfather, who despite being a rancher all his life came to the place where he no longer wanted to pull the trigger on living creatures, not quail, coyotes, or even the dreaded rattlesnakes. By the age of 20, I no longer wanted to hunt either. Decades later in Alaska, I gave guns the away to a friend who taught gun safety. 

I grew up without knowledge of the Second Amendment or any controversy about guns. I also grew up thinking that registration of firearms, and even required training in their use, was as reasonable as car registration and getting a drivers license. My parents may not have thought that, but I'm not sure they would have complained either. In spite of the respect for guns that I had and the training, at age fourteen I also had an instance where through pure carelessness I almost shot a friend. We both laughed at the time, but it was embedded somewhere deep in my psyche, and when I think about it today, I still am terrified about what almost was.

By the time assault weapons were banned by Congress in 1994, I needed no convincing, and though the ban was filled with loopholes like most of gun control legislation that manages to be passed, I thought it a big step backward when Congress and President Bush managed to repeal the ban in 2004. 

I don't know if the flawed ban legislation would have prevented the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, just as I don't know how better funded mental health programs that have been gutted throughout the nation would have helped prevent it. I don't think anyone is in a position to say with certainty how the more nebulous cultural glorification of violence in this country contributed to the massacre. 

But for those who have eyes to see, the correlation between guns and violence in our culture seem indisputable, no matter the obfuscation offered up by the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre

Whether you, the reader, will actually look at the detailed table below is something I don't know. If you are someone who looks at tables and your eyes glaze over, you can skip to the end and see what I think it says, but I hope you will take a minute or two and just look at the table.  

Charles M. Blow's article, "On Guns, America Stands Out," (NYT, Dec. 19, 2012), where I found the table, summarizes:

“This table shows how shamefully we measure up against other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the O.E.C.D. countries that the World Bank groups as “high income,” America has the highest gun homicide rate, the highest number of guns per capita and the highest rate of deaths due to assault. In fact, America has more homicides by gun than all of the other high-income O.E.C.D. countries combined.”

 I believe it is way way past time for us to face up to the consequences of our gun culture and  begin adopting measures that most other industrialized countries of the world have had for a long time. I believe that a non-NRA-coerced or funded mindset will recognize that we can no longer afford the "frontier mentality" (which actually didn't serve us well during legitimate frontier days) that allows gun ownership with flimsy restrictions. There was a time when neither car registration nor driver's licenses were required. 

As for the Second Amendment, I think that the majority of those who passed it, believed they were granting the right to bear firearms only in a militia. But if rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 and 2010 are right that the intent of the amendment was for any citizen to have a right to bear arms, then I think the majority of framers were wrong, at least for our time. They were wrong about the rights of women and slaves, both of which had to be dealt with much later. The disregard of rights for this country's native peoples has never been addressed in the Constitution. Is it possible those framers were also wrong about the right to bear arms?

What do you think?

- Milo


Susan S. said...

Not on point about guns but a tangential subject that has resonated with me as 26, not 27, not 28, victims, were remembered this past week. Thanks!

from Rabbi Marc Gellman:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote: "What seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful and more unendurable, but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant, which for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and millions of victims, that does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider endurable and of tolerable dimensions."

Oh, God, dear God, help us to mourn not just those children and those teachers taken from this life in the state of Connecticut in the country of America, but also, dear God, open our hearts to the suffering and deaths of other children and other teachers whose deaths have not come rolling up to our thresholds today: the children and teachers of Syria and Congo and North Korea and every place where children and their teachers are caught in the web of war. Each one of them was made in your image. Each one had the songs of their lives cut short even as they were singing them. We pray to you as Lincoln prayed to you that our hearts might become as large as the world.

Milo Thornberry said...

Thank you for the quote and the prayer!

I have been appalled about who has been remembered and who has not. Talk about a parent blamed!