Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Mass shootings aren't the problem
A 6-year-old boy shot his 3-year-old brother to death in Chicago last Saturday.
Leading to no public soul-searching, no local, never mind national, catharsis. People hardly noticed.
Which is strange, because this kind of tragedy — or, if you prefer, crime, since the child found the gun left atop a refrigerator by his father, Michael Santiago, who is now charged with child endangerment — is symbolic of our nation's gun crisis.
We snap to attention at mass shootings, with round-the-clock coverage, and intense thumb twiddling.
But mass shootings are not the problem. Not close, not compared to everyday gun violence.
According to the FBI, 486 people were killed in mass shootings in the United States between 2000 and 2013. Or between 30 and 40 a year.
Now lets look at the numbers of people who intentionally shoot themselves: about 20,000 a year. An additional 11,000 are murdered by others wielding guns. And 600 more, like the 3-year-old boy, are shot and killed in accidents.
So why the sound and fury after mass shootings? And the cough-into-the-fist at individual shootings?
The common wisdom — and I've written this myself — is that nothing will be done toward adopting a sane national approach to guns because gun owners are so passionate in their support of gun rights. Their solution is always more guns, not fewer. The National Rifle Association has Congress in the palm of its hand to such a degree that it stripped funding to the Centers for Disease Control that went to gun violence research (a reminder of how wrong people can be — false patriots claim their guns protect our freedoms, when the exact opposite is true: the gun lobby undermines the basic American freedom to investigate the facts of our lives).
Yet there is hope. There is a model for success, the story of a formerly huge national problem, worsened by rich interests and entrenched public delusion, eventually made less huge after decades of hard work: smoking.
Now only a quarter of adults smoke. Millions of lives have been saved. How? Facts are sticky. No matter how much hype and spin gets sprayed at them, the facts remain. Smoking really does kill you. As do guns. Arguments for their value are delusional, like Ben Carson's idiotic imagining that arming Germany's Jewish population would have prevented the Holocaust. (The French army had guns; didn't help them). Or episodic: Someone, somewhere occasionally uses a gun for a legitimate protective purpose. But that is an extreme rarity, the comfort hiding the peril. Cigarettes make you more relaxed, so you ignore the danger. Ditto for guns. They help you feel safe, the illusion of protection masking the hard reality: that you don't usually shoot the gang-banger coming through the door; what happens, usually, is one of your kids shoots another.
With cigarettes, before laws changed, perceptions had to change. Slowly smoking went from something desirable to a personal flaw.
Ditto for guns. The NRA is trained to snarl against anyone proposing laws, but it's too early to push for laws. What we should push is the unvarnished truth, supported by the overwhelming evidence. Buying a gun makes you more imperiled, not safer. It increases the risk you will kill yourself, that you will kill your family members, or they will kill you — or each other.
Those are just the facts.
The father of those two boys bought his gun for what seems like a valid reason — he had testified against a gang member and was worried that the gang might come for him. But they never did. And now they don't have to. But let us not focus on this case. Because someone else will be shot tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that . . .