Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gun Control is Not Enough

Gabrielle Giffords
     Today is the 2nd Anniversary of the deadly shooting near Tuscon, Arizona that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords severely injured; six dead, including Federal Judge John Roll; and thirteen others injured. Since then, there have been at least eleven other mass shootings in the United States. Most recently in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook elementary school, which left twenty children and six adults dead. Also during that time, nothing significant has been done to prevent access to handguns or otherwise prevent similar incidents. 
     Today Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, announced the formation of a group they hope will change that, Americans for Responsible Solutions. The group plans to act as a counter lobby to the NRA, and force Congress to make responsible changes to gun laws to prevent these, and so many other, gun violence tragedies. 
     Ms. Giffords was not a gun control advocate during her six years in Congress. She and Mr. Kelly made clear that they are gun owners themselves, and enjoy sport shooting and hunting.  They're not looking to disarm the American public. Instead, they seek laws that will effectively prevent guns from getting to those that shouldn't have them, most notably known criminals and the mentally ill. Despite these statements, I'm sure they'll be met with fierce opposition to their mission, despite its reasonableness. 

     But gun control will not be enough. We need a comprehensive approach to solving the problem of gun violence in the United States. It should include gun ownership restrictions; enhanced background checks, including checks for mental illness; background checks for private sales of guns; improved community mental health care; removing unlicensed, unregistered guns from the streets, reducing the quantity of guns nationwide; and maybe even consider more closely examining the role violent video games, movies and television play in violence among young people. 
     But even if all those things could happen tomorrow, it isn't enough. There are two irrational beliefs that must also change. They seem to be unique to America, perhaps explaining why gun violence is so much higher here than in other countries with similar access to guns. 
    Americans have an irrational belief that we need guns to be safe. That without them, we're big, bright targets for criminals of all stripes, criminals that are lurking in every corner of every street, just waiting to get us all. This is not true. At all
     In 2009, Americans were only 0.005% likely to be a victim of homicide; only 0.4% likely to be victims of violent crime. Even when US crime rates were the highest in recent history, in 1991, the chances of being a homicide victim were only 0.01%; a violent crime victim 0.8%. Hardly compelling evidence to support the need to have a gun at the ready. 
     The second irrational belief is that having a gun will ensure safety. It won't. Evidence of that are the police officers killed every year by violent offenders. If a gun ensured safety, one would think someone who carries one and has been extensively trained in its use would be among the safest people in the world. Yet police officers are killed too often by armed assailants, and worse, sometimes by their own guns taken by their killers. More evidence of this is that a gun in the home is more likely to be used for a homicide, suicide, or accidental shooting than for self defense. Every time a gun is used for self defense, it is used eleven times for suicide or attempted suicide; seven times in criminal assaults and homicides; and four times in unintentional shooting deaths or injuries.
     Guns will not ensure your safety. Just waiving a gun at someone will not always scare them off. Shooting someone will not automatically neutralize the threat. And believing otherwise is more dangerous than being unarmed.  

     If we could change these two fallacies about guns, we could move forward towards taking reasonable steps to reduce gun violence. Until then, we'll be talking in circles with people whose reasoning is based on myths, whose reality is derived from movies, and whose concept of reality is skewed by the power they feel with a gun in their hand

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