It was a recent headline on the front page (above the fold) of USA Today that suggested the necessity of weighing in on a major issue currently affecting the American family. The headline stated that “Mass killings are often a family affair.” The newspaper looked at the deaths of 934 people who had died in mass shootings in America during the past seven years (from information provided by the FBI) and found that 40 percent involve a suspect slaying a family member.
What is it about the American experience that makes it virtually impossible for some of us to come to grips with reality about the prevalence of guns in our society? The easy acquisition of, and the widespread availability of, guns (and especially automatic weapons) is causing us to systematically exterminate ourselves. And there is no societal institution more at risk than the American family.
Our nation has a rich history where guns are concerned, and the lawfulness of gun ownership is rooted in our constitution. But other nations have similar rich traditions and have been able to reconcile those traditions with current reality. Sadly, Americans seem unable to do so. And so we continue to kill ourselves, with the blessing of the majority, in the face of incontrovertible evidence that "where guns abound, people die."
In the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, we continue to labor under the myth that we need to be personally armed to protect ourselves. In the 1990s, researchers at Emory University looked at the question of "injuries involved with guns kept in the home." The study focused on the cities of Memphis, Seattle, and Galveston. They concluded that these weapons were fired far more times in criminal assaults, accidents, homicides, or suicide attempts. And further, every time a gun in the home was used for self defense, there were four accidental shootings and a whopping 11 attempted or successful suicides.
The American Journal of Public Health found, in a 2003 study, “that there was no clear evidence that victims’ access to a gun reduced their risk of being killed. Also in 2003, the University of Pennsylvania published a study that found that “females living with a gun in the home were 2.7 times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun in the home. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center concluded in a 2011 review that “a gun in the home is a strong risk factor for female homicides and the intimidation of women.”
But these facts are for rational people. When it comes to gun ownership in America, our society is anything but rational. Shortly after our most recent experience of mass killings at the hands of guns (at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut) the NRA responded with the notion that the best solution was to place armed guards in every school in the nation. Are you aware that there are some Latin American countries that have taken this advice to heart (Columbia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador), where you can find armed guards in front of virtually every office building, storefront, grocery store, and gas station in the country. By the way, these nations have some of the highest homicide rates in the world.
It was after a particularly horrendous mass murder in 1996, and the subsequent public outrage, that stricter gun control laws were enacted in Australia. These included a ban on semi-automatic weapons, and a 28-day waiting period before the purchase of handguns. Before then, Australia had averaged a mass shooting every year. Since then, rates of both homicides and suicides have dropped 50 percent and there have been no mass killings. But then again, that is the reaction of a rational society. Again, sadly, Americans are anything but.