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The smoking gun

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On Wednesday, ABC News reported “a gun-control organization led by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband…outlined plans Tuesday to support candidates in at least 11 congressional races this year who have backed efforts in Congress to enact stricter gun control laws.”

There are topics that are a constant source of high-intensity angst no matter what is going on in the world. It takes something as catastrophic as 9/11 to distract us from almost daily arguments about abortion, taxes and of course guns.

Since the Colorado theater and Sandy Hook shootings in 2012 the debate about guns has been more intense than ever, with those favoring more gun control highlighting every gun crime that can make it onto a meme and the guns rights advocates parading a host of staunch supporters who almost dare anyone to attempt to take their weapons.

To be certain, gun advocates have their share of caustic orators, the most recent of which appears to be Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher aka Joe the Plumber, who made a number of very important and salient points about the right to own and use firearms but unfortunately started his piece with “your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights.”

While it’s true that they don’t, such an insensitive and poorly-worded comment isn’t likely to open up any hearts and minds to consider the rest of what you have to say, Joe.

And unfortunately Joe isn’t alone. From videos made of guys feeling the need to mock gun control advocates by carrying rifles around while shopping to the Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, the country’s most prominent pro-gun advocacy group, who manages to make statements that are blatantly false half the time he opens his mouth, it's apparent that gun rights advocates sometimes shoot first and ask questions later...figuratively speaking.

Their opponents typically say this is part and parcel of anything the right supports, and yet, a little intellectual curiosity is in order when examining issues where we are so deeply divided with each side sometimes unwavering. Is there a reason gun advocates sometimes go a little too far or use extreme rhetoric in defending what they perceive to be their rights?

The 2nd Amendment does indeed state “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” and anti-gun advocates argue that there was never any intent to bear arms other than for such a militia. However, in D.C. vs. Heller, the Supreme Court attempted to put the right to bear arms in a modern-day perspective. Aware that the Founders could not have envisioned the power of weapons we have today, they ruled “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." However, they also affirmed “the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. "

But for anti-gun advocates to be so active in their strong desire for more gun control, surely there must be a compelling reason, and they would argue what seems to be a reasonable point. Between 1980 and 2006, an average of 32,300 people lost their lives annually due to gun violence, predominantly homicide or suicide, and compared to other industrialized countries, violence and firearm death rates in the United States are disproportionately high. These facts and the lives lost shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Of course there is a great deal of disagreement about how to address it. The left seems to be concerned about these deaths and as a result, has consistently pushed for greater gun control. While more thorough background checks certainly seem to be a no-brainer and in some cases Republicans have opposed them, there seems to be little acknowledgement that any laws attempting to infringe on the legal use of guns are not only often unconstitutional, but they also aren’t likely to be effective. Criminals, after all, do not obey the laws to begin with so they are not going to be affected by more laws that infringe of the rights of law-abiding citizens and in fact, such laws can potentially give criminals a competitive advantage. Meanwhile there are other areas that need to be addressed such as our inadequate mental health treatment system, harsher penalties for gun crimes and addressing the illegal gun trade that would have a greater effect on reducing gun crime without infringing on constitutional rights.

What is more puzzling, however, is the amount of attention paid to an issue that seems very serious in and of itself but in fact, pales in comparison to other toxic activities we engage in. Cigarette smoking, for example, is the major cause of a whopping 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S. nearly sixteen times the number of gun-related deaths. Even if you add in non-fatal gun injuries the total is nearly five times as high.

Indeed, Tobacco Control, an online newspaper, published an abstract assembled by Stanford university’s Dr. Robert Proctor which states:

“The cigarette is the deadliest artefact in the history of human civilisation. Apart from reducing human suffering, abolishing the sale of cigarettes would result in savings in the realm of healthcare costs, increased labour productivity, lessened harms from fires, reduced consumption of scarce physical resources, and a smaller global carbon footprint. Abolition would also put a halt to one of the principal sources of corruption in modern civilisation, and would effectively eliminate one of the historical forces behind global warming denial and environmental obfuscation."

If we are objectively concerned about loss of life, it has yet to be explained why attempts to reduce the cause of 32,000 deaths annually is so much important than that which causes 480,000.

In addition, while it is undeniable that there are lawful and productive uses for guns including self-protection, hunting, skeet/trap shooting and more, there are no productive aspects to smoking and its effects are uniformly damaging.

Addressing such issues is not mutually exclusive, but more cigarette control is not something being debated daily from cable TV to social media. So we should all take this opportunity to reflect and perhaps there will eventually be an answer to why that is the case. By any objective standard we should be arguing about whether or not to restrict the use of cigarettes more often and more passionately that we do about guns.

Is it perhaps because of the media coverage? What else might explain, as USA Today reported, “The rate of non-fatal violent gun crime victimization dropped 75% in the past 20 years; The gun homicide rate dropped 49% in the same period, according to numbers Pew researchers obtained from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…[but] 84% [of Americans] believe in recent years, gun crime has either gone up or stayed the same — when the reality is that it has dropped significantly.

It’s easy to understand how gun violence makes the headlines and those affected by a sudden and traumatic loss of life are motivated to speak up, whereas smoking is a nonviolent part of our daily routine. However, death by smoking is just as dead and in addition, it can often be a slow, painful and expensive decline. The numbers speak for themselves and cast a real shadow of doubt on the motives behind the coverage and the conversation. There are those who simply hate guns and even more, the people who use them. Unfortunately we all need to remember, as one famous pointed-eared Vulcan logically observed, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

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