A Statement on Gun Violence, Gun Culture, and Gun Control

As someone who harbors progressive political views (due to my liberal Catholic upbringing no less), I rarely try to discuss politics since I live in an area where my leftist political views based on my strong Catholic moral convictions have a great potential to offend people like friends and extended family. However, in the wake of a the Navy Stockyard shooting, I cannot in due conscience keep silent on the matter of  gun violence in this nation which I see as reaching epic proportions. I understand that gun violence is a highly controversial issue in these United States and I know full well that I may be subject to nasty comments by trolls, but I’d rather risk offending people than disobey my own conscience, especially on matters of great national urgency in which my silence could be a sin since violence of any kind is a grave injustice, especially if it costs innocent lives. I may not have been personally involved in a violent in my life nor lived in an area where violence is the norm. I may not understand what it’s like to know anyone who was exposed to gun violence or had their life taken because of it. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that my own life hasn’t been affected by gun violence nor that I don’t have any opinions on it. Criticize me if you may but let my voice be heard.

In the United States on average about 1 in 3  know someone who has been shot while each day guns account for 32 murders, 51 suicides, 45 fatal accidents, and 140 being sent in an emergency room for a gun assault. Nearly 1 in 4 American teens has witnessed a shooting while gun violence is the second highest cause of death of American children and teens in which on an average of 8 are killed by guns per day consisting of a third of all victims. It is also the primary cause of death among African Americans from that age group which was one of the reasons the Trayvon Martin story was such a big deal in the news, especially the fact that he was shot by a white Hispanic man named George Zimmerman. While rural kids are more likely to die from a gunshot than their urban counterparts, most of them will die from gunshots caused by suicide or an unintentional shooting while urban kids will more likely die from gunshots caused by homicide, especially if they’re poor, black, or Hispanic. However, half of all gun violence victims are between 18-35 years old while many come from poor neighborhoods where gun violence is prevalent, be either black or Hispanic, or perhaps have a criminal record. Of course, most victims of gun violence are men as well as the perpetrators. And teenagers exposed to gun violence were more likely to commit more serious acts of violence themselves, especially teenage boys of color in bad neighborhoods. White males, on the other hand, are more likely to use a gun to commit suicide since they consist of 40% of all firearm suicide victims and most mass shooters tend to be young white men as well.

Every year, gun violence costs about an average of $100 billion dollars to US taxpayers including medical treatment, criminal justice proceedings, new security precautions, and reductions of quality of life in gun violence prevalent neighborhoods due to fear, which results in economic devastation. The lifetime medical costs for all gun violence victims is said to amount to $2.3 billion with almost half of that being born on US taxpayers. From these statistics derived from the Brady Campaign it’s not hard to determine that the United States has a serious problem with gun violence, which isn’t just killing our citizens or perhaps but also ruining their lives, but also becoming a drain on our taxpayers. On an international scale, Americans are about 20 times more likely to be killed by firearms than those in any other high income industrialized nation where firearms are involved in more than two thirds of homicides according to the FBI and half of all suicides according to the CDC. And in places where gun violence is prevalent, both the victims and the perpetrators are more likely to be poor as well, which makes taxpayers more likely to cover the medical bills and legal fees. Although gun violence has decreased dramatically in the past 20 years along with other reported crimes, it’s still a major problem in this country especially in the wake of events like Aurora, Newtown, and the Navy Stockyard mass shootings.

The United States has 310 million guns and which are owned by 40% of all households, a decline since the 1960s but the number of guns has considerably increased meaning that gun ownership has become more concentrated. And by a wide margin the US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. Unsurprisingly 80% of American gun owners are men since guns usually tend to have a great male following and associated with American masculinity and rugged individualism and are said to own 7.9 guns each. Of course the reasons for keeping firearms varies such as sport, hunting, sharpshooting, collections, and self-defense. And self-defense is usually the reason that most pro-gun activists argue that guns keep us safe as well as keeping and carrying one for self-defense, makes one safer as well as contributes to a polite society. However, recent statistics show that guns will only keep you safe only if you have the kind of firearms training given to someone in law enforcement or in the armed forces. Civilians gun owners, on the other hand, don’t have the kind of conditioning required to act quickly in the face of an assailant, be calm under fire in a hail of bullets, or take steady direct aim. So it’s no surprise that most of the civilians shooting an armed assailant on the news were either former cops or military veterans. The others were just lucky. Thus, unless you made your living shooting bad guys or putting dangerous people in prison, guns are probably not going to make you safe. And in one survey, nearly 1% of Americans reported using guns to defend themselves or their property but a closer look at their claims found that more than half of them involved using guns in an aggressive manner such as escalating an argument. If having a gun is going to do anything for you in a situation like a mass shooting, then it’s probably going to make you either a more likely target or prone to make careless and deadly mistakes such as accidentally shooting an innocent person. Not to mention, no mass shooting in the last 30 years has ever been stopped by armed civilians. Rather in 2011, people were nearly 10 times more likely to be shot and killed in arguments than by civilians trying to stop a crime and the odds of a person getting shot were 4.5 times greater if he or she owned a gun and had a 4.2 times greater chance of getting killed.

Though it is said that guns in the home are said to keep a place more secure, as Mother Jones reports for every gun used in self-defense in the home, there have been 7 assaults or murders, 11 suicide attempts, and 4 accidents involving guns in or around the home. 43% of homes with guns and children have at least one unlocked firearm which can result in a deadly accident waiting to happen, especially if a kid of any age grabs hold of an unlocked gun. There have been far too many incidents where children have been killed while playing with an unlocked gun. Also, there have been so many domestic disputes that turned violent just because a gun was in the vicinity. Still, many would say they own a gun so they could protect themselves against a home invasion in which the chances of happening depend on location yet in reality, the time when someone is most likely to break into your house is when you’re on vacation since most intruders wouldn’t want to get caught. Locking your house would be a much better defense yet in the event in a home invasion, you’re better off calling the police. Still, the person who’s most likely to shoot you or break into your house isn’t going to be an intruder but by someone you know.

As for women, they were nearly 6 times more likely to be shot by their husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than by any male stranger, especially if they’re in abusive relationships and try to leave. Gun advocates often argue that guns make women safer but the scenario that usually plays in the minds is the notion of being attacked by a complete male stranger on the street or who breaks into the house. In reality, women are probably least likely to be killed or violated by a guy who breaks into their house or some random guy on the street except if they’re in a dangerous neighborhood. This is because for one, most men would never even think about harming a woman in either of these scenarios. Second, most of these dangerous guys usually have a strategy to win over their target before going ahead with their dirty work and get away with it either through manipulation or roofies. As in abusive relationships, a woman’s situation gets even more complicated since she might have feelings for her abuser or even had an abusive childhood herself. Not to mention, having a gun isn’t going to help a woman defend herself from an abusive spouse because the guy usually tries to control her and will probably end up finding the gun anyway. Still, a woman’s chances of being killed by her abuser increased 7 times if he had access to a gun and two thirds of homicides involving current and ex-spouses were committed with firearms. In locations where people under restraining orders were denied weapons, female partner homicide rate decreased by 7 percent. Yet, in locations with high gun ownership rates, women were 4.9 times more likely murdered by a gun than their lower gun ownership rate counterparts.

As for the notion of an armed society being a polite society, which many gun advocates argue that having a gun makes someone less likely to mess around with you. However, in my opinion an armed society is certainly not one I’d want to live in since how can you trust anyone if everyone’s threatening you with violence? Besides, isn’t threatening people with violence not very polite in the first place? I mean it doesn’t create a good social environment either. If anything, an armed society is just an inhospitable one, especially if you don’t know what qualifies as messing with someone. Sometimes guns may be used to control others or even get away with certain things others wouldn’t normally do. Still, Mother Jones reported that drivers who carry guns are 44% more likely than unarmed drivers to make obscene gestures to other motorists and 77% more likely to follow them aggressively. And among Texans committing serious crimes, those with a concealed-handgun licenses were sentenced for threatening someone with a firearm 4.8 times more likely than those without.

And of course, we got those Stand Your Ground Laws, which allow people to shoot in self-defense without duty to retreat made famous by the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman who got off on justifiable homicide. It is said that such policies have been linked to a 7 to 10% increase in homicides, which doesn’t surprise me. Not to mention, such Stand Your Ground Laws allowed Zimmerman be acquitted for Martin’s murder even though Martin was clearly just a 17-year-old unarmed black kid minding his own business while Zimmerman was clearly an aggressor who acted out of his own assumptions that seemed to be nothing but a classic case of racial profiling. Sure Martin threatened and punched Zimmerman but the guy was following him. Even worse, Zimmerman called the police but ignored the 911 dispatch’s instructions not to follow Martin in the first place. One study confirmed a racial disparity in the law that whites have been significantly more successful claiming self-defense when their attacker is black (found justifiable 17% of the time) than blacks fighting back against an attacker who is white (found justifiable just over 1% of the time). Still, the Trayvon Martin incident clearly demonstrates that Stand Your Ground Laws threaten public safety (especially in a state like Florida where a man who was arrested for battering a cop and once subject to a domestic restraining order was allowed to carry a concealed and loaded handgun), encourages vigilantism, and by tying the hands of law enforcement while depriving victims of remedies by providing blanket immunity from criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits to individuals who claim to be acting in self-defense (without thorough investigation).

So what do we do about the problem with gun violence? Well, gun advocates tend to say to place armed guards at schools so they could stop any potential school shooter like then next Adam Lanza. However, many poorer schools already have armed guards and they’re not a very inviting sight, especially in communities where it’s not unusual for minority students to be suspended frequently. Besides, there’s a 1 in 5 chance that a shooting at an ER involved guns taken away from guards in the first place. And as far as mass shootings go, Columbine was a school that had armed guards while Virginia Tech had a whole armed campus police force and we know that arming the good guys didn’t prevent the loss of life resulting from their mass shootings. Also, though most mass shootings happen at gun free zones, they also prevent a lot of other forms of violence from occurring, especially in high gun ownership states. So if arming guards doesn’t work to reduce gun violence, what does? Well, one of the more popular forms of gun control legislation is universal background checks in all gun transactions since most of these guns involved in mass shootings were obtained legally and around 40% of all legal gun sales involving private sellers don’t require one. Not only that but it’s said that 40% of prison inmates who used guns for their crimes, got them this way and an investigation found that 62% of online gun sellers were willing to sell to buyers who said they couldn’t pass a background check. Then there’s the case with the Navy Stockyard shooter Aaron Alexis who managed to pass a background check despite having a history of mental illness and violent behavior. Not to mention, George Zimmerman whose past included an arrest for beating up a cop and being subject to a domestic violence restraining order. Neither of these guys should’ve been able to get a hold of a gun in the first place.

Another piece of gun control legislation I’d advocate which may be controversial is an assault weapons ban as well as high capacity magazines on civilians since many of these kinds of weapons were used at the shootings in Aurora, Tuscon, Virginia Tech, and Newtown and many of these weapons were legally obtained (49 of 62 mass shootings since the 1980s involved legal weapons and half of those shootings involved the use of assault weapons with high capacity magazines). These weapons should only be used in the military for which they were made for and don’t serve much of a purpose for civilians other than perhaps defending oneself from nonexistent threats like aliens or zombies. I mean really, who needs an assault weapon? Besides, there’s not much sport in firing an assault rifle for target practice at cardboard boxes. However, whenever a mass shooting occurs, the NRA likes to promote these weapons and gun manufacturers tend to make a ton of money on them as well despite that these kinds of guns killed little children in Newtown. And while an assault weapons ban may not have much of a chance passing in Congress, about 54% percent of Americans support one while 91% support background checks. Yet, look what happened the last time gun control was introduced in the US Senate.

The NRA always asserts that in the matter of gun violence that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Sure people kill people there’s no arguing that, but the NRA often uses this mantra to assert that guns aren’t the problem in instances of gun violence which doesn’t get to matter at all. People may be the problem but so are guns, especially if they are nothing but killing machines. Also, guns are most people’s killing weapon of choice since it could be used at a great distance and doesn’t call for much exertion of physical strength. Not to mention, Alfred Hitchcock once said a gun was “such an amazingly simple device. An idiot can operate it and indeed many do.” Yet, the NRA would also argue against gun control by citing the  Second Amendment with “the right to bear arms bear arms shall not be infringed.” Of course when the NRA cites this they conveniently ignore the phrase “well-regulated militia.” So basically this probably doesn’t really apply to civilians other than that most men at that time probably belonged to one. Also, it’s pretty much established that “the right to bear arms” doesn’t apply to allowing a civilian to own a grenade, tank, bazooka, or even build a bomb. I mean that would be silly wouldn’t it? Thus, I think that gun control is perfectly constitutional. Still, gun violence is a problem in this nation and the role of guns and gun culture needs to be discussed because you can’t try to prevent gun violence without talking about the guns.

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