“Too many teardrops for one heart to be crying
Too many teardrops for one heart to carry on ...”
— “96 Tears”
(Question Mark and the Mysterians)
After every gun tragedy, we hear the same thing from the right wing: (1) It is just a real shame that there is all that suffering due to the shootings; (2) Prayer is the only thing we poor humans can do while we wait for the angels to take us up yonder.
No, it’s not. Interestingly, if we look at the most religious states (3-12, Gallup), they are generally the ones with the loosest gun control and higher homicide rates. Once again, praying gun violence away does not work.
We are the strongest democracy in the history of the world. We are also by far the most religious, per surveys (Pew, 4-16). Strangely, we are also the most violent.
Recent statistics compiled by the Guardian newspaper and based on United Nations data show conclusively that the USA has more homicides per capita by guns than any developed democracy. The homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 pop for the USA is 2.97. When we look at England at 0.06, France at 0.07 and Australia at 0.14 per 100,000, a startling pattern begins to develop.
We look like a Third World nation when it comes to firearms. Our rate is slightly higher than the West Bank and the Gaza strip. To be fair, there are some nations worse than ours. Columbia and Venezuela come to mind.
The respected Harvard Injury Control Center showed that, per six major studies, “more guns = more homicide” in our nation. Other sources have found the same thing.
Mother Jones magazine put together a report on gun violence a few years ago. It found that “Gun death rates are generally lower in states with restrictions such as safe-storage requirements or assault-weapons bans.” For example, Alaska with gun ownership at over 60% of residents had four times the deaths per capita by firearms versus New York with a gun ownership rate of about 10%. Other states follow this pattern.
There is a multitude of similar statistics, but you get the point. Having guns does not make us safer. It increases the chances of firearms being used in homicides, usually against innocent people per studies.
The Second Amendment reads: "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."
Up until 2008, that was always interpreted as meaning that a state militia can carry guns as a right. However, in a 5-4 highly political decision written by Scalia, SCOTUS overturned long standing legal precedent and found that the Second Amendment applies to individuals, despite the obvious intent of the amendment.
As a practical matter, it is a moot point. No national politician will ever suggest confiscating guns from the estimated 55 million Americans who own them, including me. But that does not mean that we should all ignore the issue and simply pray.
The AMA is aware of the problem and has declared gun violence as a major public health problem. That is the way it should be approached. We must fund the CDC to study this issue and come up with long-term public health recommendations and goals.
We must look at these other nations and see what they have done to reduce firearm violence. Obviously, with 300 million privately owned weapons, we are unfortunately much different than other nations. But, maybe we can pick up some clues from their policies. We should also compare gun control policies in effect in each state and determine the impact on mortality.
In the short term, there are also specific things which can clearly be done. It just takes the will to do it.
We must improve background checks. We should immediately put a halt to the sale of weapons at firearms shows, where the criminals know that if they have enough cash they can buy anything they want. We can restrict where guns can be carried. State legislatures prohibit them from their chambers. Why should it be legal to have them on a college campus, a church or portions of an airport?
Just like driving a car, there should be a safety test for new gun owners. And semi-automatic assault weapons which have no real hunting or recreational purpose should be banned, as should larger magazines and armor-piercing bullets.
We can do something about gun violence in this country. The first step is to put pressure on your legislators to take action … and to strongly refute the NRA line that the Second Amendment prevents any gun control whatsoever.
Jack Bernard is a retired former executive of for-profit health care firms, former chairman of the Jasper County Republican Party and the first director of health care planning for the state of Georgia. He lives in Peachtree City.