One of the most important differences between the United States of America and most other countries on the planet is our freedom to do all sorts of things, such as protest the government, worship whatever we want, drink, and carry guns. Over the last few years, this last freedom – the right to carry guns – has come into the spotlight, and has very much divided the nation. This is because there have been many mass shootings (more than one a day), which very much frustrates a great number of people. A significant percentage of the country would like to have more gun regulation, but an extremely vocal percentage of the country, along with powerful lobbying groups, want to expand the right to bear arms.
I have to say right upfront that I do not own any guns, and can not, for the life of me, imagine why you would want to. Sure, they are probably awesome to shoot, but why take the risk? A friend of my father was showing a younger person how to shoot, and accidentally shot them in the leg, while reloading the gun. You could argue that he was not taking adequate precautions or whatever, but there is no question that if you have an accident with a gun, someone could be killed. So, I am firmly in the camp of not understanding people’s fascinations with guns or desire to own guns.
Over the last few years there have been a lot of mass shooting in the USA. If we define a mass shooting as an event in which at least 4 people are killed or injured, then there have been more than one a day in 2015. According to shooting tracker, 462 people have been killed and 1312 people have been injured in 2015 (by December 6th). So, a lot of people have been killed senselessly.
Gun control people (of which, I am one) would argue that if we put tighter regulations on guns, these events would not happen. While I would like to believe that this is true, I am not sure it is anymore. There are a few reasons why I think this: (1) there are so many guns in this country that even if we made all guns illegal right now, they would still be in circulation for (hundreds of?) years to come; (2) people would still kill other people with smaller guns; and (3) did I mention all of the guns?
Quick google fact (by dosomething.org): There are 270 million guns in the US. Of those, 0.3% are carried by the police. Which is why you should arm yourself, since the police are obviously not armed enough. (Can you tell that I really hate guns? Does my bias show?) There are typically about 30,000-35,000 gun related deaths each year. Most of these are from suicides, though.
I would like to pivot a little bit and talk about another freedom that we have: alcohol consumption. I have never been a big drinker. In the last few years, I have probably drank more than than the rest of my life combined. I don’t really like the taste of beer or wine, so I am not really part of the main crowd (the fact that hard ciders are more available now, has probably contributed greatly to my drinking habits). If I never took another drink, I would be ok, but I will probably have a drink with dinner tonight.
Many people drink to be more social and to open up. As a country, we drink at sporting events (before, during, after), parties, dinners, and, well, pretty much all of the time. Drinking is completely, 95%+ socially accepted. Some fun facts about alcohol in 2013: about 70% of people drink at least once a year, while 56% drink at least once a month; 88,000 people died because of alcohol related causes; and 10,000 people died because of alcohol related driving incidents. The same website states that 3.3 million people across the globe died in 2012 due to alcohol related issues. In 2006, alcohol misuse cost the US $223.5 billion (that is over 10x the budget of NASA!)
In 1920-1930 we made alcohol use illegal. It was a complete and utter disaster. Why? Because a significant portion of our population thought that having the freedom to drink is worth the death and destruction that it brings. People then, and people now, believe that the 88,000 lives that are destroyed by alcohol use in the US are an ok price to pay for the having the ability to drink in social situations.
Would you drink less if there was a counter on every news channel ticking off the number of people who have died due to alcohol? I don’t think so. You are 200 times more likely to die because of alcohol than you are because of a mass shooting, but only about 3 times more likely if you count all alcohol- and gun-related deaths. The odds are about equal for you dying in a car crash or being killed by a gun (well, 65 times more likely to die in a car crash than be shot in a mass shooting). Should we make drinking illegal? Or driving a car illegal? I don’t think that will happen.
We as a society have decided that gun violence is acceptable, due to the social enjoyment people get out of playing with guns. Just like alcohol use is acceptable. There are those of us who feel like all guns should just be destroyed and no one but the police should carry/own them, just like there are people who feel like no one should drink because the number of deaths are unacceptably high, and alcohol has no great benefits to society. But that isn’t true – alcohol has great benefits to society. People love to drink. They evidently love to shoot guns too.
88,000 alcohol deaths is a huge number. But, half the country drinks and seems to get massive enjoyment out of it. Therefore, we accept it.
500 deaths in mass shooting are too many, and 33,000 gun-related deaths are way too many, but over half the population of the US believe that owning guns is worth the risk. It is very hard to argue against this, given our love of much more deadly pastimes.
While I don’t think that we should all arm ourselves (I am obviously, violently, against this), I do feel like we should do something about it. I am just not sure what. Legislation just won’t work. Gun control advocates just have to accept this. (Just like republicans have to agree that drug control laws don’t really work.) Maybe a public awareness campaign. We could let people keep their guns, but maybe the NRA would have to sponsor some ads showing horrific things happening with guns. If we make people aware of the bad things that could happen with guns, perhaps people will be less likely to want to buy them. We can always hope, right?