Archived Story

Conflicting freedoms present challenge in U.S.

Published 2:06pm Saturday, October 9, 2010

David Larson, The Power of Living

Most of the time I use my travel time on planes to go over upcoming presentations, read or catch up on sleep. Flight 395 to Sacramento turned out to be different.

David Larson, Power for Living

Next to me sat a man headed to the West Coast on business, a casually dressed Canadian with surprisingly white skin. After trading hellos, I quickly discovered this man was interested in a conversation.

“Mind if I ask you a question?” he said to me after confirming I was a U.S. resident.

“Sure, go ahead,” I replied.

“What’s with you Americans and guns?”

“What do you mean?” I returned.

“Nearly half of the world’s guns in existence are owned by your 4 percent of the world’s population, and more than half of the firepower in other countries around the world comes from your factories,” he said.

“You have the most gun deaths per capita (that is, per 100,000 people) of the 36 industrialized countries of the world. Your per capita death rate is higher than Brazil, Yemen and Mexico, three of the most violent nations of the world. At more than 30,000 deaths a year, you lose six times as many lives by firearms every year than the total number of your soldiers killed in the entire Iraq War.”

After taking a deep breath, I quickly did the math in my head. I couldn’t fault him on any of his points.

From a different perspective, I knew that more people die on our streets and in our homes every two years than the number of service men and women that died in the 16 years of the Vietnam war combined — more than 80 people a day. Multiply that by three to comprehend the number of accompanying injuries from guns.

These practices seemed pretty barbaric to my seat-mate. He was curious as to why we are the only civilized country in the world to promote the ownership of handguns by regular citizens.

“Why do you allow this to go on?” He was serious, looking me straight in the eye.

“In the United States, we believe in a freedom that allows its citizens to purchase and carry guns. In fact,” I continued, “this freedom was recently reviewed and upheld in our Supreme Court.”

“In Canada, we believe in freedom too,” he responded, “but not the freedom to kill each other. Thirty years ago, we had around 1,000 gun deaths a year (less than two weeks’ worth in the U.S.). This bothered us, so we instituted tougher regulations, and gun deaths decreased by 50 percent.”

“You’d benefit a lot in fighting crime, too,” he went on. “You lead the world in the amount of criminal activity you allow at the hands of untraceable firearms. One third of all armed criminal acts in the USA involve the use of unregulated guns.”

He was accurate again.

“Many of our citizens like to shoot their own food, enjoy hunting as a sport, and feel more protected if they own a gun,” I countered.

“Yes, I understand,” he said, “but why don’t you promote stricter gun regulation, as nearly 50 other countries have successfully, as a way of protecting both the sport and your fellow citizens?”

“Besides, owning a gun doesn’t make you safer. Studies show that a person is more likely to be killed with a gun if they have one in their home than if they don’t.”

He was right again. Depending on the study and location, American gun deaths and injuries are on average, two or three times greater in homes that possess guns as opposed to those who don’t.

I thought back to a psychology student I had at Riverland Community College a few years ago who had given a report on the need for greater gun control, who, ironically, was later killed with a handgun by her husband.

As our discussion continued, it became more disquieting to me: America experiences a loss of life from citizen-owned guns equal to a 9/11 every 33 days, except for two things: 1. The deaths occur one by one scattered across the country, so we don’t notice it as much. 2. We are doing it to ourselves.

My plane-mate excused himself to go to the restroom.

Why do we allow this to go on I wondered? Is our fear misplaced, given that our weapons are more likely to kill a family member than an intruder? Does our pride in gun ownership justify maintaining a freedom that kills more of our citizens at home than our soldiers abroad?

Was it the big money lobby that allows the powerful to have their way at the expense of the two-thirds of Americans who want stronger gun control? Has the right to have a gun become more important than the right to life for 30,000 people a year? How do we balance the concerns of the sportsman and an individual citizen’s fear of harm, with the protection of the rest of society?

I guess I had no answers. But for some reason, it seemed difficult to sleep after that.

David Larson, M.S., C.P.C.C., is a licensed psychologist and life coach. He can be contacted at the Institute For Wellness, 507-373-7913, or at his website, www.callthecoach.com.