More guns does not reduce gun violencePublished 8:45am Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Column: My Point of View, by Jennifer Vogt-Erickson
In this season of Christmas, Hanukkah and the winter solstice, many people are lighting candles in the darkness. Sometimes it feels like darkness is all around us, even though we are not in the worst of times by any means. There is no world war, eminent food shortage or lethal pandemic. We live in a democratic society under the rule of law. Though uncertainty may make it seem like an ephemera, our world is statistically safer than ever before.
Nonetheless, the United States has been through a tough two or three months. With an underlying sluggish economy, we’ve weathered a divisive election, a devastating superstorm, an ongoing budget impasse and most recently a shocking school massacre.
As I do our usual Christmas traditions with my family this year, I feel sadness for the people who wrapped presents for children who will never open them. It’s not just people in Newtown; there have been over a dozen other children in the U.S. killed by gun violence and accidental shootings in December, including a 2-year-old boy in Minneapolis. Our children are more likely to die this way than are most other children around the world, especially compared to other industrialized countries. The Newtown tragedy only shined a light on it.
In the wake of Newtown, I’ve been grateful for my friends and family on Facebook (and friends of friends) who have been willing to discuss the state of guns in the U.S. with me. I’ve been especially thankful for friends who disagree with me for debating with me until we’re exhausted.
We haven’t changed our minds much, but we’ve broken down some assumptions about each other’s positions and found a little common ground. It was fantastic to have a space where civility was an observed ground rule while people challenged each other’s arguments; I saw many places elsewhere on the Internet devolve into ad hominem attack frenzies after a few comments.
After a week of that, I was optimistic Wayne LaPierre would offer NRA support for at least a small change or two in gun regulations. Up until the late 1970s, after all, the NRA was supportive of numerous regulations on guns while promoting good marksmanship and hunting culture. It took only a couple of minutes listening to LaPierre, though, to know my hopes were unfounded. It was surreal to hear him describe people with mental illness using words like “evil” and “monsters.”
He chastised the media and video game makers for profiting from violence while neglecting to be honest about the NRA’s, his own and many of his board members’ financial stakes in selling guns. His effective message, in fact, was to buy more guns.
As I kept listening in jaw-dropped silence, I hoped there are other hunters, sport shooters and people who own guns for self-defense among us who are willing to consider new regulations. Some legislators, highly rated by the NRA, have already spoken in favor of new measures, and I hope they have the political courage to continue it after the NRA drew its line in the sand.
On the liberal side of the political spectrum, I haven’t heard any leaders say we should ban all guns and disarm the populace. There is overall consensus that the Second Amendment protects the right to own guns; it’s just a matter of agreeing upon what kinds of restrictions should be in place.
To know what regulations, if any, would be most effective and least restrictive, we need a better understanding of the impact different guns have on violence in our country. The NRA has worked to block government collection and release of statistics that would aid this analysis.
If the NRA and gun manufacturers were sure that guns reduce violence, I think they would want these studies done so they could use them to support their arguments and sell more guns.
Despite the absence of refined government data, though, there is compelling evidence that guns increase violence. The Harvard School of Public Health has published numerous recent studies that found a clear relationship between more guns and more violence. Raw data comparisons between the U.S. and our largest European peers also indicate a similar relationship. Not only do these other countries, which regulate guns more strictly, have much lower rates of death due to gun violence, they have overall homicide rates three or four times lower than the United States.
This statistic refutes some leaders’ contention that we suffer so much violence because we have turned away from God. If that were true, our more secular European counterparts would surely endure more violence than we do.
It is tempting to implicate culture in tragedies like this. It certainly plays a role, but focusing blame on it also serves to deflect attention away from the relationship between types of guns, gun availability and reported violence involving guns. I don’t know how detailed research on that would turn out, but I want it done.
We have lit many candles for love, life and miracles this season; let us also light them for knowledge and truth.
Jennifer Vogt-Erickson is a member of the Freeborn County DFL Party.