Opinion: Gun Violence and Young People in America

Opinion, Crime, NakedLaw, Rights

Young Americans are 42 times more likely to be killed by guns than young people in other affluent countries, yet “Kim Kardashian” yields five times as many Google News results as “gun violence America” on a day without a major shooting story.  Most days we are asleep on this issue, though 82 Americans die from gun violence daily – primarily young inner city African-American males whose stories receive no coverage at all.

Today we learned the horrific news of a mass slaughter of young children and adults in Connecticut.  News organizations are ready to go with their predictable follow up:  rounds of hand-wringing stories about this shooter, these victims, mental illness, why-did-he-do-it.  And very few will talk about the root cause of this and so many other shootings in America:  our gun laws, among the most lax in the developed world.  Laws that could be changed if we had the political will, saving lives of our young people – those whose stories get covered, and those who die in silence.

At 270 million guns and growing annually, the United States boasts more firearms in private hands than anywhere else on earth. With 90 guns per 100 residents, we are well ahead of the second-most gun-yielding country on earth, Yemen, which has 61 guns per 100 residents. The proliferation of guns in America has not only led to frequent, predictable gun deaths and mass shootings but also to increasingly violent crimes perpetrated by angry young men with easy access to firearms.

The United States is now at epidemic levels of gun violence, which claims over thirty thousand lives annually, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (And for every gun death, two more are wounded.)  The gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined.  Every one of those nations has stricter gun control laws.  Of all the gun deaths in the 23 wealthiest countries in the world, 80 percent are American deaths. Of all the children killed by guns in those nations, 87 percent are American kids.

While the sophisticated and politically savvy NRA wields enormous political power, more Americans favor than oppose background checks for gun buyers, banning semi-automatic weapons, high capacity clips, guns for felons and the mentally ill, and requiring gun registration.

We Arm Them

Every country has angry, crazy, violence-drunk young men. They will always be among us.  They are not going away.   The difference: we arm ours.  Often, with automatic weapons, as was the case in the Colorado movie theater shooting, which allow the quick killing and maiming of large numbers of innocent people.

It’s mostly a waste of time to examine the shooter’s life, look for warning signs.  In the case of last week’s Oregon shopping mall shooting, none have come to light.  We must accept this as true:  angry young men will always be among us, some mentally ill, some not.  They will be drawn to firearms and explosions, sick revenge plots, going out in a twisted blaze of what they perceive as a burst of glory.  Our decision as a nation is whether we will continue to arm these young men, or make real efforts to keep guns out of their hands – especially automatic weapons.

“This is happening all over our country,” a cable news anchorwoman said to me on a show the other day after the Oregon shopping mall shooting, in which the gunman killed “only” two people before his semiautomatic weapon jammed.  Yes, but rarely in other first world countries, a fact rarely mentioned in news coverage of our never-ending mass shooting stories.  They don’t rely on a shooter’s weapon malfunctioning to protect their citizens.

Most other developed nations enacted strict gun control laws decades ago, often after their own horrific mass shootings, as the UK did after a Scotland mass school shooting in 1996.  UK gun deaths in 2011:  51.  Not 51,000 or 5,100.  51.  (Will determined killers just find another means?  Sometimes.  Not always.  UK murders by crossbow in 2011:  2.)

Whether gun control works isn’t a matter of opinion. When a crazed fan attacked Beatle John Lennon with a firearm in gun-lax America, Lennon died.  When a crazed fan attacked Beatle George Harrison with a knife in gun-controlled England, Harrison fought him off and survived.  That’s the difference between a country that reins in guns and one that chooses not to.

Horrific gun crimes do occasionally happen abroad, such the Norway shooting at a camp for young people.  Gun control does not reduce gun homicides to zero.  But the perfect should never be the enemy of the good.  America has had the majority of the world’s mass shootings, though we are but five percent of the world’s population.  Wouldn’t halving this number be a worthy achievement?

The Second Amendment

What of the Second Amendment, and the US Supreme Court’s recent decision upholding Americans’ gun rights (District of Columbia v. Heller)?  In that case the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protected citizens’ right generally to keep handguns in their homes for self-defense, but still allowed for reasonable gun restrictions:

“Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

The court also added that military-type weapons, such as automatic and semi-automatic rifles, could be restricted.  In short, no constitutional right is absolute.  Since Heller, eighty lower courts have ruled on gun control measures such as bans on gun ownership by mentally ill persons, felons or domestic violence perpetrators, bans on machine guns and special attachments, and restrictions on where guns may be carried – and nearly all have been upheld.

The rest of the world is appalled at our regular mass shootings, our daily gun homicides, and our paralysis in the face of even our children being slaughtered.  Many of my European friends have told me they are afraid to visit America, as they might get shot.

What should I tell them?  That we tough cowboys can’t muster the courage to change laws to protect our own kids?

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of Avvo.com.