As I write this less than twenty-four hours after the devastating events in Las Vegas, the current tally of the dead stands at fifty-eight, with over five hundred people injured. I’m sure the number of dead will climb before the week is out. It is the worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history.
Why are all these people dead and wounded? It’s not because of ISIS (though they do so love to take credit) or refugees or Mexican drug lords. It’s because some unhinged millionaire retiree decided to get frisky with an arsenal of semi-automatic assault rifles and enough ammunition to take out a small army.
For a long time, I was quite libertarian about gun control, as I am about a number of social and personal property issues. Generally speaking, I don’t like the government telling people what to do. Whether it’s restrictive marriage, abortion, or eminent domain laws, I don’t like the high and mighty playing God with people’s lives. And even though I don’t want to own a gun, I also don’t want some bureaucrat telling me I can’t own one.
At least, that’s how I used to feel. While my libertarian views of marriage, abortion, and eminent domain haven’t changed, my views on gun laws have, thanks to some of the following shocking statistics.
- On average, 73 Americans were injured by guns and 36 killed every day in 2015. And these numbers don’t even include most suicides.
- From 2005-2015, 71 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. 301,797 were killed by gun violence during the same period.
- In 2015, on average, a toddler shot someone about once a week.
- There were 64 school shootings in 2015 alone.
- There were 372 mass shootings in 2015. That’s more than one every day.
- There are more people in America who own ten or more guns than there are residents of Denmark.
- From 1968 to 2011 there were 1.4 million firearm deaths in America. That’s more than the total number of people killed in every war the U.S. has ever fought.
- America has 4.4% of the world’s population but almost half of its civilian-owned guns.
- The states with the most guns report the highest number of suicides. More guns = more suicides.
These statistics don’t even speak to the problem this country has with illegal weapons, the higher cost women and people of color pay for our out-of-control gun problem or the number of guns that are used to kill police officers or by police officers to kill civilians. The scope of the problem is enormous and multi-faceted.
The NRA and many lawmakers on the right like to say that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Well, yes and no. I strongly believe that America’s gun violence problem runs deeper than our easy access to firearms. The gun laws in this country have always been lax but we haven’t always had these many mass shootings.
So why now? I don’t think there is a single answer. Certainly better mental health services would help but that’s nothing new. Global anxiety, political polarization, and fractured communities likely play a role. I think toxic masculinity is a big part of this. After all, over 98% of mass murderers are men.
We can’t forget these underlying contributors when we have this national conversation about gun violence but passing stricter gun control laws, while ultimately a band-aid, can help lower the number of gun-related deaths NOW. And that’s critical.
There are some excellent proposed strategies to cut down on the number of firearm-related deaths, such as:
- Requiring extensive criminal and mental health background checks prior to ALL firearm sales.
- Barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists.
- Banning assault rifles, automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks.
- Creating a federal database to track gun sales.
I also think there are some other things we could do to lower the number of accidental gun deaths that are not being discussed, such as:
- Requiring consumers to prove basic competency before purchasing a gun. If you can’t aim a gun, you shouldn’t own one.
- Requiring consumers to purchase a secure gun case or safe along with any firearm or prove they already have one.
- Requiring consumers to take a course in gun safety or requiring sellers to review basic gun safety with customers prior to the sale of any firearm.
Hopefully, these measures would cut down the number of guns that find their way into the hands of kids.
I am not anti-gun. I think there are perfectly legitimate reasons why someone might want to own a gun, such as hunting (within legal and ethical bounds), self-defense (especially for at-risk people), or sport (I always preferred archery but to each his own). I just think we need to be smart about this and not let the NRA and gun lobby, which have clear financial interests in deregulation, control the conversation with their alternative facts.
We can do better. We must do better.5 Books About Gun Violence in America + What You Can Do to Make a DifferenceClick To Tweet
Recommended Books + Resources
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If you want to learn more about the history of the gun debate and why it’s at the heart of our nation’s divide read Gunfight by Adam Winkler. It will challenge you whether you are pro or anti-gun control.
If you want to learn more about the context and meaning of the Second Amendment read The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman.
If you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of the data on gun violence read Private Guns, Public Health by David Hemenway. He also outlines a policy course that he believes would dramatically reduce gun-related deaths.
If you’re trying to figure out how to balance your support for the Second Amendment and gun control you might be interested in Living with Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment by Craig R. Whitney.
If you want to learn more about one of world’s most popular guns and the evolution of gun culture in America read Glock by Paul M. Barrett.
How You Can Make a Difference
I’ll be honest, I’m not optimistic that our legislators will pull their heads out of the sand and deal with America’s gun problem. We’ve had so many horrific shootings and so many calls to action, yet so little results. Still, I believe it’s important to keep fighting. Guns may be an intrinsic part of American culture, but so was slavery, and we finally abolished that, even if it took us way too long.
The gun lobby has powerful influence in Washington with a ton of money backing it up, so it’s important to support organizations that are fighting the good fight. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence is one such organization you can donate to.
Contact your state representatives and advocate for stricter gun controls and better background checks. You can find your representatives here.
If you own a gun, make sure it’s stored in a SUPER secure place so there is no chance of any kids or teenagers gaining access to it. Also, consider joining a local gun club that offers situational training. Shooting at a still target is a lot different than shooting in a real-life high-stress scenario. Mistakes happen when you’re underprepared.
What are the best books you’ve read about gun violence in America? What are you doing to make a difference?