SHAMEFUL FAILURE TO ADDRESS GUN VIOLENCE

ABSTRACT: A filibuster in the US Senate just blocked passage of a law to require background checks on most gun buyers, despite the fact that 90% of Americans support these background checks; even 74% of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support them!

This reflects the power of money in politics – the money of the gun and ammunition makers and sellers. Their well-funded front organization, the NRA, only has about 2 million members, but wields outsized influence.

The facts make this failure to address gun violence shameful. In the four months since the Newtown massacre of 20 young children and 6 adults, over 3,500 people have died from gun violence. Roughly 30,000 people die each year from gun violence in the US. This is ten times as many as died on September 11th, but we spend far more time and money to prevent violence by terrorists than we do to prevent gun violence.

Contrary to the NRA’s rhetoric, guns do NOT make you safer: 1) For every use of a gun in self-defense at home, there are 11 suicide attempts, 7 assaults or murders, and 4 gun accidents; 2) Gun death rates are over three times higher in states with high gun ownership; and 3) Despite the claim that more armed civilians would stop mass shootings, this hasn’t happened once in the last 30 years.

In 1996, Australia banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, required strict permitting and tracking of gun purchases, and purchased and destroyed about 700,000 firearms. The results are:

  • 59% decrease in firearm murders (without an increase in non-firearm murders)
  • 65% decrease in firearm suicides (without an increase in non-firearm suicides)
  • No gun massacres in the 16 years since enactment of the law compared with 13 massacres (in which 4 or more people died) in the 18 years before enactment
  • The murder rate has dropped to 1 per 1 million people. (The US rate is 33 times higher.)

The votes in the US Senate are profiles in cowardice. There is no reason for anyone other than law enforcement and the military to have automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazines that hold over 10 bullets. I urge you to call, email, and / or write your federal and state elected officials and demand reasonable gun laws that will prevent future gun massacres.

FULL POST: A filibuster in the US Senate just blocked passage of a law to require background checks on most gun buyers. Although there was a majority of 54 votes in favor, the Republicans, abetted by four Democrats, obstructed progress. This occurred despite the fact that 90% of Americans support these background checks; even 74% of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support them! The Senate also failed to pass a provision banning the sales of assault weapons; there were only 40 votes in favor, even though 45% of gun owners support a ban on these weapons. [1]

This reflects the power of money in politics – the money of the gun and ammunition makers and sellers. While their lobbyists operate behind the scenes, their well-funded front organization, the NRA, operates in public. Although it only has about 2 million members (out of 300 million people in the US), which is only 5% of gun owners, and 30% of gun owners have an unfavorable opinion of the NRA, it wields outsized influence. Together, the money, the private lobbying, and the public publicity have banned federal research and data sharing on gun violence and perpetrated myths about guns and gun violence.

The facts make this failure to address gun violence shameful. In the four months since the Newtown massacre of 20 young children and 6 adults, over 3,500 people have died from gun violence. Roughly, 30,000 people die each year of gun violence in the US, 12,000 murders and 18,000 suicides. This is ten times as many as died on September 11th, but we spend far more time and money to prevent violence by terrorists than we do to prevent gun violence. There is also far more focus, effort, and resources spent to keep illegal immigrants out of this country than there is to keep guns out of the hands of illegal gun purchasers.

Contrary to the NRA’s rhetoric, guns do NOT make you safer:

  1. For every use of a gun for self-defense at home, there are 11 suicide attempts, 7 assaults or murders, and 4 accidents with a gun. Six times more women were shot by husbands, boyfriends, and ex-partners than were murdered by strangers. A women’s chance of being killed by her abuser is 7 times higher if he has access to a gun.
  2. Gun death rates are over three times higher in states with high gun ownership. The state with the highest gun ownership (Wyoming, over 60% of households) also has the highest rate of gun deaths (over 15 per 100,000 people). The state with the lowest gun ownership (Hawaii, less than 10% of households) also has the lowest rate of gun deaths (less than 5 per 100,000 people). The other states clearly demonstrate this relationship that more guns means more gun deaths.
  3. Despite the claim that more armed civilians would stop mass shootings, this hasn’t happened once in the last 30 years.
  4. Civilians in the US own roughly 310 million guns while law enforcement and the military have 4 million guns. Roughly a third of Americans own a gun, down from about half in 1973. The average gun owner has 8 guns. [2]

In terms of evidence to support the effectiveness of legislation to prevent gun violence, there is a very relevant example from Australia. In 1996, 35 people were killed in Australia by a gunman in a massacre reminiscent of those we have experienced recently here in the US. In response, Australia, under Conservative Prime Minister John Howard, banned automatic and semi-automatic weapons, required strict permitting and tracking of gun purchases, and purchased and destroyed about 700,000 firearms in a gun buyback program. [3]

The results are: [4][5]

  • 59% decrease in firearm murders (without an increase in non-firearm murders)
  • 65% decrease in firearm suicides (without an increase in non-firearm suicides)
  • No gun massacres in the 16 years since enactment of the law compared with 13 massacres (in which 4 or more people died) in the 18 years before enactment
  • The murder rate has dropped to 1 per 1 million people, a fortieth of what it was. (The US rate is 33 times higher.)

The votes in the US Senate are profiles in cowardice. Colorado, New York, and Connecticut have recently passed meaningful gun violence prevention laws. There is no reason for anyone other than law enforcement and the military to have automatic and semi-automatic weapons with magazines that hold over 10 bullets. Sensible gun laws, as evidenced by the Australian experience, would make a difference. (See my post of 12/16/12 for more detail.)

I urge you to call, email, and / or write your federal and state elected officials and demand reasonable gun laws that will prevent future gun massacres. I also encourage you to participate in on-line or local actions to express your support for common sense gun violence prevention laws.

It’s past time to take serious steps to reduce gun deaths and violence, as well as hopefully, eventually, to eliminate the occurrence of gun massacres – as Australia did. We must insist that our elected officials pass sensible gun violence prevention laws.


[1]       Jan, T., & Viser, M., 4/18/13, “Wider checks on guns rejected,” The Boston Globe

[2]       Gilson, D., March/April 2013 issue, “Hits and myths: Ten pro-gun claims that don’t stand up to fact-checking,” Mother Jones

[3]       An equivalent buyback program in the US would need to purchase and destroy 40 million guns.

[4]       Matthews, D., 8/2/12, “Did gun control work in Australia?” The Washington Post

[5]       Editorial Board, 12/18/12, “Australian gun control holds lessons for U.S.,” USA Today

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2 comments

  1. Carolyn · · Reply

    John, I’m always impressed with your detailed reports. I fear that the recent events at the Boston Marathon and the subsequent manhunt work against those of us who want more sensible gun laws.

    1. Carolyn, Thanks! I’m glad you find my posts valuable.
      I hope the events in and around Boston recently will reinforce the public’s sense that we need to take serious steps to reduce gun violence. Clearly, if the apparent perpetrators had not had access to guns at least one life would have been saved and some serious injuries prevented.
      There probably are some people who think more guns for self-defense are the answer. However, it was our trained police officers, not civilians with guns, who ultimately killed one and captured and arrested the other suspect. And civilians played a very important role in assisting them, without any need to be armed.
      Moreover, as The Globe pointed out in an editorial on 4/23, “Individual citizens wielding … weapons … could … have shot at the wrong target or been mistaken for a threat themselves.”
      We need to get the facts firmly in the public’s mind that guns do NOT make you safer. To the contrary, due to accidents, or their use in moments of anger or suicidal depression, they are more likely to hurt or kill good guys, than bad guys. The experience in Australia, as well as data on gun violence from every country I know of, clearly makes the case that fewer guns leads to fewer gun injuries and deaths, both self-inflicted and inflicted on others. We need to get this information into the public’s consciousness and counteract the false claims of the NRA and its allies.

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