Once again our nation has been shocked by someone wielding a gun to slaughter innocent people. It’s hard to say if this is a new trend or something that sells newspapers and 24 hour news airtime so well that we hear about it more than we used to. The one thing I am certain of is that it is a horrible crime whenever and wherever it is committed. It’s hard for me to imagine how someone could be so twisted as to kill people just to make a point or for personal enjoyment but obviously there are those who do. As usual in such situations our gun laws immediately come up for review and discussion. The fact that we are a rarity for an industrialized civil society in that guns are so widely owned never escapes anyone’s attention when incidents like this occur.
I was raised by a gun owner and NRA lifetime member. My dad was a hunter and a competition target shooter. I was shooting a rifle before I was seven and a handgun not long after. Many happy hours of target shooting and hunting with my dad followed. He reloaded for himself and for other target shooters, down to the details of having different loads for different guns of the same caliber. Guns were serious business to my dad. He supplemented the money necessary for these activities with his reloading and teaching gun safety as a certified instructor for civilians as well as police officers. For a time, he had a gun shop on the side as well, so I was raised in an environment where guns were quite commonplace and part of your daily lives. The one overarching message from observing my dad giving shooting lessons and safety courses is that handguns were designed for one purpose and one purpose only, they kill people. They are not to be pointed at someone to control their actions or to protect yourself. If you point a gun at someone it is to kill them. Any other proposed use for handguns is simply avoiding the point that they are made to kill other people.
We have become desensitized to this reality by the way that handguns are regularly utilized. Police use them as a means of controlling the actions of suspects. Movies and TV shows are full of people using handguns for this and other reasons but the reality is that they really only have one function and any attempted usage for something else often leads to that purpose whether we mean to or not. People whose express purpose is to kill other people realize this. Unfortunately, most other people do not. They are concealable, they are relatively lightweight and they are extremely deadly when used by someone with reasonable skill.
Every time some sort of mass killing spree occurs there is an instant backlash against the proliferation of gun ownership in this country. This is usually followed by an opposite and equal reaction in which a lot of gun owners point out that if someone else would have had a gun, maybe there wouldn’t have been so many innocent people killed. There is an element of truth in both arguments. However, the likelihood that an untrained gun owner will be able to stop someone intent on mass murder while under fire is a long shot to say the least. I am sure it has happened and will happen again in the future but the odds of having such a person in the same place as some random nut job killer intent on taking a lot of innocent people out are rather long. Add to that the better than average chance that such a gunfight will result in even more innocent people being shot and the whole concept of safety by more gun wielding falls apart.
There is however, one other factor that needs to be taken into account when we weigh the good that comes from gun ownership vs. the bad. There are probably a lot of reasons for this but the fact remains that gun accidents account for a lot of deaths in this country. I am struck by this often when reading the news. It is not as dramatic as someone walking into a church in order to kill a lot of people he doesn’t know but it happens a lot more often so it has to be accounted for if we are to truly do an analysis of the relative merits of massive gun ownership. The truth is no one likes to hear about this. No one gets any sort of pleasure from a news story of a dad accidentally shooting his four year old son while getting his gun out of the car. It won’t be on the 24 hour news cycle because there isn’t a lot of good ratings in horrifying people with the death of innocents accidentally killed by their loved ones. I can’t imagine the heartbreak and constant pain that would follow such an incident but it happens and it happens a lot more often than the mass shootings we seem to be so fascinated with.
If you add up all the mass shootings since 2010 in 19 incidents some 154 people have died in these sensational incidents while 97 have been shot and survived. During this same time period we have averaged over 600 children per year being killed in gun accidents. In case you haven’t already done the math it come out to over 3200 children who have died from accidental gunshot wounds in the US since 2010. Any way you slice this information the fact remains that it is a direct result of our fascination with owning guns in this country. It simply doesn’t occur in other civilized nations because they don’t have the same kind of fascination. Breaking this down a little further, we average somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 accidental shootings of children in the US annually. In 2010 alone had 15, 576 accidental shootings of children in the US.
Another argument that usually comes up is that such killers will find another way to kill people if they don’t have guns. While this is possibly true it has no effect at all on the fact that without gun ownership we wouldn’t have so many gun accidents. You simply can’t make that argument at all unless you ignore reason. Every gun that is not sold in the US is a gun that will never accidently shoot a child. The corollary to this is that every gun that is sold increases the likelihood and therefore the number of children that will accidentally be shot. More gun ownership equals more accidental shootings of children. They are directly and indisputably linked.
Let’s go back to the original discussion. Suppose every mass killing in the US since 2010 had been headed off by the presence of a gun toting citizen capable and skilled enough to kill each of the cold blooded murdering shooters before they could get the first shot off. We would now have 154 more innocent people walking around unharmed in the US. We can leave off the sheer improbability of this occurring but these are the numbers. This is the very best scenario we could possibly envision by having an armed, trained, and somewhat prescient citizen who could see what was happening beforehand and kill the gunman before he has a chance to kill anyone else.
Unfortunately, we would still have over 3200 dead children who have been accidentally killed during that same time period because we have a fascination with gun ownership. I don’t know how we stop people intent on killing innocent people with guns. I suspect it is a price we pay for living in a free society. What I do know is that there is a direct correlation between innocent children dying from gunshot wounds and the number of guns that we own.