As I write this and as you read it, energy is flowing away from political efforts to address our nation’s gun violence problem. The young people who endured the Parkland shooting are still on television and making online pleas for school safety, but elected officials from our president down to state legislators continue to play for time, hoping public angst will subside. If the past is an indicator of the future, then politicians are probably safe until the next mass shooting.
Some positive signs can be found.
Fear of the National Rifle Association may paralyze politicians, but corporate America, which survives and prospers by understanding what people think and want, is acting. To its enduring credit, Dick’s Sporting Goods will no longer sell military-style assault weapons and will sell firearms only to people 21 and older. Walmart raised its minimum age as well. Ditto for L.L. Bean whose new policy also limits ammo sales to those over 21. Delta Airlines severed its business ties with the NRA, even though the Georgia legislature immediately retaliated by jerking away a $40 million tax break. Said Delta’s CEO, “Our values are not for sale.”
Gun violence and gun accessibility, both longrunning and complex issues in our nation, leave no doubt that the United States is the world outlier when it comes to both. We make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but we own 42 percent of the world’s guns. Only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among nations with more than 10 million people, and – not surprisingly, it has the second highest rate of gun ownership, calling into question that old saw that “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
Consider this as well. Other nations have mass shootings, but they are random. Ours have become so routine that we openly refer to “school shooters.” Details of all the incidents run together. The New York Times recently reported on a 2016 study that documented 133 mass shootings in the United States during the period of the study. By contrast, during the same period, Finland had two mass shootings and Switzerland had one, killing 18 and 14 people respectively. Our most recent mass shootings in Las Vegas and Lakeland killed 58 and 17 respectively, injuring 851 in Las Vegas and dozens in Florida.
Mass shootings shock us – at least they should shock us – but other deaths by firearms affect Americans as well. In 2013, our nation saw more than 21,000 suicides with guns, more than 11,000 murders with guns and more than 500 accidental discharge deaths.
To most of us, these are just numbers, but to the families and friends of these lost people, the pain of these deaths is deep and ongoing. The cold, hard reality is that we Americans are many times more likely to die by firearm than are residents of almost any other country.
The politics of gun accessibility are brutal and volatile. Many elected officials have taken campaign contributions from the NRA and walk in lockstep with its positions. North Carolina’s own two U.S. Senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, rank fourth and sixth on the NRA’s contribution list, which is totally legal.
Many Americans, including some large American corporations, are rethinking their positions on gun accessibility. As we do so, here are some points to consider.
Every state qualifies who can be licensed to drive a vehicle, most requiring both coursework and actual driving experience. Guns can be sold without either.
Every state requires recordkeeping regarding sales and transfers of motor vehicles. Guns can be sold and transferred without either.
The 19-year-old charged with 17 counts of murder in Florida bought his assault weapon legally. He could not, however, buy a beer legally.
The NRA would argue that neither driving nor owning a vehicle is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Neither is buying a beer.
But consider this.
When the Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment “right to bear arms,” was adopted in 1791, the new United States had just won its independence from England using muskets, muzzle-loaded long guns that appeared in Europe in the 16th century. Not until 1854 was there a reliable “repeating rifle.”
God only knows what our Founding Fathers would make of rapid-fire military assault rifles in the hands of 19-year-olds or of Americans shooting each other in public places or chasing down children in schools.