Monday, April 25, 2016

Too many are dying from gun violence

Another day, another shooting. Tragic stories about gun violence abound. However, a recent tragedy unfolded in my own backyard.

On Jan. 12, a 73-year old Cincinnati father dropped his son off early at the bus stop, due to snowy weather, and returned home. Later he texted his 14-year-old son again to make sure he was on the bus. The son responded with a phone call assuring his father he was on the bus to school. However, unbeknownst to his father, Georta Mack circled back to his house and hid in the basement.

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, soon after 6 a.m., his father heard noises coming from the basement and grabbed his .45-caliber gun. After going to the basement to investigate, he opened a closet door and Georta jumped out and yelled “Boo!” His father fired, striking him in the neck and killing him. The transcript of the father’s anguished 911 call is heartbreaking. Prosecutors announced on Jan. 13 the father would not face charges for killing his son.

Earlier this month, the statistics for 2015 were released: Shootings in Cincinnati were up 28 percent over 2014; homicides increased 13 percent. These tragedies happen on a daily basis. In October 2015, The Washington Post reported that, as of the 274th day of 2015, there had been 294 mass shootings. Mass murders due to gun violence occur most often in metro areas. Since 2013, Austin, Texas, is the only city in the U.S. with a population of 100,000 or greater that has not had a mass shooting. However, only 2 percent of overall gun violence deaths occur in mass shootings.

According to the, as of Dec. 23 there had been 12,942 deaths in 2015 due to gun violence, an average of 36 deaths every day. While the news was dominated by reports of European and domestic terrorism in 2015, in the previous 10 years only 71 people died in the U.S. from terrorist incidents. There were 301,797 deaths in America due to gun violence during the same period.

Every traumatic death is a tragedy, but why do we as Americans not have a better sense of perspective? This means that people in the U.S., from 2005 to 2015, were more than 4,000 times more likely to be killed by guns than in a terrorist incident. These statistics represent mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and friends. Each death has created a ripple effect in our communities, such that many lives are changed forever.

Many of these shootings kill individuals under the age of 18, snuffing out the unlimited promise and potential of these young lives. In 2015, an average of two children were killed every day by a shooting; 75 percent of these children were under the age of 12. Scarier still, in an average week in 2015 a toddler under the age of 3 shot someone, often him- or herself, after accessing an unsecured loaded gun. Many times the toddlers injure or kill themselves, but they also have killed other people as well.

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Transportation Security Administration announced recently that 2,653 guns were found at security checkpoints at U.S. airports in 2015. More than 82 percent (2,198) of these guns were loaded. Unloaded guns are allowed in checked baggage, but must be declared. Loaded weapons are forbidden, as are guns in carry-on baggage. The ramifications of these statistics are startling. These only represent guns that were detected by the TSA. As might be expected, two of the top five airports with the most confiscated guns were in Texas: Dallas (1st) and Houston (3rd). Airports in Atlanta (2nd), Denver (4th) and Phoenix (5th) rounded out the top five.

So consider this: The next time you are on a domestic flight, imagine that some of your fellow passengers are carrying a loaded weapon. If that makes you feel safer, perhaps you should work to change the current laws regarding guns and air travel. However, for many of us, the thought of fellow passengers carrying a loaded weapon on our flights is a sobering and scary thought.

Let us not pretend that racism is not at the heart of this issue. While black men comprise about 6 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 50 percent of deaths through gun violence.  Reflect upon this: What would the response be if 150,898 white men had been killed by guns from 2005 through 2015? Would the response have been different?  I think we all know in our heart that it would be quite different. The news media would be full of stories about the hunting of white men and Congress would be drafting and passing legislation on gun control to stem these predators stalking the most powerful members of our society.

There are no easy answers. Historians point to the founding of this country and the role guns played in doing so. Early American settlers were able to steal land from the Native Americans due to the advanced weaponry of guns. As Americans traveled westward during the expansion, often guns were the difference between life and death, useful both for killing animals for food and warding off animal and human predators. Gun violence has played a large role in our collective American DNA.

Our attitudes toward life and death are different than other first-world countries, as evidenced by our continued use of the death penalty in many states. Meanwhile, our counterparts around the world shake their collective heads and wonder when Americans will finally wake up and decide that too many people have died because of gun violence.
Recently, I have read of conservatives railing against any form of gun restrictions and proclaiming that owning guns is “a God-given right.”  Really?!  I will never understand why it is that many of the same people who claim to be “pro-life” are often also the same ones who claim there should be no limits on military spending or gun rights.

There is also a Constitutional argument for gun control. The founders specified in the Second Amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I know my opinion is not a popular one, but I believe the Second Amendment provides the right to bear arms only in the context of belonging to a state militia. This opinion is shared by some scholars as well.

Regardless of one’s belief about the right to bear arms, I think we can all agree too many people are dying due to gun violence. I encourage each of you to think about what your responsibility is to help address this issue.

Porter, N. (March 2016). Too many are dying from gun violence. The Gay Word, 24(8), 11.

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