There is nothing we can do to reduce the growing number of mass shootings in America -- except get more people to have guns. Unbelievably, that's what conservative spokespersons and Republican presidential candidates are saying after the latest college massacre in Oregon which killed 10 and wounded 7 others.
Saying there is nothing we can do to end such killings is patently untrue. And suggesting that more guns in more places would reduce gun violence is not only morally irresponsible, but also flies in the face of all the facts. Suppose we arm everyone -- do we really want to live in that kind of country and raise our children there? Or send our children to college on those campuses, as I will do for the first time next fall? I think there is a better interpretation of the Second Amendment than the idea that the Constitution allows individual citizens to own whatever form of lethal weapons they want.
Let's be honest: of course this is a complicated issue. The horrific gun violence that keeps destroying lives and families involves the greed of gun manufacturers -- let's call them gun runners -- who profit when more guns are sold to more people. Though the majority of National Rifle Association (NRA) members support common sense background checks and research into gun violence, the NRA consistently uses its political influence to block this legislation -- after all, less than half of the NRA's funding comes from membership dues, with most of its funding from those who make and sell guns...let's call it blood money.
And it involves America's obsessions with both celebrity and guns -- and the deadly connection between the two; what does it mean when alienated, angry young men who want to be famous know people will read their websites if they pick up a gun?
And yes, addressing gun violence involves matters of mental health -- and our lack of treatment thereof. Yet we can't use mental illness as a scapegoat when the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. More to the point, guns give people wishing to commit a violent act -- whether they are mentally ill or not -- a uniquely deadly, efficient, and available method to do so.
But just because gun violence is complicated, there's still plenty we can do. When we have serious public health or safety problems, we look at the facts and the evidence to learn how to solve the problem: we reduce car accidents by requiring things like seat belts, regular driving tests, and traffic regulations -- laws that demonstrably save lives. Gun violence is a public health and safety threat in the U.S., yet gun manufacturers, the NRA, and the political conservatives who support them, do everything possible to cover up the facts. So let's check out the facts.
In an excellent analysis by Nick Kristof, a columnist known for getting the facts right,he reports some deeply unsettling truths. First, that an average of 92 gun deaths happen every day in America. As a result, since 1970, more Americans have died from guns than died in all U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution. That's about 1.4 million war deaths since 1775, compared to about 1.45 million gun deaths since 1970 (including murders, accidents, and suicides--which comprise about 60 percent of US gun deaths). Second, in America, more preschoolers (which Kristof defines as newborns through age 4) are shot dead each year (82 in 2013) than police officers are in the line of duty (27 in 2013). Kristof also references a poll this year, which found that "majorities even of gun-owners favor universal background checks; tighter regulation of gun dealers; safe storage requirements in homes; and a 10-year prohibition on possessing guns for anyone convicted of domestic violence, assault or similar offenses."
It's also the case that, as a 2015 National Journal investigation concluded, "the states with the most gun laws see the fewest gun-related deaths." It found that states with generally more restrictive laws generally had fewer annual gun deaths. While this doesn't prove a causal relationship between the two, it's nevertheless worth noting that the correlation is there.
One of the most dramatic comparisons that can be made is the one between violence done to Americans from foreign terrorists compared to deaths from gun violence. Since 2001 (including 9/11), Americans killed by terrorists both here and abroad amount to only 0.8 percent of the number of American deaths by firearms in the United States in the same time period. A total of 3380 people have died from terrorism since 2001, while 406,496 people have died from firearms. This disparity is both ironic and revealing given the differences on coverage and tone from the media.
Almost 300 mass shootings (defined as shootings where at least 4 people were wounded or killed) have already taken place this year. And it's not as though there is no precedent in other countries for successfully reducing gun deaths by tightening gun laws. Take the example of Australia, detailed in this article from Vox:
Plenty of research has found a strong correlation between the amount of guns in an area and its gun homicide rate. Countries with more guns have more gun homicides. States with more guns have more gun homicides. Individuals with guns in the house are likelier to be killed or to kill themselves with guns.
Australia's 1996 gun control was based on a simple idea: They took away a bunch of guns.
After a 28-year-old man killed 35 people at the Port Arthur historic prison colony in Tasmania, Australia, a popular tourist destination, Prime Minister John Howard and his right-wing Liberal Party banned the importation of all semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns, instituted a mandatory national buyback program for such guns, and convinced state governments to ban the weapons outright. In total, about 650,000 weapons -- 20 percent of the country's total arsenal by some estimates -- were seized and destroyed. Evaluations after the reforms suggest that they saved lives.
The word that most bothered me in the coverage of the Oregon shootings was "routine."
"Somehow this has become routine," said President Obama in a statement after the shooting in Umpqua, "The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine... we've become numb to this."
The politics of it all say that common sense in the gun debate is a lost cause. But that's what people of faith and conscience have always taken on -- lost causes that become movements that finally make a change. Remember Mothers Against Drunk Driving? As President Obama said: "We're going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself." It will take all of us, but it can be done.
"Nothing can be done."
"We need more guns to be safer."
Nonsense and unacceptable.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God's Side, is available now.
Follow Jim Wallis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jimwallis