I grew up on a farm, with rifles and shotguns leaning on the back wall of our home’s entryway, boxes of shells on the windowsill. My grandpa, dad, uncles and brothers all hunted. Many of my relatives still hunt, but guns no longer sit casually, unlocked and unguarded. Just as hunters in our family have changed the way their guns are stored, so the country needs to change our gun laws. In order to do so, every responsible gun owner needs to withdraw their support from the NRA, which has repeatedly obstructed all efforts to regulate or even to study regulation of guns in this country.
Most people — 85 percent of all Americans — support background checks for gun buyers, including buyers at gun shows and private buyers. That’s one clear step that can help slow down the spread of guns to people who should not have them. But there are others.
Nicholas Kristof argues for a public health approach to gun safety:
“Actually, cars exemplify the public health approach we need to apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do require driver’s licenses, seatbelts, airbags, padded dashboards, safety glass and collapsible steering columns. And we’ve reduced the auto fatality rate by 95 percent.”
Public health measures for guns might include requiring completion of a gun safety course before owning a gun, safe storage requirements, liability insurance, “smart gun” technology, and restrictions on gun ownership for anyone convicted of domestic violence or other crimes of violence.
Simply studying and publicizing the sources of criminal weapons could have an impact. Back to Kristof:
“Daniel Webster, a public health expert at Johns Hopkins University, notes that in 1999, the government listed the gun stores that had sold the most weapons later linked to crimes. The gun store at the top of the list was so embarrassed that it voluntarily took measures to reduce its use by criminals — and the rate at which new guns from the store were diverted to crime dropped 77 percent.”
We no longer have information about where criminals are getting guns. Under pressure from the NRA, Congress passed a law in 2003, banning the government from collecting and publicizing this, and other information about guns.
“In 2013, according to CDC data, 63 percent of gun-related deaths were from suicides, 33 percent were from homicides, and roughly 1 percent each were from accidents, legal interventions and undetermined causes.”
Restricting gun ownership by people who have mental illness could make a big difference in suicides by gun. In Switzerland, a decrease in availability of guns to young men was followed by a dramatic reduction in suicide rates. Similar reduction in suicides happened in Australia, when that country implemented stronger gun controls in 1996.
More than 10,000 people are murdered by guns each year. So far in 2015, we’ve had 274 days and 294 mass shootings, according to an October 1 Washington Post headline. Mass shootings, for the Washington Post, were “incidents where four or more people are killed or injured by gunfire.” As President Obama said in his October 1 speech, “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”
No one can guarantee that a specific protective measure would prevent a specific massacre, like the one in Oregon last week, or any of the others in the long and unending series of U.S. mass murders — Newtown, Chattanooga, Charleston, Aurora, Fort Hood, Washington DC, Minneapolis. But we do know that common-sense gun laws can reduce the overall number of killings. But that’s not happening. Instead, as President Obama said, the opposite is true:
“And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: We need more guns, they’ll argue. Fewer gun safety laws.
“Does anybody really believe that? There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country –they know that’s not true. We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws — including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.
“There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.”
The Guardian compared the killing toll of gun violence in the United States to the Ebola crisis. The United States “pulled out all the stops” in responding to the Ebola crisis, mobilizing soldiers and doctors and researchers. Ebola killed about 11,000 people worldwide. Guns kill 33,000 people every year in the United States.
“If gun violence were treated with the same efforts as Ebola, the mission to eradicate it would begin with nationwide research into the nature and scale of the crisis. Yet even that proves to be impossible, because the NRA has campaigned over many years to prevent federal agencies from compiling records on firearms and their movements.”
If you are a responsible gun owner and an NRA member: please just stop. The NRA is neither reasonable nor responsible. Your dues are stopping reasonable efforts at gun regulation and safety. Withdraw from NRA membership, and join in the effort to make this country safer for all of us.