My youngest recently graduated from elementary school. I live in a town in the Boston area called Newton, which is 144 miles away from Newtown in Connecticut. The difference between Newton and Newtown is one letter. I am in a state of shock, grief and rage over the slaughter of innocent children and teachers yesterday. This was preventable.
Gun homicide in the United States far exceeds that of any other country on our planet. It is 30 times the rate of Britain and Australia. The frequency of massacres with automatic weapons is increasing; this past August we were horrified by the killings at the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, in July a gunman with automatic weapons opened fire at the Batman premiere in Colorado leaving 12 people dead, in January 2011 there was the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Gifford and others, and in 2007 a murderous rampage at Virginia Tech killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. The United States has the most lax gun control laws of all developed countries, and as a result incidents of gun related violence and death far exceeds all other countries on Earth. Gun-related homicide is directly related to the loose gun control laws.
The Independent Voter Network reported:
With a gun being the weapon of choice in so many of the homicides in the United States, consider other countries, with stricter gun control laws, and how murders involving firearms there are much lower.
Japan – In Japan, most kinds of guns are illegal, and almost no one owns a gun. Japan is known as one of the strictest gun controlling nations in the world, with only 0,6 firearms per 100 people. In 2006, there were only two homicides caused by guns in Japan. In 2008 there were 11. The country has nearly eliminated murder by firearms.
United Kingdom – The rate of private gun ownership in the United Kingdom is 6,72 firearms per 100 people. In 2009, only 18 people were murdered with a firearm. Within the last 14 years, the year with the highest number of gun caused homicides was 2004, with 52 people killed.
United States – The United States is ranked at No. 1 for civilian gun ownership in comparison with all other industrialized countries. There are approximately 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the U.S. In the past 14 years, the year with the greatest number of homicides caused by a firearm occurred in 2006, when 10,225 people were killed by the use of a gun. Annual firearm suicides within the United States are high as well. In 2005, 17,002 suicides were committed using a firearm.
Apparently the ante keeps needing to be upped, so that we finally initiate appropriate action. It’s exactly the same with climate change. We needed the devastation of Hurricane Sandy to even begin to erode our denial. It reminds me of the ten plagues that had to be visited upon the Egyptians before the Pharoah finally freed the Israelite slaves and allowed Moses to lead them out of Egypt: the Nile turned to blood, then came Frogs, Lice, Flies, Pestilence, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness and finally the Death of the First Born. We have had the BP Oil Spill, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, the extinction of myriad species, the melting of the Polar Ice, Drought, Forest Fires, the unprecedented rise in the incidence of Autism, Cancer, and Diabetes, the contamination of our food supply with factory farming and GMOs, and after repeated shootings with automatic weapons, yesterday the slaughter of our little children.
We are at a most unique and perilous juncture in human history. Either we will wake up from our trance and take on these literally life or death issues with the urgency that they demand, or face the tragic consequences of our paralysis. Each and everyone of us must act now in our own ways, speak out and put pressure on our leaders to take immediate steps to more tightly regulate the process of acquiring guns and to save our planet from ecological disaster.
Hillel was a famous rabbi in the first century BCE most known for this aphorism,
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then who am I?
And if not now, when?”
There is no time to delay any longer.
Hillel is also often quoted as saying:
“Whosoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whosoever that saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”
Many worlds were destroyed yesterday. I don’t know how these families will go on to find joy and meaning again after the loss of their children and family members. Life will never be the same again for the survivors; it will always be before and after that terrible day.
Jay Bookman, an Atlanta based columnist made the following suggestion,
“It is reasonable to propose that the legal ability to purchase and possess deadly firearms be linked to training and testing on the responsible use of such weapons. That would be a regulation of people, not of guns. Such proposals would nonetheless be fought bitterly by the NRA because they would reduce gun sales, and the NRA is in many ways nothing more than a front for its gun-industry sponsors. Such laws would in no way infringe on constitutional rights as outlined in the Second Amendment and Supreme Court opinions.”
Additionally, it is my opinion that careful assessment of the legitimacy of the perceived need for a weapon and psychological evaluation are reasonable minimum prerequisites.
I pray that this tragedy will finally bring the shift in consciousness that will result in the necessary legislative changes in gun regulation, so that the nightmare in Newtown will at least have contributed to reducing the probability that this will ever happen again.
Here is more about the link between psychiatric drugs and shootings. Clearly, the author has an agenda, but so does big pharma. If Forbes really pulled the article, I would like to know why. This looks like an interesting blog in any event.
I don’t think we’ll be getting any closer to common ground on this issue, so I won’t keep beating this dead horse.
The discussion has been interesting, but I will still shoot to kill, with my legal semi-automatic handgun, anyone in my house who doesn’t belong here. And I seriously doubt that I’ll feel any remorse. I’m just old, and getting tired of people taking advantage of each other. Only when everyone starts respecting the rights and possessions of others will an armed society be unnecessary.
I believe that banning weapons for hunting will be a whole other mountain to climb – considering that Americans seem to be avid hunters in the US and abroad.
However, it would be really appropriate to promote ethical hunting (for food only + ban canned/trophy hunting) and in so doing eliminate barbaric slaughter of animals.
Along those lines, ban lead bullets toxic to the earth and birds of prey who die from ingesting these bullets on carcasses.
It is documented that most of the trophy hunters in Africa are actually Americans.
As for the actual subject of the debate – My personal opinion is that the 2nd Amendment is largely symbolic and not truly practical > if one believe that they will stop a government from imposing fascism and resist an army or a tank with their private rifle, they are fooling themselves.
If we ever get to that point, rebellion will have to be much more complex than that – think about rebels in teh Arab spring affected countries, or the current civil war in Syria – do you think they are fighting their government with the old guns they had stored under their beds?? Yes, I didnt think so either…
Same thing with the resistance to the Nazi regime back in the days. Effective weapons make their ways through borders when time requires so…there will always be a party that will enjoy making a good buck from conflict.
What a great comment, Maurice, both in terms of the thoughtfulness about the lead issue, and the abhorrent practice of canned hunting. I am in full agreement with you about the symbolic meaning of the Second Amendment, and that there is very little realistic possibility of defending yourself and your family with a private rifle against a totalitarian regime and its army.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I understand your frustration with the prevailing gun laws, but I have yet to hear what you want to happen here. I don’t mean a “perfect world” scenario where there are no mean, crazy or otherwise undesirable people. I’m talking about laws that allow responsible people to protect themselves, because we can’t all have a personal bodyguard or our own live-in policeman.
Hence the scenario I presented above. What would you have us do?
If someone felt endangered in that way, I would advise them to go through the appropriate channels to get trained in self defense, and defend themselves if the situation arose. That could include a gun if that is what made them feel more safe, given the provisos I outlined in my last response to you.
I find it interesting that my comment from 18 hours ago has not been approved and posted.
Here’s a scenario for you.
You awake during the night to find that there is someone in your home who has no business there. What do you do? “Wake my husband” is not a fair response, since it is not an option for everyone. You must assume that you live alone, other than possibly with a child.
Please feel free to clarify your response by stating if it applies to city-dwellers and rural residents alike.
I did not respond to you right away because I wanted to give you the thoughtful answer I thought your question deserved, and I realized that I did not know what my stance actually is.
This is what I came to so far:
Anyone who wishes to own a gun needs to have a thorough background check, and psychiatric evaluation and through training in gun handling and safely. Insurance would need to be carried. Guns would only be sold through state regulated agencies, just like the Registry of Motor Vehicles that issues licenses. No assault weapons. No weapons for hunting for sport. Weapons can be owned that fire a few shots and no more. I am open to modifying my position. Its in process.
Here is a really interesting post from the National Journal that contains very useful information about our gun laws and what is problematic about them:
How To Make Sense of America’s Wildly Different, Confusing Patchwork of Gun Control Laws
What’s true in one state is not in another. A primer on U.S. gun control:
A year and half after the District of Columbia was granted home rule (the ability for the city to govern its own affairs, apart from Congress), it made a bold move. The city outlawed handguns.
It was 1976, and while the legislation would prove to do little to curb gun violence in the city, it was a bold test of the reach of the Second Amendment, which was not as thoroughly adjudicated as it is now. The Supreme Court had only taken up one case relating to it previously, in 1939, in which it allowed a measure of gun control.
But in 2008, a 5-4 decision in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller overturned the ban. In the majority opinion, the court determined that the ban violated the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, regardless of whether such firearms were intended to be used in conjunction with “a militia.” A follow-up case in 2010 extended this ruling to all 50 states. However, the Court ruled, states do have a right to pass gun-control measures such as requiring permits for concealed weapons. States just can’t deny firearms outright.
“The Court only held that the Second Amendment protects the right of law-abiding responsible individuals to possess a handgun in the home for self defense,” Juliet A. Leftwich, the legal director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says. “The Supreme Court made clear there was still a lot that state and local governments could do to prevent gun deaths and injuries that would be consistent with the Second Amendment.”
So what emerges is an overlapping patchwork of federal and state laws. The right to bear arms exists everywhere, but how arms are controlled and disseminated varies. Which makes for a confusing answer to the question: What is the current state of gun control in the United States?
Let’s break it down.
What the Federal Government Says:
According to the federal government and the the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1994, it’s illegal to receive, possess, or transport guns or ammo if you
Have been convicted or are under indictment for a felony that would result in more than one year in prison.
Have been convicted of a misdemeanor that would result in more than two years in prison.
Are a fugitive.
Are a drug user.
Are mentally disabled or have been committed to a mental institution.
Are an illegal immigrant.
Were dishonorably discharged from armed service.
Have renounced your U.S. citizenship.
Are under a particular type of restraining order.
Have been convicted of domestic violence.
It is illegal for a gun retailer to sell a firearm to anyone listed above. These dealers need a federal license, and must run background checks to see if the buyer meets any of the criteria above. However, as the Center for Public Integrity reports, national databases used for the background checks may be out of date or missing information.
There’s also a major loophole here: Federal law does not mandate private individuals to conduct background checks before they transfer their gun to another owner, if that person lives in the same state. This is what allows for the “gun-show loophole,” where people in certain states can buy guns at large expos without a background check. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence states that 40 percent of all gun purchases take place among private parties.
Where States Come In
“Federal laws are the floor and not the ceiling, meaning that states are free to adopt stronger laws,” Leftwich says.
Short of declaring an all-out ban on guns, these are some of the options currently available to states looking to curb gun violence (some of these limitations are being litigated in the courts in the wake of the Heller decision):
Require state permits or licenses.
Require firearm registration.
Ban or restrict assault weapons.
Require the reporting of stolen guns.
Limit the amount of guns that can be purchased by one person in a given amount of time.
Ban large-capacity magazines.
Require long waiting periods to purchase guns.
Issue concealed-weapons permits.
Allow or deny unconcealed weapons.
The NRA’s Compendium of State Firearms Laws (updated in 2010) is a good resource to compare restrictions across states. Another good resource (from the other side of the ideological spectrum) is the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence state-by-state report card for gun laws.
What you learn in looking through this data is that the ease of gun ownership varies widely across the country. For instance, according to the Brady report card, in Georgia you can buy guns at gun shows without a background check and you do not need a permit or license to own a gun. Connecticut, on the other hand, requires safety training of gun owners and has closed gun-show loopholes. As has been observed, Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. So stopping mass shootings isn’t always in the hands of local powers, although there is evidence that suggests gun violence is more prevalent in areas with looser gun restrictions.
Guns can also be regulated on a municipal level, however only a few states allow for it. Those states include California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. For example, Leftwich explains, local governments can limit where firearms dealers can operate or require safe storage of firearms in the home.
But all of this is for naught if the gun has been stolen from a person who purchased the firearm through lawful means, as was apparently the case in the shooting at the Sandy Hook elementary school.
Gaye Mack says
I find it curious in this conversation and many others all over social media, that there’s very little reference to the gun violence that doesn’t fit into the category of a mentally ill shooter taking out innocent victims. I live outside of Chicago, our son is a prosecutor for the state’s attorney’s office in Chicago’s Cook county, the largest prosecutorial office in the country outside of LA’s. Daily he sees the results of the rising gang violence, domestic violence, homicides here where guns have been used because of easy access…not all of these power and money hungry offenders are candidates for mental illness diagnosis. This aside, the argument over ‘sporting’ use is absurd in my view…there is no reason for killing wildlife for sport to fuel one’s vanity. If the need is so strong do so, use a bow and arrow…which is an option in some parts of the Midwest…or find another way to satisfy that need.
Thanks for writing Gaye. The reference to hunting for sport is one that I particularly resonate with. It is a violation of life itself.
I must say that I feel like anybody perpetrating violence with weapons be it in the context of gangs or domestically, is ill. They perhaps do not qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis, but there is spiritual and emotional illness.
The China incident is being repeated by all gun control advocates, and it looks very persuasive on the surface. But gun control is a complex issue and the devil is in the details, in the implementation. If we implemented more gun control, we would end up with a disarmed population and a heavily armed government. The is exactly the dangerous situation that tyrants love and the second amendment was designed to address. If all guns were really banned, I might not object. But guaranteed the government will exempt itself from the regulations, despite the fact that they are the ones who have shown a disturbing propensity for using violence in all sorts of inappropriate ways.
There is also the question of proportionality of response. While one shooting death is too many, it is important to realize that hundreds of times more kids will die in auto accidents this year, yet nobody is clamoring to ban kids from riding in cars. You may not see guns as being as essential as cars, but a lot of thoughtful, responsible, sane, law-abiding people do see their guns as essential, and for you to advocate taking them away because of a few crazy incidents can easily be viewed as a an overreaction and disproportionate response.
I think the comments about our violent society being the problem are the most germane. What I said on Facebook was: “Where was the outrage and despair last week when the U.S. military announced its intention to target children without restraint? They kill 20 children every month on their globe-trotting adventures, and they do it on your dime and in your
name. If you want to talk about gun control, let’s start with them! Or does your compassion not extend any further than pretty white American children?”
Violence is the mode our most revered leaders use to solve conflicts. Why do we expect more of our most troubled citizens than we expect of our leaders? All mass shooters are simply following the model demonstrated by the President our country resoundingly re-elected. Did you vote for Obama, Judy? He has presided over more violence in his first term than George W. Bush committed in his two terms.
Thank you for writing, Kathy. I agree with you that there needs to be a focus on providing good psychiatric care, which at this point in time is very inadequate on so many levels. And its a huge problem.
But that being said, there is no rationale for automatic weapons to be routinely available to anyone. As I wrote in my post, in countries where there is no access, the rates of gun violence are miniscule compared to the United States.
I agree on not having any use for automatic weapons. They are used by people who can’t hit what they are aiming at, so the solution is to spray enough bullets that “you’re bound to hit something”.
If your form of gun control includes only fully automatic weapons, I’m on your side. But so often these conversations are about banning all private gun ownership – rifles, shotguns and semi-automatic hand guns. Maybe you could clarify your stance.
I hear you, Andy. I have wondered myself at the depth of my reaction to this particular incident, when I know there are terrible horrendous things happening around the world all the time. I think its because its so close to home on so many levels for me. It would be understandable to be grief stricken all the time.
Let’s say you get what you want. No guns. Not even for the police, because if they are available, someone will find a way to get his/her hands on one and there you have a gun in the hands of a criminal.
What’s left? Well if you want up close and personal, there are knives, baseball bats, nail guns (or shall we halt construction?). There’s man’s all time favorite, bare hands, possibly with the addition of rope, wire or any available strangulation device.
For the larger audience, we have poison gas and various other forms and delivery methods for poison, bombs (pipe bombs for the especially blood-thirsty), fire (lovely way to die, don’t you think?).
Still looking for that “just-perfect” method to take someone out? Chainsaw, maybe?
See – where there’s a will, there’s a way. So work on fixing the crazies among us before they take us all out because we don’t have any means to protect ourselves.
Steve Rotherham says
I don’t think it is possible to ban all guns, nor do I think that is what most gun control advocates are calling for. What would be effective is a gun buyback, under which people could own one handgun and one non-automatic rifle or shotgun, no more. Ample for self-defence but not enough for a mass killing rampage. Americans need to look outwards more, at what works in other countries. Look at Canada, so close but so different, so much safer.
Thanks so much Steve for taking the time to write and provide your perspective. I appreciate it.
Oh, but that the problem was the gun.
I too have great concerns re: psychotropic drugs–know of four horrendous murders in our community that occurred when people were started on SSRIs. Total of six dead.
Thank you, Lee for writing. I know that the problems are so much deeper than the gun itself. See my comment to Andy.
But that being said, yesterday in China a man with a knife attacked and wounded 22 school children, and no one died. On the material level, this is a first step.
Thanks so much for writing this, and I agree absolutely. If we as a society cannot or do not come together over resolving these issues, then we as a society are suicidal. I also believe that another issue is intertwined with these mass shootings, and that is the mass use of mood-altering prescription medications for so many unbalanced young people (and older people!). I recently saw a list of the psychoactive drugs that were being taken (legally prescribed in good faith) by the various shooters in recent tragedies. I have very little doubt that this shooter was also taking such drugs. The “side effects” are known. (I put that in quotes because, IMO, drugs have ONLY effects, not “side effects”; some of these effects are wanted, some unwanted, but all have the possibility of manifesting. Combinations of drugs make the problem exponentially worse). I DO NOT exonerate the availability of guns!! Put these two issues together: the use of mood-altering drugs and the availability of high-powered weapons, and it is a recipe for disaster. What many people on such medications need is real food, and real meaning in their lives, not drugs. As Royal Lee, the father of Standard Process supplements would say, you can’t treat starvation with drugs–that’s criminal.
Thanks for writing Joyce. Please see my other replies re psychotropic drugs.
Thank you for sharing your feelings and views in these horrendous times. Being able to see the overall bigger picture and your call to wake up is so needed and helpful.
Am wondering about the role of psychiatric drugs, esp. antidepressants, in this and other homicide and suicide tragedies ?
Maybe if the school officials had a way to defend themselves somehow… If we’re talking about tragic deaths, how many people die and get maimed in auto accidents vs gun shots? What about drone strikes in other countries? Do prescription meds have anything to do with causing the state of mind of the assailant?
Maybe our problem is one of morals.
These are remarkable links. I especially resonated with the post about the use of drones. The designation joy stick chills to the bone.
Steve Rotherham says
The comparison with deaths from automobiles is ridiculous. Could someone drive into a school and run over 26 people?
The fact is, people living in Australia, Canada and Britain are free and they maintain this freedom without widespread ownership of firearms, let alone firearms that were developed for military purposes rather than hunting or self-defense.
The problem is not mental illness. It is the COMBINATION of mental illness and firearms.
You can’t eliminate mental illness or social disaffection, but you can regulate gun ownership.
A conservative Prime Minister of Australia brought in heavy restrictions on gun ownership after a 1996 mas shooting and the country is a better place for that.
Amen, Steve. Thanks for writing. As I was listening to the radio this AM, it seems like finally this latest unspeakable tragedy in Newtown has been enough to galvanize the American people to put pressure on our leaders to legislate appropriate gun control. These children and educators gave their lives for this, and many others will be saved.
Hopefully this will also result in more appropriate care and follow up for the mentally ill, who are terribly underserved in our society.
Nobody is comparing mass shootings directly to automobile deaths. They are obviously not equivalent. But when people start talking about policy prescriptions (i.e., gun control), then all of the normal aspects of public policy are fair game. How big is the problem compared to other problems? How much are we willing to pay to solve the problem? What are we willing to sacrifice to solve the problem? In this context, the comparison between automobile accidents and mass shootings is completely appropriate. Auto accidents are a huge problem that we are willing to make only minor sacrifices for. Mass shootings are a dramatic problem, but a small one from a public policy perspective. Yet gun control advocates are willing to propose sweeping prohibitions on all citizens to confront a problem that affects a tiny percentage of people. Nobody kills 26 people at once with a car, but the number of innocents needlessly killed is thousands of times greater than the number killed in mass shootings.
Steve Rotherham says
A modern society can’t thrive without automobiles. but it can get along fine with citizens not being allowed to own weapons designed for military purposes. If people were limited to one handgun and one rifle or shotgun each, there would still be ample scope for self-defense.
I have heard that all mass shooters in the last few decades have been on psychiatric medications when they went on their sprees. The implication is that the medications are causing the sprees, similar to the way they cause suicidal thoughts and actions. Do you think there is a causal link between psych meds and mass shootings?
I have received multiple comments regarding the link between psychiatric medications and the shootings. I am planning to write a post about this issue in the future, but for now let me say that I believe to blame psychiatric medications for these massacres is to miss the point. The killers are all by definition mentally ill, probably have been so for sometime, and either they or their families have tried to alleviate their suffering with medications. All medications carry the risk of side effects, and I have no doubt that some people experience increased dysphoria or aggression on the medications. But suicidal and homicidal ideation are very often expressions of serious mental illness itself.
Now, I know that there is a huge problem with out medical pharmaceutical industrial complex and lobbyists, there is a lack of transparency and manipulation and suppression of research data and that the profit motive trumps concern for public health. Its the same as with industrial agriculture, factory farming, GMOS’s and public health, the same with the Energy industry. The profit motive drives all of it, irregardless of the dire consequences to public health, and literally the very survival of the planet.
But all that being said, I have seen psychiatric medications be of great use to many people, and have seen many patients become violent when they go off of their medications. These medications need to be used judiciously, and in combination with proper nutrition, life style changes, therapeutic conversation and attention to a person’s spiritual needs, with an eye to helping a patient eventually wean off of them if possible. Too often they are the only treatment offered. And that is an enormous and pervasive problem. There is also a lack of skill and care in diagnosis, and often inappropriate prescription of them. It’s a vast topic which I will not get into here.
But in terms of these repeated massacres with automatic weapons, this has to do with access. It does not happen in other countries where these sorts of weapons are not available. I also believe as has been pointed out by other commenters, that we have lost our moral compass and we are an extremely violent and callous society. See the links in the comment by js290 about drones and violence. We are in trouble, and only a major and profound shift in consciousness accompanied by compassionate and skillful action will save us from ourselves.