Thursday, December 20, 2012

So Many in the Hands of so Few

At the time my daughter was born in 1973, half of all households in America owned firearms.  By 2010, the proportion owning guns had plummeted to less than 1 in 3.  Only 1 in 5 Americans now owns a gun, down 32% since 1985.

So it is all the more alarming that in America there are 90 guns now for every 100 citizens, all concentrated in less than a third of our households and that 20% of Americans buy half of the new guns produced worldwide each year.

Even subtracting those weapons in the possession of law enforcement agencies, that is an incredible concentration of firearms in just 37 million households, a population about the size of Poland.  We may have 90 guns for every 100 residents in the US but they are all in the hands of only 20 of those residents.

Only 1 in every 4 hunters belongs to the NRA, which poured nearly $19 million, that has been disclosed so far, into last month’s election alone, much of it from those who benefit from that trade, all to elect candidates who will work to thwart policies that would better manage guns.

By comparison, three times as many hunters consider themselves conservationists and 66% of fishers and hunters believe Americans have a moral responsibility to confront climate change.

Given that only 37% of sportsmen and sportswomen believe what they call “gun rights” are the most important issue they face, if all of this lobbying is about hunters and not the gun trade, it seems that all of this lobbying should be on behalf of efforts to curb climate change.

I am not sure how many of the nearly 1,300 heavily armed, private militias operating in the US belong to NRA or how many of the 350 million firearms in America are to be found in the possession of members of these groups or among easier-to-define criminals nor do I know if legitimate game hunters understand that the need to better manage guns has nothing to do with hunting.

I’ve read and re-read the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in the few days since 20 first graders and several adults were gunned down in Sandy Hook, even returning to re-read Professor David Vandercoy’s excellent historical overview of the roots of that amendment, which date to the middle of the first century A.D. England.

I just can’t see how huge stockpiles of lethal weapons stored in the hands of a small fraction of the population is anything close to what the framers had in mind.  In fact, it seems just the opposite.

Clearly liberty and the right to bear arms go hand-in-hand and any move to better manage firearms must be in a way that meets the spirit of the Constitution while better protecting the population and this will require a lot more research.

Obviously, NRA members need to step up and be part of the solution to how we management firearms in America but new results by a Republican pollster suggests that won’t be the strategy used by those who have thwarted better management in the past.

The poll, which many have noted has had accuracy issues in the past, suggests more Americans want to address mental health and media violence than better management of firearms.  This is the kind of “false choice” that has worked so well for opponents of firearm management in the past.

Of course, the answer is “both/and,” not “either/or.”

When my passions run too strong, I often turn to statistics and historical context for relief and perspective.  As we are reminded by a blog post by Justin Peters, what happened in Newtown last Friday is not the worst school massacre in US history.

Nearly eighty-six years ago in Bath Township, Michigan, a school board official, angry over taxes, blew up an elementary school, killing 38 children and four other adults and injuring 58.  We do a much better job of managing dynamite now than we do guns.

I have a feeling 12/14 is a date I’ll always remember.

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