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June 2, 2014

HOWEY: Guns, massacres and the masses

NASHVILLE, Ind. — The massacre after Newtown, and the one before Santa Barbara, perpetrated at the Navy Yard last September, prompted me to write this:

“The Navy Yard shootings that left 13 dead just leaves me ... uncomfortably numb. It appears that at this point in American history, this is a fact of life and something we have to live with or die by. The shadowy, sulking loner emerges into the public space, blasting away at the innocents who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mayors and chiefs tabulate the victims and the perps, open the triage and call out SWAT. The surgeons do pressers. The families mourn and express dismay. The mugshot reveals that crazed look. Gabrielle renews her outrage. Newtown and Colombine are invoked. We observe the moment of silence at the stadium. The NRA hunkers down. Congress is paralyzed to provide any response or adjustment. It seems as if we’re transfixed into rote response and in doing so, a slice of the American dream dies.”

The massacre at the University of California at Santa Barbara combined an array of lethal weaponry, from guns, to knives, to an automobile. And it stoked familiar debates.

Chris Cillizza, writing on his Washington Post blog, reacted to the outrage of Richard Martinez, who lost his only son: “It almost certainly won’t be that galvanizing moment. In the same way that the attempted assassination of then-Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wasn’t. In the same way the deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, wasn’t. [In fact, since Newtown, more states have loosened gun laws than have tightened them.] For those who oppose tighter gun laws, it is an absolute passion and oftentimes the single most important issue on which they make decisions about which candidates to support.”

For the sake of stoking an earnest debate, another columnist — Cliff Schecter of the Daily Beast — began poking holes in some of the most oft repeated assumptions. Here are some of his points:

Cars: Compared to guns, cars are robustly regulated. There’s a strong registration regimen. More and more safety features have been added-including airbags and seat belts. There’s a long-standing war against drunk driving that’s included checkpoints, long sentences for offenders, and holding bartenders accountable who serve someone who’s clearly wasted. There’s registration, licensing and tests required to prove you know how to drive an automobile. This is why 2015 is projected to be the first year where gun deaths surpass traffic fatalities.

Knives: The clearest comparison between gun violence and knife violence is provided by looking at the attack that occurred at a Chinese school in Henen Province the very same day as the Newtown Massacre. Twenty-three students were attacked in Henen and none died - as opposed to 20 murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. Or how about the 22 injured in a knife attack at a school in Pittsburgh this past April? Nobody died there, either.

State gun laws: Hawaii, which is separated from every other state by quite a bit of ocean ... boasts the lowest gun ownership rate and among the strongest gun laws in our country, has the lowest gun violence rate, according to The Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence. In Arizona, with those ridiculously nonexistent gun laws, you’re five times more likely to die from a gun than in Hawaii. This pattern extends throughout the country, from lax regulation states like Mississippi and Alaska [18.3 and 17.6 gun deaths, per 100,000 people, respectively] to strong regulation states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts [3.5 and 3.6 gun deaths per 100,000, respectively]. Indiana ranks 21st with 11.7 per 100,000, ahead of Texas [11], Michigan [10.9], Illinois [9.7] and Ohio [9.3]. Kentucky is at 13.1.

Chicago’s gun laws: And for those of you about to point out that cities like Chicago have both strict gun laws and horrifying gun violence, well, you might want to do some reading about how many of those guns came from Indiana, which has much less strict gun laws.

Nation to nation: If lax guns laws and more guns overall made people safer, the United States would be the safest place in the world. Instead, that designation goes to countries like Japan and England. Australia was heading down the same path as us until 1996 when they had their own Newtown, known as the Port Arthur Massacre. They passed not weak-tea gun laws, but a comprehensive package [passed by their Conservative Party]. The results have been stunning, as not only has there not been a mass shooting since then [there were 11 in the 10 years before they passed this legislation], but their suicides and gun-related deaths have gone way down too.

U.S. Constitution: [It] promises us that our government will protect “the general Welfare” and “domestic tranquility.” I’d argue that with weekly mass shootings occurring ... Congress is directly disobeying the Constitution ... to give special consideration to an interest group that funds its members’ campaigns.

OK, enough of Cliff Schecter.

Does anything change? Only when enough citizens rise up and counter the NRA and start picking off elected officials who are content with the status quo.

— Brian Howey publishes at www.howeypolitics.com. Find him on Twitter @hwypol.

 

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