A Shot In The Dark
There’s nothing like a little violent tragedy to get Americans talking.
Well, not talking exactly--just following a well-worn script that contains plenty of drama and lots of character, but no real conclusion.
The story generally opens with a few gunshots. Over the long weekend, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend nine times and himself once. His senseless acts left two people dead and an infant orphaned.
Reacting to the tragedy, columnists and--most notably--sports broadcaster Bob Costas referred to presence of handguns in so many violent incidents across the country. Each year, gun use results in over 11,000 homicides, or 3.7 in every 100,000 people. Add accidental death and suicide and the figure jumps to 10.2 in 100,000.
So there is cause for concern.
Yet any such commentary triggers a predictable backlash. Checking through social media on after Costas issues his statement, I ran across a range of angry, often insipid responses. Several people suggested, for example, that if Belcher’s girlfriend owned a weapon the outcome may have been different.
Yeah, it wouldn’t have been a murder-suicide case, just two murders--and possibly wounds to a few others caused by flying bullets.
Others cited incidents of assault with common items, such as a person murdered by a shovel-wielding man. Should we ban shovels? is the usual snarky coda, which ignores the fact that almost 70 percent of all homicides are committed by those firing a gun.
The National Rifle Association is famous for digging in its heels, refusing to support measures that might limit access to weapons and firing off remarkable missives. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is a remarkably effective mantra because of its essential truth.
There are some 300 million privately owned firearms in this country, yet the murder rate is at 47 year low. Most American homes--60 percent--do not even have a gun. The overwhelming majority of legal owners (many of them collectors, hunters, farmers and ranchers) follow extreme safety measures and never, ever pick up a weapon in anger.
And so the script plays out: two sides shouting out their purpose, each refusing to acknowledge facts supporting the other.
The voices driving American debate tend to disregard reason. The actions of those who disregard reason and fact tend to be...well, worthy of at least a private “what is wrong with these people?”
When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, fearful types rushed to purchase firearms and ammunition before the ban they assumed would follow. Shop owners report an increase in sales in the wake of his reelection, as well.
Oh, the president has on several occasions evinced an interest in curbing the number of assault rifles and issued at least one statement on “cheap handguns” in relation to violent crime in Chicago. And recurring discussion in the United Nations on an international Arms Trade Treaty could limit the volume of exotic weapons crossing borders. So some of this rush is justified.
Yet there are many who fear a complete ban on gun ownership at some point during Obama’s second term.
Out of all the actors in this drama--the NRA, the anti-handgun activists, those who sound off in the wake of tragedy--this group may be the most worrisome. After all, they apparently believe the president possesses unlimited power or that Congress may trample the Constitution at will. They clearly do not understand that any change to our founding document requires a two-thirds majority of states in support.
You know, most Americans support both the right to bear arms and the need for certain limits, such as mandatory background checks. Most understand that compromise is essential. Most are rational. But there’s nothing like our national debate over guns to flush the others out of hiding.
Maybe we should consider mandatory civics lessons.