It’s time to Break It Down!
Today’s date is special; 12/12/12. It is in the midst of the Season of Good Tidings of Great Joy. I really wish I were commemorating both the date, and the coming events with a not so dire and gruesome message. Sadly, I am not!
Less than two weeks removed from the murder-suicide of NFL Kansas City Chiefs’ player, Jovan Belcherand his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, which incidentally, left their two month-old infant daughter, Zoey, parentless. Yet again, a senseless act of gun violence has claimed center stage…at least on the domestic front. The details of the Belcher case have been well-chronicled, so I will not deign to repeat the particulars in this space. Suffice it to say, before Americans could collectively execute a proper grieving period for those ghastly events, the Kansas City shootings were displaced from the headlines; not by anyinordinate time and distance, but sadly, by another grisly murderous sequence.
At about 3:30 p.m. PST yesterday, a gunman used a high-powered rifle to kill two people in Oregon’sClackamas Town Center Mall. According to authorities, he then turned the gun on himself. He was among the three people killed during the incident. The mall is located in Clackamas County, near Portland. Other shoppers were apparently wounded. Those same reports say no shots were fired by police.
In the event you have relatives whom you think may have been at this mall at that time, a special number has been set up to call and check on them: (503) 655-8211.
This post is not about the Belcher incident; it’s not even about yesterday’s tragedy at the Clackamas Town Center, per se. It is about the national debate, sporadic in frequency, but dynamic in intensity. The gun lobby, represented most notably by the National Rifle Association (NRA), argues fiercely, among other things, that:
- The Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to own guns
- Occurrences such at this are random anomalies
- People who exact violence against others have options besides fire arms
- The threat of such violence would be lessened if the victims were armed
- Immediately after such events is too soon to discuss remedies
- Curtailing access to fire arms is un-American
- Guns don’t kill people; people do
- Guns are a necessary implement for hunting
- Americans need to protect themselves from a rogue government
- Gun Protectionism proves America is the world’s last bastion for freedom
I’ve examined this brand of violence before. In doing so, I have previously cited statistics about the paucity of gun violence in countries such as Australia, Canada, United Kingdom (Great Britain), and Japan, compared to the United States. Relative annualized averages for these countries are:
- Australia 65
- Canada 165
- Japan 39
- United Kingdom (Great Britain) 68
- United States 11,000+
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the United States, in 2007, there were:
- 12,129 homicides with a firearm
- 17,348 suicides with a firearm
- 721 deaths by accidental discharge of a firearm
- +/- 5,000 deaths from legal interventions (i.e., police shooting criminals)
A problem does not reach this depth and breadth by osmosis, or accident. There is of course a culture of American gun ownership that stretches back to the country’s founding and its fundamentally preeminent document of record; the United States Constitution. It is the Second Amendment of the Constitutionthat purists use as the prime validation of their right to own a gun, tote a piece, or arm themselves to the teeth, depending upon one’s level of uber commitment to the cause. The language of this hypercritical polemic is captured in a single sentence (ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State):
· A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Who could imagine a mere 27 words, adopted 221 years ago this Saturday (December 15, 1791), could be the source of such disparate opinion, and perhaps more notably, or at least arguably, such horrific carnage? For those who argue the sanctity of this venerablestatute, I caution with the subtle reminder; remember it is after all an Amendment. Moreover, if Constitutional content were altered when the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments) was added, for the betterment of the document and the country, perhaps it is time to make another alteration!In fact, I would assert, “It is definitely time to do just that.”
Naturally, my suggesting it won’t make it so. There is an unbelievable infrastructure supported by gun making and selling in America. There are more than 129,817 federally licensed firearms dealers in the United States, according to the latest Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). That includes 51,438 retail gun stores, 7,356 pawn shops, 61,562 collectors, with the rest held by manufacturers and importers of firearms and destructive devices.
To bring some element of context to this matter, consider that by comparison, a few of the numbers for other American institutions are:
· Grocery Stores (2011) 36,569 – (Food Marketing Institute)
On their face alone, these numbers are staggering, and if you don’t find the relative comparison between the proliferation of guns and the number of source points for these other goods alarming, I certainly think you should. Regardless, there is a key differentiator between guns and these other items. Gasoline, burgers, and other food stuffs are perishablesand/or consumables; guns by contrast do not go away. As a case in point, a rifle used in the 2009 Holocaust Museum shooting was nearly 100 years old, but no less effective as an instrument of murder and mayhem.
The ATF reported that in 2010, there were 5,459,240 new firearms manufactured in the United States, nearly all (95%) for the U.S. market. An additional 3,252,404 firearms were imported to the United States.
Under current laws and statutes, if you do not have a criminal record and you have not been adjudicated as mentally incompetent, you can buy guns. In 2010the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) ran 16,454,951 background checksfor firearms purchases. Only a miniscule number of these purchases (78,211 or 0.48 percent)were denied. “Houston,we have a problem!”
I think the foregoing barrage of facts and figures more than adequately outlines the current environment in this country vis-à-visgun ownership, and the prevalence of the death and destruction of families that this culture is at least somewhat responsible for creating and sustaining. We characterize ourselves as a nation with many glowing virtues. Freedom is often listed first; family values usually follow, not far behind. I submit that that if we are serious about our national association with these traits of honor, we are obligated to take some kind of action to ameliorate the ridiculous level of violence that stems from firearms…and/or their owners. To do nothing hardly leaves us worthy of owning the term “civilized society.”
Today, we cope with the reality, “Clackamas County, Oregon: Ground Zero for Yesterday’s Episode of American Gun Violence!” We mourn the loss of life, pray for the survivors and the families of the deceased, and challenge Americans of all stripes to stand up to the culture of widespread gun violence, and demand change. I’m done; holla back!
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