More Important than Life
By Stephen Tuttle | June 4, 2022
Another day, another massacre of children, another night of parents lying sleepless, eyes wide open, minds racing, hearts irreparably broken.
When not slaughtering children in their classrooms, we slaughter shoppers in a grocery store; or worshipers in a church or mosque or synagogue; or revelers in a nightclub or at a neighborhood party or at a concert. We are equal-opportunity slaughterers undeterred by location, age, race, or religion. We’re willing to kill most anybody.
We do it mostly with guns.
Data from 2020 compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and analyzed by Pew Research paints an ugly picture.
Guns killed slightly more than 45,000 Americans in 2020, about 45 percent of which—or just more than 19,300—were murders. (Suicide continues to be the leading cause of gun deaths.) That’s the most gun deaths ever in this country and a 14 percent increase in just a year, a 25 percent increase since 2015, and a stunning 45 percent increase since 2010. (Our gun deaths per 100,000 people is still lower than our peak in 1974.)
Now, after the most recent massacre, we’re hearing from politicians who so fear their pro-gun base that they hide their spinal column somewhere it might never be found again. They say the killer in Uvalde, Texas, could have used a knife or a bat or a bomb. But guns are readily available and easy to use. Semi-automatic versions can kill quickly, effectively, and impersonally. They are the perfect mass killing weapon of choice. In fact, 79 percent of all murders in the U.S. are the result of gunfire, not knives or anything else.
According to the CDC, the most gun deaths per capita occurred in Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama in 2020. Those states have among the most liberal gun laws. The lowest gun death rates happened in Hawai’i, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York. Those states have among the most restrictive gun laws. There would seem to be dots to connect, but the data has been interpreted in different ways by opposing advocacy groups.
What is undeniable is we are a nation in love with guns. According to the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research organization, we are the only country in the world with more guns in private hands than we have people, approximately 120 guns for every 100 people. No other country is even close, with the Falkland Islands and Yemen coming in a distant second and third. That’s more than 390 million guns in private hands. The inevitable result is more people here are shot and more people are killed by guns than anywhere else.
Other countries seem to have solved the gun violence issue.
The European Union (EU) consists of 27 countries with a total population of nearly 448 million. Combined, they average about 6,700 gun deaths annually. All of the EU countries have some form of gun control or restrictions.
Australia and New Zealand are both countries with a long private gun ownership tradition. Yet both enacted stringent gun regulations outlawing semi-automatic weapons with a buy-back program after massacres in which military-style, semi-automatic long guns were used. Despite predictions to the contrary, crime—especially violent crime—actually decreased. In 2019, there were 229 gun deaths in Australia and 105 in New Zealand.
Those countries’ organizing documents, be they a constitution or something else, do not make private gun ownership inviolate. Most have no gun ownership tradition, nor did they have a frontier they believe was at least partially conquered by guns. And they have nothing like our Supreme Court’s Heller v. District of Columbia decision in 2008 that established Second Amendment protection for private handgun ownership in the home.
Now we’ll have another gun debate with much noise and almost no action. It will be the same debate we have after every mass shooting, especially if it involves a school. One side will claim this is finally the moment something will happen or some law will be passed. The other side will resist anything that even hints at restricting the availability of their beloved weapons. Maybe a state legislature or two will take a baby step, perhaps restricting so-called assault weapons even though the FBI says only three percent of gun deaths involve long guns.
There is much we could do given some political courage, because the Heller decision offered plenty of room for both restrictions and reform.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
We’ve ignored Scalia’s open door to reform for 14 years and counting. Too many of us continue to believe guns are more important than lives—even the lives of children.