As the mayor of Newtown said yesterday, "Evil visited our community today". A nation mourns as the state of Connecticut is added to the growing list of states which have experienced a tragic mass murder perpetrated by a lone gunman. This time 26 innocent lives were lost, including 20 young children, ages 7-10, at an elementary school situated in this upper-middle class town, population under 2,000. When I was 7 I lived in the neighboring village of Brookfield Center, barely 5 miles from Newtown, both bedroom communities for Danbury, CT and less than an hours train ride from New York City.
Collectively, as a nation of basically caring people our hearts grieve when these things happen. They grieve for the senseless loss of life of innocent people. They grieve for the parents, family and friends of the victims. And before the mourning is over our thoughts turn to how in the world we can prevent this from ever happening again. Our anger and outrage search for the easy, permanent solution and we want our leaders and elected representatives to fix it and fix it now. Since this massacre involved handguns, the outcry for "gun control" increases to a fever pitch and people line up on either side to debate the issue.
Let me say up front, I am a gun owner. I have three handguns, a large caliber hunting rifle, a small caliber target rifle and two shotguns. I acquired these guns over the years from legitimate sources for the purpose of hunting and target shooting. They are, by the way, safely locked in a gun cabinet at my office, not in my home, as we have young grandchildren who visit for long periods and there is no sense in tempting fate. I will also admit I have been, although no longer, a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and was even one of their elite Golden Eagle members at one time in the past. There, now you know the whole truth. With this as a background, let me put forth the following argument which you have no doubt heard before.
Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Some who commit homicide use guns, some knives, some use rat poison, some use crowbars, some use baseball bats, some use rocks. Statistics show in 2011 there were 16,799 people in America who were killed by intentional gunshot. That is 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population. Gun homicides ranked # 15 on the list of causes of death. So 14 other methods of homicide were employed more frequently than guns.
President Obama, in a heart-felt address to the nation yesterday said we must take "meaningful action" to ensure this kind tragedy does not happen again. He did not specify what that might be but the implication is fairly clear he was referring to gun control. Let's take a look at what kind of challenge that might be.
There were 35,900 deaths from automobile accidents, or 11.0 per 100,000 people. Of those nearly 36,000 deaths, roughly 50 % involved alcohol on the part of the person causing the accident. The death rate from automobile accidents has come down slowly as cars have been made safer and laws passed and enforced to help protect drivers and punish those who drive under the influence; however, the death rate has virtually plateaued for several years. So over three times the number of deaths from cars versus from guns.
There are over 255 million privately registered vehicles in the U.S. This means the government knows who owns them and, roughly, where they are at any given time. On the other hand, there are estimated to be 310 million non-military firearms in the U.S. A Gallup poll in 2007 showed that over 47 % of all Americans have at least one handgun in their home. Over 40 % of those handguns are unregistered. This means the government doesn't know who owns them or where they are at any given time. You don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on cars because of the deaths they cause. It would be impossible. And, people understand that cars don't kill people, people....well, you get the point. Likewise, you don't hear anyone clamoring for a ban on alcohol, even though its inappropriate use is at the heart of more deaths every year than handguns and that is just when alcohol is mixed with driving.
Attempting to ban handguns would be a wasteful and hugely expensive exercise in futility, much like Prohibition, and to even attempt it would mean overthrowing the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution not to mention getting over 165 million Americans to voluntarily give up their guns. I have not fired any of my guns in over four years but I am not inclined to give them up and my bet is neither would my fellow gun owners, regardless of what Bob Costas thinks.
So why am I no longer a card carrying member of the NRA? Because I disagree that a ban or certain controls on handguns and automatic weapons is a violation of my 2nd Amendment rights. I don't believe, as they do, that any restriction on gun acquisition and ownership is bad. Specifically, I believe that the sale and ownership of automatic weapons should be illegal with stiff penalties for violators, there should be a mandatory five-day waiting period for all handgun sales coupled with background checks and there should be a mandatory 25-year sentence (life for second offenders) for anyone using a gun in the commission of a felony. I also believe we should enforce the laws already on the books as it relates to gun management. However, focusing on gun control in the aftermath of a tragedy like the one in Newtown, CT is focusing on the wrong issue.
It has been reported that the alleged perpetrator of these murders was a 20-year old loner who possibly had Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism. He is reported to be a past honors student but with no close friends. He wasn't even on Facebook! He had an older brother who hadn't spoken to him in two years. He was living at home with a single mother, and described by a fellow classmate as a goth. For those of you who are not up on this particularly weird subculture in our society, it is person with a proclivity for the dark side of life and fascination with death. Their attire is dark clothing, mostly black, known as deathrock, punk or Victorian, dark make-up, and favor music styles in the Gothic rock, death rock, post-punk and darkwave. I mean, DUH! Could it be this young man might be crying out for help or at least deserved some special attention? This is where our focus needs to be....in the home, in the neighborhood, in the schools and with an eye for individuals who might need help before it is too late.
The guns, as it turns out, were not his. Apparently, the guns...two handguns and a semi-automatic weapon...belonged to his mother, a law abiding school teacher at the very same elementary school where her son wreaked havoc. So in this case, a waiting period or a background check would not have prevented this. But a gun ban would you say? I'm sorry, proposing a ban on guns would be just as ridiculous as proposing a ban on cars, or knives, or crowbars or rocks.