Friday, December 14, 2012

Unfriendly fire - the apocalypse at Sandy Hook

"If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns."

This morning 27 people including 20 children were killed when a gunman armed with a Glock and a Sig Sauer -- both semi-automatic pistols -- opened fire inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut.

And in the immediate aftermath of this gut-wrenching tragedy, the internet predictably has been flooded with vitriolic debate by individuals on both sides of the issue of gun control versus the inalienable right to bear firearms.

It's no secret where I stand on this controversy.

When the framers of the Second Amendment wrote that "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" I'm quite certain that they didn't envision semi-automatic weapons in the hands of private citizens.

Arguably, giving logical grammatical meaning to the preamble of the Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms exists only for individuals for the purpose of serving in the militia.

Notwithstanding logic and grammar, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected to service in a militia, and to use that firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

Which begs the question, are semi-automatic weapons -- which load a new round from a magazine into a gun's chamber allowing another shot to be fired as soon as the trigger is pulled again -- necessary or appropriate for self-defense within the home or for other traditionally lawful purposes. And even assuming they are, what controls, if any, should be in place to prevent the use of firearms for traditionally unlawful purposes.

It is fact that 11 of the 20 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States. Of the 11, five have happened between 2007 and today. The United States also is among the top three countries (along with Mexico and Estonia) in assault deaths per capita -- by a large margin.

Moreover, since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the USA. In the interest of fairness, in most cases, the killers had obtained their weapons legally. But it is also fact that more guns means more murders. Across the United States, wherever there are more guns, people are at higher risk for firearm homicides. Among developed countries, wherever guns are more available there are more homicides.

Conversely, firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation.

We've heard the arguments. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. In 2011 there were 34,485 motor vehicle traffic deaths and 31,347 firearm deaths, should we restrict car ownership? Well yes, we should and do, and furthermore, what are the statistics on car ownership as compared to gun ownership? At least car ownership numbers can be quantified, gun ownership statistics not so much.

What has been quantified is that a gun in the home is 11 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide, 7 times more likely to be used in a criminal assault or homicide, and 4 times more likely to be used in an unintentional shooting death or injury than to be used in a self-defense shooting.

Would banning assault weapons, requiring trigger locks, and mandating safe storage requirements for guns prevent tragedies like today's massacre at Sandy Hook? Would it have stopped Adam Lanza -- who suffered from a personality disorder -- from opening fire on a bunch of kids age 10 and under?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Guns can be sold in the United States without a background check to screen out criminals or the mentally ill. Although sales from federal firearm licensees require a background check, sales between individuals, under federal law, do not.

I don't know about you, but I for one would rather err on the safe side.

While our hearts go out to the families of the victims in Newton today, we should take a moment to consider the eight children and teenage casualties of gunfire every single day in America.

Need more sobering facts?

More than one million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

Among 23 high-income countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States.

And perhaps the saddest fact of all: Mass shootings historically have not affected public opinion about the right to of citizens to bear arms, which remains slightly skewed in favor of gun rights as opposed to gun control.

Don't shoot me. I'm only the messenger.

"Maybe it's the movies, maybe it's the books
Maybe it's the bullets, maybe it's the real crooks
Maybe it's the drugs, maybe it's the parents
Maybe it's the colors everybody's wearin
Maybe it's the President, maybe it's the last one
Maybe it's the one before that, what he done
Maybe it's the high schools, maybe it's the teachers
Maybe it's the tattooed children in the bleachers
Maybe it's the Bible, maybe it's the lack
Maybe it's the music, maybe it's the crack
Maybe it's the hairdos, maybe it's the TV
Maybe it's the cigarettes, maybe it's the family
Maybe it's the fast food, maybe it's the news
Maybe it's divorce, maybe it's abuse
Maybe it's the lawyers, maybe it's the prisons
Maybe it's the Senators, maybe it's the system
Maybe it's the fathers, maybe it's the sons
Maybe it's the sisters, maybe it's the moms
Maybe it's the radio, maybe it's road rage
Maybe El Nino, or UV rays
Maybe it's the army, maybe it's the liquor
Maybe it's the papers, maybe the militia
Maybe it's the athletes, maybe it's the ads
Maybe it's the sports fans, maybe it's a fad
Maybe it's the magazines, maybe it's the internet
Maybe it's the lottery, maybe it's the immigrants
Maybe it's taxes, big business
Maybe it's the KKK and the skinheads
Maybe it's the communists, maybe it's the Catholics
Maybe it's the hippies, maybe it's the addicts
Maybe it's the art, maybe it's the sex
Maybe it's the homeless, maybe it's the banks
Maybe it's the clearcut, maybe it's the ozone
Maybe it's the chemicals, maybe it's the car phones
Maybe it's the fertilizer, maybe it's the nose rings
Maybe it's the end, but I know one thing
If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns
I'd take away the guns, I'd take away the guns."

Cheryl Wheeler, If It Were Up to Me, 1997

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