Guns in Our Communities 2017

by Phil Anderson

Once again a mass shorting is in the news. This week in California an angry white man shot up a small rural community apparently over employment and domestic problems. Last week in Texas, an angry white man killed 26 in a small rural church apparently because of a dispute with his mother-in-law. Before that in Las Vegas an angry, rich white man killed 59 and wounded 527 for no apparent reason at all. And the list goes on and on and on.... 

The common denominator in all these tragedies is the easy availability of guns, specifically  military style weapons with high capacity magazines. Last year I wrote this article about guns in America after the tragedy du jour at that time. Nothing has changed. Despite all the “thoughts and prayers” no action has been taken to stop these preventable tragedies. So this 2016 article, with some modifications, is still timely.         

THERE ARE MORE GUNS IN OUR COUNTRY THAN PEOPLE.  Although the actual number of guns is unknown, reliable estimates are that the US has about 357 million guns. That means for every 100 Americans there are about 116 guns. America leads the world in gun ownership per capita. We are are number one once again! Doesn’t it make you proud? 

These figures do not mean that everyone has a gun. The number of households with guns is actually declining. Most guns are owned by about 1/3 of the population. Gun ownership varies significantly from state to state and from urban to rural areas. Rural areas and southern and western states tend to have more guns. This is not just about places where hunting is a “tradition” like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Hunting is also declining. Only about 15% of the adult population hunts. 

Gun ownership is not about protecting home and family. Crime rates are down across the country. The actual threat of being a victim of a crime is low. The Bureau of Justice Statistics says an estimated 0.5% experienced at least one serious violent victimization in 2014. Only 8% of households were the victims of property crimes. The truth is MOST OF US LIVE IN PRETTY SAFE COMMUNITIES. 

BUT THE DAMAGE DONE BY GUNS IS REAL. According to the Centers for Disease Control, guns kill about 33,000 people a year and injure about 73,000. Of those killed in 2013, over 11,000 were homicides. A little known fact is suicides using guns kill more people than homicides. Children are also victims of guns and gun violence. The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families says a child under 18 dies from guns about once every two weeks in Wisconsin. Suicides make up 45% of these deaths. Even in peaceful Minnesota, more than 3,600 people died from gun-related homicides, suicides and accidents between 2000 and 2010.  In Minnesota suicides, at an average of 256 per year, outnumbered all other causes of gun-related deaths

 Putting these numbers into perspective, we kill around 44,000 people on the roads every year in the U.S. THE TRAGEDY IS, LIKE AUTO ACCIDENTS, GUN DEATHS AND INJURIES ARE LARGELY PREVENTABLE. We could have sensible gun control. We could make it harder to access a gun. Suicides, for example, are much easier done with guns. Because suicides are often done on impulse, not having easy access to a gun could make the difference. Child suicide could be greatly reduced if parents did not have a gun or had it locked up and unloaded. In Wisconsin, reports say 61% of guns in homes are not stored safely and children have access to them.  

Guns are widely and easily available in our communities. You can buy them everywhere including from private parties. PRIVATE GUN SALES THROUGH NEWSPAPERS, THE INTERNET, OR GUN SHOWS ARE NOT REGULATED IN ANY WAY. THIS IS 40% OF ALL GUNS SALES.  No questions asked. No background checks. No registration of the gun or the sale. 

Polls indicate 92% of Americans favor background checks for all gun sales. Banning assault type rifles is favored by 57% of people. People support limitations on high capacity clips or buying high volumes of ammunition. But Congress is not interested in the will of the people. Common sense measures to reduce gun deaths go nowhere in our political process. Common sense is not what we do in America. Certainly not when there is money to be made.

GUN MANUFACTURERS ARE HAVING BOOM TIMES. Gun sales have doubled in recent years. Mass shootings and talk of changing gun laws has ramped up the fear and paranoia which have increased gun sales. Even though there has been no legislation or effort to restrict access to guns, the minority of people who own guns are buying more of them. The NRA, which is financially supported by the gun industry, has stoked this fear and paranoia. 

Gun violence is a complicated issue and will not be solved by gun control alone. We must also deal with our pervasive culture of violence. BUT WE SHOULD NOT ALLOW THE DIFFICULTY OF THE TASK TO PREVENT TAKING SENSIBLE ACTION.  

We must at a minimum:

• REQUIRE BACKGOUND CHECKS FOR ALL GUN SALES.  

• OUTLAW ASSAULT STYLE WEAPONS, HIGH CAPACITY MAGAZINES, AND LARGE AMMUNITION PURCHASES. I am a gun owner and hunter. No one needs these for hunting or any other purpose.

• BUY BACK PROGRAMS to reduce the number of guns. No registration program will work with 300 million guns already out there.

• STORE GUNS SAFELY. Every gun owner can do this. Unload them and lock them up.

• REGISTRATION OF ALL GUNS. Every gun should have a title and no gun should be sold anywhere without transfer of that title. 

We can not allow the gun lobby to continue to dictate public policy on these issues. Reasonable actions, that have the support of most people, MUST finally be taken. 
There are many organization working to create change. Protect Minnesota (https://protectmn.org) is leading the effort locally. WAVE (Wisconsin Anti Violence Effort http://waveedfund.org) is working in Wisconsin. There are many national groups. They all need support and volunteers. You can help by becoming part of the solution.