and I do not mean just how to title this diary, which is a problem.
I am struggling with the prices we seem willing to pay in lives.
Watching Rachel last night was part of it - there are simply too many incident of mass death with firearms for us to say that we are shocked when something like Tucson happens.
There are too many mentally ill people walking around. There are too many high-powered firearms. There is too easy access to high-capacity magazines for those high-powered firearms.
My last qualification in the Marine Corps was with a semi-automatic M-16. Standard issue magazines were 20 rounds.
Rachel had on a sheriff who had been lead ATF responder at Virginia Tech. His sidearm had a 12-round magazine with 1 in the chamber, for 13 rounds without reloading.
Saturday's shooter had a legally bought firearm that comes with either a 1o or a 15 round magazine, but for which a 33 round magazine is available directly from Glock. He had magazines with capacity in excess of 30 rounds.
How many more are going to die?
It is actually possible to legally purchase a drum for the Glock 19 used Saturday that holds 100 rounds.
The assault weapons ban included limiting civilian purchasing of magazines to capacities of 10 rounds, but there were already millions of extended magazines in circulation, so anyone determined could have obtained one. Even that restriction expired in 2004.
Tuesday morning it is my normal practice to read three op ed writers, Derrick Jackson in the Boston Globe, Bob Herbert in the NY Times, and Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post. All three write in the aftermath of Saturday's shooting. The Times also has an editorial on the subject.
Robinson focuses on Guns and Responsibility, beginning like this:
We may not be sure that the bloodbath in Tucson had anything to do with politics, but we know it had everything to do with our nation's insane refusal to impose reasonable controls on guns.
. He notes that Giffords was for responsible gun ownership. For me the key fact of his column was
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, about 80 percent to 90 percent of disqualifying mental health records are not in the background-check database. Some states simply don't bother to submit the information; others do so haphazardly.
That means even if Loughner had officially been diagnosed as suffering from mental disease, it might not have prevented him from buying a gun at a store conducting a Federal firearms check. And no such check is required either for gun shows or for private purposes.
The Times editorial is titled An Assault on Everyone's Safety and includes mention that several members of Congress now plan to start carrying to protect themselves. I do not know how that will make our society safer. Some members of Congress already have concealed carry permits and while they are not supposed to carry on the Capitol grounds or in Congressional office buildings Members and Senators are not screened by Capitol Police. I believe it was Trent Franks who when interviewed on Sunday said that he has several staffers who already have concealed carry permits. I understand the legitimate concern electeds may now have given that this shooting was a culminating event, but I also worry that simply introducing more guns into aspects of society will only make things worse.
The penultimate paragraph of that Times editorial reads:
Mr. Loughner was rejected by the military for failing a drug test, and had five run-ins with the Pima Community College police before being suspended for disruptive activity. Why can’t Congress require a background check — without loopholes for gun shows or private sales — that would detect this sort of history? If the military didn’t want someone like Mr. Loughner to be given a firearm, neither should the public at large.
Bob Herbert is not interested in the violence of our political rhetoric,a s the title of his column, A Flood Tide of Murder makes clear. Let me quote a total of 3 paragraphs from that column, beginning with these two:
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, more than a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968, when Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were killed. That figure includes suicides and accidental deaths. But homicides, deliberate killings, are a perennial scourge, and not just with guns.
Excluding the people killed in the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 150,000 Americans have been murdered since the beginning of the 21st century. This endlessly proliferating parade of death, which does not spare women or children, ought to make our knees go weak. But we never even notice most of the killings. Homicide is white noise in this society.
Stop and consider those figures Herbert offers and then consider these - we lament the deaths of less than 3,000 Americans on 9/11. We have gone to 2 wars in the more than 9 years since that tragic day, with a total military death toll of well under 10,000. In the same time we have had several hundred thousand gun deaths - we have over 80 a day, more than 30,000 a year. Granted, many are suicides. Still, consider the number of Americans who die from guns each year, ponder those costs of our gun violence.
Herbert, who has written about gun violence many times, ends with a paragraph that can only be described as either cynical - with reason - or from heartbreak:
For whatever reasons, neither the public nor the politicians seem to really care how many Americans are murdered — unless it’s in a terror attack by foreigners. The two most common responses to violence in the U.S. are to ignore it or be entertained by it. The horror prompted by the attack in Tucson on Saturday will pass. The outrage will fade. The murders will continue.
I greatly admire Derrick Jackson. The title of his column will infuriate many, include some here I greatly respect. It is, simply, What is senseless is our tolerance for guns. He quotes Clinton after Columbine and Bush after Virginia Tech to remind us that our rhetoric after such events is predictable. He criticizes Obama for caving on carrying in National Parks. He quotes Giffords' brother-in-law from space.
Senseless - the word we hear over and over and over, but as Rachel pointed out last night, totally predictable, given how often it happens.
There is a sentence that grabbed my attention:
We are in a quiet internal war that takes far more lives than what we are losing in Iraq and Afghanistan, and no one is calling for disarmament talks.
Few in Congress are willing to raise the issue of any kind of further restrictions. My good friend Rep. Carolyn McCarthy is trying, using her experience as the victim of such "senseless" violence. A mentally ill man, Colin Ferguson, shot up a railway car on the LIRR, killing her husband and almost killing her son. This was not one of the examples of multiple murders occurring during the life of Loughner that Rachel recited - there simply were too many.
Jackson offers a ton of statistics, primarily from a study in Trauma. Let me recount some of those.
The study, by researchers from Harvard and UCLA, compared the US with 22 other high-income countries.
Our firearm homicide rate is nearly 20 times higher than the other countries and 43 times higher for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24. Just as telling, our overall suicide rate is lower than in the 22 other high-income countries, but our firearm suicide rate is 6 times higher.
Remember, many of our 30,000 gun deaths per year are suicide.
80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 of the wealthiest nations in the world occur in the United States. Nearly 9 of 10 women and children killed with firearms were killed here.
Stop and consider that. We often hear the criticism of our use of energy, that with less than 4% of the world's population we use about 25% of the energy. But that share pales in comparison to our firearm deaths when compared to countries economically our equal.
Yes, the study does not include truly violent nations in the midst of armed civil disorder. So what? Are we proud that we have less people killed proportionally than in Iraq, or Somalia, or Afghanistan?
We worry about economic competitiveness. What are the economic costs of our gun deaths?
Only a decade ago, US gun manufacturers produced 947,000 pistols and revolvers and 3 million guns of all types (most of the rest were rifles and shotguns) for the domestic market, according to the Bureau of Tobacco and Firearms. In 2009, that production reached 2.4 million pistols and revolvers and 5.4 million guns overall. The number of federal background checks for guns has zoomed, from 8.5 million in 2002 to 14.4 million last year.
Do the math. In one decade, the rate of manufacture of handguns has reach a rate 2.53 times that at the beginning of the ten years.
For point of comparison, consider our change of population in approximately the same time period, according to this Dec 21, 2010 press release from the Census Bureau:
he U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the 2010 Census showed the resident population of the United States on April 1, 2010, was 308,745,538.
The resident population represented an increase of 9.7 percent over the 2000 U.S. resident population of 281,421,906.
To make it simple, use 10% for the increase in population and 150% for the increase in handgun production. Hand gun production is increasing at a rate FIFTEEN TIMES that of our population.
Returning to Derrick Jackson:
The ultimate result is that the number of deaths in the US from firearms has gone up nearly every year, from 28,874 in 1999, to 31,224 in 2007, according to the federal data.
We have many problems in this nation. We do a very poor job of handling mental health issues. We have something of a conflict between our ideas of liberty and the possible need for mandatory hospitalization. I remember the lawyers for Russell Weston, the killer of the two Capitol Police and a schizophrenic, arguing against mandatory medication because that would make him competent for trial and thus for execution. We know that many of the perpetual homeless are mentally disturbed, even if the vast majority of these are not violent. We know that the violence of our rhetoric, especially some of our political rhetoric, is not healthy for our society even when it does not lead to the kinds of violence we have seen. We may not yet know - and may never know - whether such rhetoric was a direct contributor to what happened Saturday, but we have already seen it have effect in other recent incidents.
I have friends who are responsible gun owners. There are people I greatly admire who find it necessary to have concealed carry permits.
This is not the UK, where a mass shooting in a school led to an almost complete ban on private ownership of handguns, where the idea of extended magazines does not come up because even long guns are required to have limited capacity. That nation does not have our history of private gun ownership. We will not, despite the rhetoric of some on the right, ever have a government that seeks to seize all private firearms.
But something has to change. It cannot be one thing. Merely passing laws without effect is pointless. The limits on high capacity magazines that were in effect for 10 years only marginally limited access to them.
I said I am struggling with this. I struggle because I don't have an answer. I struggle because I see political leadership seemingly paralyzed on the issue and unwilling to struggle with it.
We need to address mental health.
We need to seriously consider what weaponry appropriately is in civilian hands - and that includes magazine capacity and type of ammunition. We also need to strictly enforce the rules against unlicensed fully automatic weapons and limit the issuance of such licenses - remember that Giffords' opponent this last cycle had a fundraising event where people could should a fully automatic M-16.
We require operators of motor vehicles to pass vision and competency tests. We require motor vehicles to be inspected for safety purposes. We require neither for gun ownership in most jurisdictions.
Those who own and use guns responsibly should be taking the lead for sensible restrictions, lest there be a real backlash.
Those who do not own guns need to recognize that we are not going to ban private ownership, and we must find ways of working in common with responsible gun owners.
We sure as hell need to consider why we continue to put more and more guns into circulation with insufficient control on their sale and ownership.
We need meaningful background checks.
We need to close gun show and private sale loopholes that put too many people at risk.
But there is something far more basic.
We need to have a serious reexamination of our national culture, our glorification of violence in so many aspects of our lives, from sports, to politics, to business.
Derrick Jackson, whose column is titled "What's senseless is our tolerance for guns" - a title that will infuriate responsible gun owners - concludes his piece like this:
In their study in Trauma, researchers concluded that "the United States has a large relative firearm problem.’’ The authors wrote that the empirical evidence indicates "that readily accessible firearms — by making killing easy, efficient and somewhat impersonal — increase the lethality of violence.’’
That makes sense.
We are violent. We have too many firearms in hands of people who are not responsible. We continue to increase the supply and the lethality of available weapons. We do not properly address mental illness. we use overheated rhetoric which inflames unstable minds who have ready access to lethal weapons.
And I have not even touched on the lethality of ammunition readily available, from hollow points to teflon coated projectiles that can penetrate much protective gear.
We have had another gun tragedy. A well-known Congresswoman was severely injured. A 9 year old granddaughter of a notable baseball figure was killed. A man died protecting his wife. And more. And more. And again. And again.
What does it say about us as a society that we continually lament these occasions of tragedy, yet they continue to occur? Again. and Again. and Again.
I am struggling with this
I will continue to struggle with this
I worry for the young people I teach
I worry for the safety of all of us
I wonder when the next incident occurs, will it include someone I know personally?
Might it include my wife? Our nieces and nephews? My students?
I am struggling with this.
What about you?