Conservatives have stood their ground on gun possession – give in on “common sense legislation,” and gun control advocates will come after the Second Amendment. This situation is akin to abortion advocates refusing to give one inch for fear a mile will be taken. Both misgivings are warranted. So, nobody budges.
Meanwhile, gun violence continues to escalate. Famously, the U.S. has the highest age-adjusted rate of firearms homicides per 100,000 population among higher-income nations. The U.S. should have a new slogan: MACA: Make America Civil Again.
Unfortunately, leaders as well the general public no longer value civility. Leaders lead by discordant slogans, political candidates rile up their base, and special interests sell their agendas with cherry-picked facts. The desire for trust, compromise and consensus has become a scarce commodity.
Add to the brew granular and persistent factors: mediocre schools, violent video games, pervasive social media, busy or absent parents, isolation, Covid-19, anxiety hammered into young minds by race/gender focused narratives, an uncertain economy, easily-obtainable drugs. Something bad is bound to happen.
Gun violence is what happened
In 2020, 43% of the [gun] deaths – amounting to 19,384 people – were homicides, according to data from the CDC. The figure represents a 34% increase from 2019, and a 75% increase over the course of the previous decade … The data also shows that the vast majority of murders, 79%, were carried out with guns.
Suicides were 54% of gun deaths in 2020. Mass shootings were 3% of gun deaths in 2020 (this figure changes depending on how mass shooting is described – some say 3 or more people, and some say 4 or more people).
From America’s Gun Culture in Seven Charts, BBC News, May 25, 2022
Enter “America’s Rifle”
Although mass shootings are a relatively small percentage of gun-related death, they are the most visible and the most remembered. Also mass shootings are rising since around 2012, giving cause for great alarm.
Pistols are often used in mass shootings, but the focus of rage is over semi-automatic, high-capacity rifles such as the AR-15, possibly because of their visibility and popularity. If anything has substantially contributed to America’s gun culture, the AR-15 has, especially right after President Bill Clinton’s 1994 ban and subsequent ban expiration in 2004.
Culturally, the ban did what marketers could not: In outlawing it, the government made the AR-15 tantalizing. “Once Banned, Now Loved and Loathed: How the AR-15 Became ‘America’s Rifle’,” New York Times, March 3, 2018.
Check out the AR-15s below, and spread the word on what AR really stands for, America’s Rifle. NRA Blog, January 20, 2016.
Clever marketing and plenty of lobbying by the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) and the NRA (National Rifle Association) further cement America’s obsession with guns, popularize semi-automatic weapons, and help make the gun industry very profitable.
The NSSF has a sleek website and spent $4,580,000 in 2020 on lobbying. The NRA’s lobbying expenses were $2,200,000 in 2020. For comparison, Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown Foundation, the better known of the gun-restriction advocates, spent $1,330,000 on lobbying in 2020. One could wager that such influence might tend to keep public officials from doing much fraternizing with the enemy.
No fraternizing with the enemy or coming to agreements
There are cultural, political, patriotic, economic and self-defense issues that appear to be irreconcilable, with all factions escalating their rhetoric. The discord runs deep, with significant divergence in broad questions such as what was the Founders’ aim when they wrote the Bill of Rights, what is the role of government, who is responsible for the populace’s safety, and must government treat everyone as “created equal.”
Here are recent comments reported in the media that serve to illustrate how deep and acrimonious the divergence runs.
North Carolina Lieutenant Governor speaking at a worship service at Midpoint Church, Middlesex, NC, May 15, 2022: “I got them AR-15s in case the government gets too big for his britches because I’m going to fill the backside of them britches with some lead.”
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper in a Tweet on May 31, 2022, commenting on Lt. Governor Robinson’s speech: “An elected official sworn to uphold the Constitution advocating violent overthrow of our govt shames NC and puts our safety and our democracy at risk.”
These two comments, both needlessly confrontational, are examples of profound and irreconcilable disagreement as to the nature of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. One faction views government as a principal entity representing “democracy,” to which public officials swear allegiance; thus no distinction is made between government and the Constitution. The opposing faction views the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as a foundation document intended to constrain actions of government, and give the people means (Second Amendment) to defend themselves against a government that becomes tyrannical; the distinction between government and the Constitution is observed.
President Joe Biden, during a speech outlining his plan to combat gun violence, June 23, 2021: “If you wanted or if you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.”
Maybe such a comment illustrates what Lt. Governor Robinson was talking about when he mentioned a government getting “too big for his breeches.” President Biden is apparently OK with a pretty powerful government obliterating its citizens. Hopefully, citizens will use the ballot box to restrain government when needed before the conflagration envisioned by President Biden occurs.
Saida Grundy, Sociology and African American studies Professor at Boston University, Tweet, May 25, 2022, regarding destruction of property during the George Floyd riots: “When you say that to Black people, who historically have been property, one of our greatest weapons was the looting of ourselves as property from the system of slavery. And what we see in communities is they are reacting to the very racism of what we call property … I think it’s very important for people who see reactions in communities not to judge or make assumptions about what is good and not good reactions. And not actually re-victimize communities by saying there’s an acceptable and not acceptable way to react.”
The sentiment in Professor Grundy’s Tweet alludes that not all were viewed as “created equal” by the nation’s Founders, and therefore not all should be judged equally today. The question must then arise if the violence following George Floyd’s murder should not be judged as good or not good, how much leniency should society afford. Is gun violence included in the leniency? It would be difficult to reconcile such leniency with credible solutions to rising violence.
Polarization is the order of the day. There are sacred cows that would be difficult to eliminate, the Second Amendment is one of them. Any law that gun supporters perceive as threats to the Amendment is opposed. On the other hand, there are legitimate fears of people with guns. As families of murdered children increase, so does the call for stricter gun laws.
Again, the seemingly irreconcilable comments above are needlessly confrontational. Leaders like Lt. Governor Robinson mentioned above, who plans to run for governor in 2024, delight in incendiary comments about gun rights. Another governorship contender, Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who famously said during his presidential campaign in 2020, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” was escorted out of a press conference called by Texas Governor Gregory Abbott to report on the Uvalde murders, shouting to Abbott, “This is on you until you choose to do something different.”
But not too different
When Beto O’Rourke challenged Governor Abbott to “do something different,” a good guess would be he was not thinking of something too different, like taking on the underlying forces of which gun violence is a symptom. That would entail reversing over 50 years of the cultural and political status quo.
Some talk about eliminating the “root causes” of violence does come up, usually referring to incidents of mental illness and poverty. That’s like giving someone with a headache an aspirin to combat the root cause of the headache: pain. Cultural, political, economic issues behind mental illness and poverty are way too big to even think about tackling.
And not much can be fixed without a modicum of trust. After every highly-publicized shooting incident, anti-gun factions call for additional gun restrictions claiming the majority of Americans want restrictions. Yet, after every such incident gun sales rise significantly. Seems a lot of people either do not trust law enforcement to protect them, or fear government will use a shooting incident to make guns and/or ammunition largely unavailable to civilians. Again, such concerns are warranted, and will continue until public officials stop posturing.
Palliatives don’t cure but do blunt the pain
Since it does not appear that anyone is talking about deep diving into the real root causes of gun violence, gun restrictions arising from compromise and trust would serve as palliatives.
Compromise is accepting things one fears in exchange for acquiring things others fear. Trust is hoping the party to whom power is allocated will act responsibly. Both require eternal vigilance by average citizens and voters – or like Teddy Roosevelt said, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
There are three gun restrictions at the federal level: the long-standing restriction on owning fully-automatic weapons and “highly destructive” weapons, requirement that licensed gun dealers do background checks on gun purchasers, and requirement that purchasers be 18 years or older. Unlicensed firearms dealers are not required to make background checks. Presumably, folks in the underground market are not too constrained by gun restrictions.
Proposals for federal universal background checks, as well as federal red-flag legislation (law enforcement officer removing guns from individuals that appear to present a danger to themselves and others) are often proposed by anti-gun legislators and often opposed by pro-gun legislators.
As America remains the developed country with the highest rate of gun violence, right up there with failed poverty-stricken nations, more intelligent restrictions than those we have now seem in order. For example, how does it make sense for anyone, but especially someone barely out of childhood, to legally purchase several powerful weapons sometimes on the same day?
Here are a few figures from World Population Review (2018 figures). Suicides are included in gun violence statistics, and suicides account to 60% of U.S. gun deaths. The chart also shows level of strictness of gun laws (2019): A+ for strictest through F for least strict.
The figures on the chart show that states with the highest rate of gun ownership also have the highest rate of gun deaths. Statisticians acknowledge there could be externalities, like isolation in states with low population density or lack of supportive services in less progressive states.
Regulations and restrictions at the federal level preclude choices by individual states. They would also presumably provide a wider and deeper bank of information on potential purchasers, making background checks and other requirements more effective in excluding people deemed dangerous to themselves and others.
Reversing America’s gun culture, helping people cope with serious adversities, finding a way to get young people to stay away from isolating and violent video games, making the economy work for the less affluent, decrease dependence on government and increase self-reliance – all would help to reduce destructive or violent behavior. None of this has so far been done effectively.
Best that can be done at this time might be to encourage our leaders via the ballot box to tone down the rhetoric, and give a little to take a little.