Even before the grieving families of the twenty children killed in yesterdays shooting had been officially notified that their child had been one of the victims, the Internet lit up with people of all political stripes proclaiming the rightness and the righteousness of their personal agenda regarding guns. To be honest I was one of them. This was probably the saddest day for our country since 9-11, and people expressed their grief in many different ways. Sometimes it was pretty ugly, but I hope we can cut everybody some slack given the wrenching emotions of the moment.
I really don’t know what to do at this point. I’ve spent most of the day with this tragedy on my mind, and the only consistent thought is that we have got to have an honest discussion about guns in our society. I’m not the only one calling for this. As the shock of the day wears off, this seems to be a dominant theme.
So where do we start? Well, first off, just like with many of our own personal issues, we must admit that we have a problem and take ownership of it. It’s hard to imagine anyone looking at the gun death statistics in America and not acknowledging that there is a problem. I know that many of you want to just deny the numbers, but you have got to come to terms with the reality of it. The numbers are real, and they are grim.
According to the FBI, nearly 48,000 people were killed in America over the years 2006-2010. That’s about 9,000 or 10,000 a year. That’s over twice as many as were killed by all other weapons combined. America’s gun related death rate per 100,000 in 2011 was 9.00. That puts us in 12th place behind unstable countries like Columbia, Swaziland and Guatemala. By comparison Canada’s rate is 4.78 and Japan’s is 0.07!
But that’s just individual killings. Where we do even better – or worse – is in mass shootings. Look at this map of the worst mass shootings of the past 50 years courtesy of Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein. Here we dominate the rest of the world with eleven. Coming up a distant second is Finland with two.
Something is very, very wrong here. These numbers are off the charts. There is no other first world country that even comes close to the carnage we generate. Our statistics are not just double or triple that of our peers, but often at orders of magnitude that we don’t even have names for.
This kind of excess can’t happen because of a single glitch in the system. It can’t just be blamed on the gun laws or the culture of violence. It requires a kind of perfect-storm scenario in which our laws, our politics and our culture all come together to create this havoc.
This is a huge and complex problem for our country. I don’t know what the best solution might be, but there are some things that I do know for certain. First and foremost, we have got to have an adult conversation about guns and gun violence in America. What we have had in the past and most of what we are having now is not what I would consider an adult conversation. Here are some guidelines:
- Everybody has to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other side’s position at least in its broadest sense. Liberals have to acknowledge that most people have and should have the right to bear certain types of firearms. Conservatives have to acknowledge that these rights have and should have certain limits.
- No strawmen. A strawman argument is a rhetorical device in which you present an opposing position in a trivial manner that is easy to put down. Saying that liberals think that if we ban all guns, nobody would have them is a strawman. No reasonable person thinks that, but it sure is an easy argument to shoot down. In an adult conversation you need to address the real positions of your opponents, not something you manufactured for your own convenience.
- Understand that there is no single solution. This problem is systemic and it’s not going to be solved with gun laws alone or with just trying to change the culture.
- Understand that there is no perfect solution. No matter how strict our gun laws become or how placid or culture becomes, there will still be gun violence. Limiting the damage done by guns is the goal, not the complete elimination of it. It would be nice to completely eliminate it, but that is a fantasy world and has no place in an adult conversation.
I don’t know where we go from here, but I do know that the status quo is not acceptable. We need to try something different. Anything. For those of you who feel that there is nothing that can be done or needs to be done, please do me this one favor. Take a hard look at the images I have included here. Look at the faces of the parents who have just learned that their child was one of the victims and try to imagine their anguish. Look at the faces of the children and try to imagine their horror. Think for a moment about the Christmas presents already under the tree that will forever remain unopened. Try to envision the empty place setting at the Christmas dinner. Do this for me and then come back and tell me if you think the status quo is acceptable to you.
Please let me know what you think. I welcome all comments.