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On the U.S.A.

Time for a national debate about guns

JULY 27, 2012 — Today’s column is about guns. After the tragic, deadly July 20 shooting in Colorado, it’s pretty clear Americans need to have a national conversation about weaponry, even though the presidential candidates seem to want to avoid it like a hot poker.

Before you get worked up, please know this: I believe there are too many guns, particularly handguns, in America. But there just are too many to get rid of them completely. Furthermore, there are a lot of people like me who believe sportsmen should be able to own shotguns and rifles to hunt, a great American pastime.

Consider these facts:

Numbers: There are about 300 million guns in the United States, including 100 million handguns, according to the 2012 Firearm Fact Card by the National Rifle Association. The number of guns grows by about 4 million a year, the organization says. A 2007 British study estimated the U.S. to have 270 million guns. With the nation’s population being 308 million in 2010, that’s just under one gun per person in the country.

Compare these numbers to Great Britain, which has some of the world’s toughest gun control measures. The country, which started firearms licensing following World War One, made it illegal for private citizens to own handguns after a 1996 Scottish massacre in which 16 students and a teacher died. Since then, some critics have said the Brits went overboard, but the fact remains there are just over 4 million privately-owned firearms (mostly shotguns and hunting rifles) in Great Britain — about 6.7 per 100 people — 13 times fewer guns per person than in the U.S., according to the 2007 study.

Deaths. The United States has more gun homicides than anywhere else. Six of every 10 homicides in the U.S. are caused by guns, according to a 2011 report by the United Nations. Of the 15,241 homicides in the country in 2009, 9,149 were caused by guns. That’s 0.22 gun deaths per 100,000 people —  far fewer than the 2.98 deaths per 100,000 people in the U.S.

Victims. Almost 100,000 people in America are shot or killed with a gun in one year on average, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The organization, started after a 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan during which Press Secretary Jim Brady was shot in the head, says more than a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since the 1968 assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

Violent culture. Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy says America is a much more violent country than other first-world nations that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Interestingly, the rate of assault deaths in the United States has dropped since the mid-1970s.

Gun ownership declining. Despite there being 300 million guns in the United States, surveys show the number of households with guns has dropped from about 50 percent in the 1970s to 40 percent to 45 percent today.

European handguns. Washington Post columnist Charles Lane this month outlined how Europeans export about 1 million handguns (Glocks, Sig Sauers, Walthers, others) a year to the United States. He suggested a tariff be put on them to “reduce the risk [of gun violence] at the margins.”

Link between guns and violence. Studies by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center conclude, regardless of country, there’s a link between more guns and more violence. In a similar vein, economist Richard Florida concluded last year that “states with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlation can be suggestive,” Ezra Klein wrote in The Washington Post.

On the other side of the debate, Jamelle Bouie of The American Prospect pointed to a 2004 study by the National Research Council that pointed to no causal relationship between guns and violence. He wrote, “Does high gun ownership result in greater violence, or are violent people more likely to own guns? Do guns reduce the barrier to committing violence, or would violence happen regardless, with a different weapon?”

Now, what would you suggest?

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report.  You can reach Brack at: brack@statehousereport.com. To view the recent four-part editorial series on public education, click here.

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