Monday, July 8, 2013

(No.240) Americans and guns: a dark wonderland


"Americans and guns: by the numbers a dark wonderland"

by Alastair Rickard


Many Canadians look with incredulity at certain aspects of our American neighbour's society. Gun crime and gun ownership are at or near the top of such a list.

I wonder, for example, why more attention is not paid to the impact on American society of political pandering to inflated fears and civil apprehension about what are actually declining rates of 'crime' but a justice system which incarcerates 2.2 million American adults at one time -- the majority for non-violent crimes.

On the other hand the political failure by U.S. state and federal governments to address in any real way the nexus between prolific gun ownership and crime at a time when at least 5% [sic] of the male population is locked up, on probation or on parole.

It may well be some sort of future reference point in tracking the decline of the dissemination of serious news when CNN (the U.S. broadcast as distinct from its 'international' programming)  under the new direction of the former head of NBC, devotes almost all of its daytime and evening weekday programming hours to the trial of a Florida man (George Zimmerman) who shot and killed another Floridian with a handgun he possessed legally. He was permitted to do so, his defence argues, under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

But consider the context and relevant perspective for this and thousands of other gun homicides each year publicly that are ignored by most of American society's politicians and media:

-- since 1960 more than 1.3 million Americans have died from firearms (homicides, suicides,
accidents). By comparison consider that American combat deaths so far in Iraq and Afghanistan total a few more than 5,280; even the total of American combat deaths in WWI & WWII, Vietnam, and Korea of 431,000 is dwarfed by the country's civilian gun deaths in little more than 50 years.

-- the U.S. firearms homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rate of the next 22 high-income developed countries

-- between 2000 and 2008 there were more than 30,000 gun deaths a year in the U.S., an average of more than 80 every day

-- in 2011 the increasing annual number of gun deaths (31,940) almost matched the declining total of U.S. traffic fatalities (32,367)

-- in 2010 alone hospital emergency rooms treated more than 73,000 people for nonfatal gun injuries

-- every year in the U.S. twice as many people are killed by guns than die of terrorist attacks worldwide 

-- an American has a 1 in 3.5 million chance of being killed in a terrorist attack but a 1 in 22,000 chance of being murdered

-- in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court announced that the American constitution precluded bans on handguns and ordinary rifles.

-- a recent public opinion poll indicated that only 26% of Americans favour banning handguns

-- applications in the various states for permits to carry concealed guns are increasing steadily; a conservative estimate for 2012 indicated 8 million Americans with concealed-carry permits. 

-- in 2002 7 U.S. states still banned concealed-carry guns; by the end of 2012 all 50 states will allow them

-- even after more than a decade after the '9/11' terrorist attacks in the U.S. and the resulting intensified airport security passenger screening, in the first 6 months of 2013 security screeners at U.S. airports found 894 guns either on passengers or in their carry-on bags, a 30% increase over the same period in 2012.

-- in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting earlier this year opinion polls indicated that 85% of Americans and 81% of gun owners favoured at least the most modest of President Obama's modest proposed 'gun control' measures: i.e., universal background checks on those who sought to buy guns (at least 40% of guns are purchased at gun shows etc without any checks). Even this provision fell 6 votes short of the 60 needed to overcome a U.S. Senate filibuster.

-- in 2009 the Congressional Research Service estimated there were 310 million firearms in the U.S. (excluding weapons owned by the military); in the same year the American population was 305.5 million

-- these numbers and others suggest that as a practical matter it is virtually impossible to imagine any political passage of meaningful gun control measures on a national basis (much less a ban on handguns).

The human face of the toll on American lives and society wrought by guns can be followed daily on a blog set up by New York Times columnist Joe Nocera, "The Gun Report" ( see nocera.blogs.nytimes.com). 

Reading it is as depressing as contemplating the role and toll that guns take on Americans and their society day after day after day. 

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email: Alastair.Rickard@sympatico.ca

blog: www.RickardsRead.com

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