Three hundred million. That’s the number of guns, from assault rifles to pistols, in the United States today, with the numbers rising each day as gun enthusiasts arm themselves against the local, state or federal actions being pushed for by gun control advocates. That’s one gun for practically each and every American alive today — even though only a third of us own them.
Yesterday, President Obama put forward a series of proposals aimed at curbing gun violence in the U.S., and urged Congress to reinstitute a ban on military-style assault weapons and to require universal background checks for gun purchasers. But with 300 million guns out there, the reality is that neither the laws passed by governments nor the most elaborate fantasies of the survivalists — with police knocking down every door to unearth hidden arms stashes — will eliminate guns or gun violence.
So, what to do, besides hope or despair? Despite the odds, quite a bit — with or without congressional or state action:
Face the facts. While 9,000 people were killed in gun-related homicides in 2011, another 19,000 used a gun to take their own lives — in many cases the spouse, parent or child of a gun owner. Men in homes with guns are twice as likely to be killed in a homicide, women three times more likely. Get rid of your guns — you’re more likely to be a victim if you don’t.
Address the reality on the streets. Inner-city violence, especially among youth, is undeniable and tragic. Guns are the leading cause of death for black men under 25, and “leadership decapitation,” or police targeting gang leaders, may have unintentionally escalated rather than decreased violence. Pastors, parents and police might instead resurrect the old strategy of forging a no-gun policy accord among gangs. The gangs might not go away, but the up-close and personal knife fights of West Side Story are preferable to the drive-by shootings of today.
Make it personal. In irresistible films and shows from Batman to Reservoir Dogs, Dexter and the Sopranos, in the computer games we play where an enemy’s death improves one’s score, and even in the nightly news, the message that violence can solve problems permeates our culture and is far more pervasive and consistent than our chosen intentional moral teachings. Whether or not you are raising children, you might consider banishing these “entertainments” from your home and your life. Organize a sports league, take up dancing, read a book — you’ll be more literate and fit.
Re-examine what society considers “normal.” Those turning 12 this year have grown up with constant war, exposed to daily death counts from faraway places and casual discussions comparing drone killings to assassinations to outright hand-to-hand combat. Anyone under the age of 80 has experienced only one decade in which our nation was not at war. And our country’s military budget is not only the biggest in the world — it’s greater than the sum of the next 13 biggest military budgets combined. If we want to phase out homicide as a means of resolving conflict, we might insist our nation lead by example.
Reconsider the “other.” Ironically, even as our nation becomes more diverse, we are ever more economically segregated, with our images of the “other” too often drawn from films, TV and the news rather than from life. Our image of cities and the lives of their residents are informed by The Wire or Treme, our images of Muslims by Homeland or Glenn Beck. This is not without effect. From the slaughter of churchgoers in Wisconsin to the New York subway platform deaths of innocent citizens, to the ‘arming of America’ in light of the Obama election and re-election, demonization of the “other” has a real cost. While we may not be in favor of censoring media, other measures such as restoring civility to political debate and seeking out more diverse life experiences would seem useful correctives.
Follow the money. Guns are not simply lethal; they’re lucrative. According to the Wall Street Journal, manufacturers like Freedom Group, which manufactures the Bushmaster and Remington, saw their profits soar last year, with Freedom Group earning $237.9 million in the third quarter alone. Another big winner was Wal-Mart, which in 2011 began selling guns at more locations, as part of its attempt to recover from a severe slump. Now, with guns available in 1,800 of its 3,800 stores, Wal-Mart is the nation’s leading seller of firearms and ammunition, and gun sales were up 76 percent last year. With 90 percent of Americans living within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart , I’d make a suggestion: Consider doing your grocery shopping at a retailer where you can’t pick up semi-automatic weapons along with your cereal.
History is pretty clear: If we want change, we have to make it. From women’s suffrage to civil rights, from the establishment of the eight-hour day to pesticide control, our legislators have always responded to citizen action. As always, the future is in our hands.
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