The popular bumper sticker phrases the dilemma as an either/or: “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Kill People.” Before last week, Dylan Roof of Charleston, South Carolina was a troubled 20-year-old; the gift of a gun turned him into a mass murderer. The bumper sticker would have you believe the gun was incidental to the event but common sense tells you otherwise. Yet we are moving away from sensible gun regulation rather than towards it. Last year was the first time in 20 years, PEW research reported a greater percentage of Americans concerned about gun rights than those concerned about gun legislation. And certainly the greater intensity of those with feelings on the issue favors gun rights advocates.
Republican Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee demonstrated the flawed logic that propels anti-gun control sentiment last week in the wake of the Charleston shootings. He argued that based on the decline in handgun homicides since 1993, one cannot legitimately conclude we need more gun control laws. In other words, we are on the right track.
Mike Huckabee is answering the wrong questions here. A good starting point is the fact that homicides are only a fraction of deaths by guns. In 2013 the Center for Disease Control reported that, for every gun homicide in the United States, there were two gun deaths from suicide or accident. The decline in gun deaths both mirrored the overall decline in crime and occurred exclusively between 1993 and 2000, when cities were aggressively enforcing gun control laws. As gun rights advocates have had more success, they have also halted the decline in gun deaths that regulation was creating. Moreover, the statistics do not take into account the quantum leaps forward in emergency medicine that keeps more gun violence victims alive.
As a result of all of this, it is not surprising that America leads first-world countries in gun-related homicide deaths by a large margin. Put it all together and it is clear that we have a problem with guns in our society. Celebrating guns as problem-solving instruments only makes that problem worse because there are no problems that guns actually solve. Unfortunately, the Dylan Roofs of the world do not understand that fact.
To respond to the straw man argument ahead of time, I should be clear. I am not trying to repeal the 2nd Amendment; responsible citizens should be able to own guns. What I am asking is to turn back the clock to the early 1990s when we were having success. Background checks, registrations, confiscation of guns when people engage in destructive behaviors, restrictions on automatic weapons and allowing police to ask for licensing absent criminal behavior each will lead to less injury and death. Doing otherwise elevates emotion over reason and convenience over life. We can do better.