Children & Guns
A necessary detour
I hope that all is well with you and yours.
Each newsletter begins with those ten words. It may appear to some a commodity formulation, another staple good off the shelf of ‘I hope this e-mail finds you well’ and ‘Just checking in’. But for however much or little it may be worth, I do genuinely mean it.
When Strategy in Praxis first launched, we were collectively lost at sea, desperately trying to find our way in the middle of a pandemic that has cost millions of people their lives. Mothers have lost daughters; sons have lost fathers. And somewhere along the way, the rest of us decided it was merely ‘the new normal’.
This complacency of the everyday is the topic about which I feel compelled to write today. If it is not of interest, rest assured regularly scheduled programming will continue seven days from now with a look at the premium (paid) content coming up and the pitfalls of SWOT analyses.
Let me begin by emphasizing that the problem that I will discuss today is not mine. I do not live in the United States, nor am I likely to have even the tiniest of impact on anyone who does.
But the perpetual killing of children is heartbreaking.
The pattern that emerges is constant; a school shooting occurs, lives are ruined forever, some media personalities and politicians make appropriate remarks, others make inappropriate remarks – and nothing happens. Life, except for those personally affected, goes on.
Death is abstract. Other people die.
Perhaps it is for this reason, a psychological defense mechanism to avoid facing one’s own potential mortality, that a handful of US senators are currently holding the rest of the country hostage over something as mindbogglingly basic as background checks for gun purchases despite the fact that close to 90% of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation, support the bipartisan H.R.8 bill. School shootings will not happen to my children, they appear to think, and instead seize the opportunity to turn a personal profit. Out of the 50 Republicans in question, all but one have received money from the National Rifle Association – ranging from $13.6M to $8K, with an average close to $1M.
But while that may be the price point at which they are willing to sell everyone else’s children, the collected wealth of history would not make up for the loss of a child to those who have suffered it.
No, it is not my problem. My daughter does not go to school in the US. But a problem there is.
As I sit down in front of my laptop and write this text, it is the second day of the 22nd week of 2022. Thus far this year, there have been 27 school shootings resulting in injuries or deaths in America. In other words, by the time you are receiving the newsletter, it is highly likely that yet another group of children have had had their lives taken from them.
Not even halfway into the year, there have been more than 230 mass shootings, defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter. In the few days since the Uvalde incident, there have been another 18. To paraphrase Scott Pelley, mass shootings were once so shocking that they were impossible to forget. Now they have become so frequent that it is hard to remember them all.
148 children aged 11 or under have died due to firearms so far this year. 524 teenagers under 18 have lost their lives. Gun related fatalities are now the most common cause of death among children and adolescents in the US. How the hell is that in any way, in any country, acceptable?
No, it is not my problem. But guns are one.
As much as NRA devotees love to pull out the cliché of clichés – guns do not kill people, people kill people – a brief look at the associated data shows that, at the very least, guns clearly help people kill people. Among the 20 states that have the highest gun ownership rate per capita, 16 are also found among the 20 states with the highest firearm related deaths per capita. The four states that have the lowest gun ownership rates are, in order, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Hawaii. The four states that have the lowest firearm related deaths are, in order, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island.
Granted, not all guns are created equal. The most devastating massacres have all featured assault rifles that, for reasons that are beyond my comprehension, somehow are legal to purchase at an age where tobacco, alcohol and handguns are not. Yes, you read that correctly. Under federal law, anyone buying a handgun from a licensed dealer must be at least 21. But so-called long rifles are strictly speaking not handguns. Only six states (Florida, Washington, Vermont, California, Illinois and Hawaii) have increased the minimum purchase age for them to the same 21 that their single-hand siblings require – and the NRA are fighting every step. The same NRA that bans guns from its gatherings yet argues that they should be allowed at everyone else’s.
Variations of the AR-15 that the organization, without even the slightest attempt at reading the room, labels ‘America’s Rifle’, were used in the Uvalde school shooting; the massacre at a Buffalo supermarket; at a Texas Walmart in 2019; a Florida high school in 2018; a Texas church and a Las Vegas concert in 2017; and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Guns do not kill people, people kill people, and some guns ensure that they kill many at a time.
No, this is not my problem. It is the US’ problem. But it has to act. Again.
In 1994, the Clinton administration enforced a ban on assault rifles. Gun massacres fell by 36%, the number of people dying from gun massacres by 43%. When Republican senators allowed the legislation to expire, the shootings went up by 343%. The average death toll went from 4.8 to 23.8.
There is more to the story than meets the eye, of course. But based on historical evidence from the US and other countries alike, bans sure seem to work. The expert consensus is also that they are the best way forward. In 2016, the New York Times asked 32 gun policy experts to rate the effectiveness of a variety of policy changes intended to prevent mass shootings. Among the nearly 30 policies surveyed, a ban on assault weapons rated highest.
By comparison, the suggestions brought forward (again) by the gun lobby are about as useful as a chocolate teapot. If armed policemen and security guards are unable to stop the shooters, which they have been in the latest shootings, what evidence is there to suggest that they will ever fare better in the future? Or for that matter, if they keep failing, that armed teachers will prove better defenders?
Similarly, the notion that a single, lockable entry point would keep shooters out appears oblivious to the fact that if a shooter nonetheless were to make it inside, the consequences would be unspeakable; a single entry building with armed guards and locked-down windows is a prison that locks those inside in as much as those outside out. And while someone might counter that multiple doors could be opened from within (a prerequisite also to keep the already significant dangers of a fire in check, mind), it cannot be outside the realm of imagination that the shooter might have inside help.
No, this is not my problem. And at any rate, no pro-gun American would listen to a former lawyer from across the pond point out the logical-legal contradiction in arguing that abortion laws would prevent abortions, but that gun legislation would do nothing to minimize firearm related fatalities.
If you are an American, this is your problem.
Death is abstract until it is only too real. Are you willing to bet your kids that you will not have to come to that realization yourself?
Is preventing the loss of assault rifles truly more important than preventing the loss of children’s lives?
Until next week, give that some thought.
Onwards and upwards,