Again! Gun Violence in America (Updated, Again)

I wrote this in March 2018 for the Urban News.

(I’m reposting this article after the mass shootings in El Paso, Tx and Dayton, Oh. I think that I’m more depressed after these shootings than the others listed below.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson pointed out in a country of over 300 million, we lose Americans every day. He was roundly criticized for his callousness. These people, in El Paso and Dayton, died needlessly, senselessly. In trauma, we call them preventable deaths. I just feel that our country can’t fix problems any more.

Another massing shooting in Texas. This time it is in Odessa.)

Earlier this month, 17 Americans at a Florida high school were shot and killed. Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school became infamous. Yet, as you take in the immense sadness of this shooting, please understand that school shootings are becoming commonplace. In one 24-hour period in January, there was a school shooting in Italy, Texas (one injury), another in Gentilly, Louisiana (no injuries from gunfire), and the following day another one in Benton, Kentucky (killed 2 and injured 18).

Never again … and again and again

Do you remember the never again event that took place at Sandy Hook elementary school in which 20 schoolchildren between the ages of 6 and 7 were killed, along with six adults? Remember? This was the event that was going to change our gun policy. We had a president who was deeply moved by the incident. We had parents pushing for legislation. We had a mentally ill gunman who used an AR-15-type semiautomatic military weapon (Bushmaster XM–15).

Remember the sadness and the grief? This was a textbook case for gun control. We could easily pass legislation that would stop this type of carnage from ever happening again. Polls showed that 91% of all Americans wanted stronger laws. Ban assault weapons. Pass legislation that mentally ill Americans cannot own guns. And, after pushback from the National Rifle Association, Congress did nothing.

Before Sandy Hook there was Virginia Tech in 2007. Again, this was our never again event. This was another deranged gunman with a tenuous hold on reality. Using two guns and a well-thought-out plan, this gunman walked through campus starting at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dorm. He returned to his dorm room, cleaned out his computer. Changed his clothes, then proceeded to the Norris Hall where his shooting spree continued. This time, 32 people were killed and 17 others were wounded. We had deep national sadness. We had an empathetic president. Congress passed a law to strengthen the national criminal background check system. That was it.

35,000 every year

Please understand that our debate has been stagnant for more than 20 years. Yet, as we throw clichés at each other, Americans are dying. Approximately, 35,000 Americans die from gun violence every year. The entire population of Americus, GA, gone in one year. Another year, Lewiston, Maine. Or Newport, Tennessee. Plainview, TX. Laurinburg. Seneca Falls. Dodge City. An entire city’s worth of people wiped out, every single year.

The majority of the gun violence is from suicides—20,000 to 25,000 a year. Approximately 10,000 to 15,000 more Americans die every year from homicides—that is, people getting killed by somebody else using a gun. These statistics are vastly improved from the late 1980s and early ’90s when gun violence ruled the nightly news. Yet, all of these deaths are preventable.

We must not get distracted and get pulled into the mental health debate. We need more money because we don’t have enough mental health facilities throughout the United States. We need more psychiatrists and more psychologists and more mental health workers. Yet, all of this is not going to prevent some mentally disturbed person from doing unspeakable things, because a mentally ill person can still go to a gun show and buy a gun. Believe me, it happens, and it is going to happen again. We don’t live in the movies. This is not Minority Report, the 2002 movie starring Tom Cruise. We do not have the ability to accurately predict a particular person’s future behavior.

The Second Amendment

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

This is the only amendment that is written oddly. The wording is weird. What is a well-regulated militia? Are we talking about the Army? Are we talking about the National Guard? For over 200 years constitutional scholars have interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that some Americans can have some guns. It is only recently that the Second Amendment has been interpreted by some conservative scholars to mean any American can have just about any gun.

The idea of amending the Constitution is nostalgic but unrealistic. With Right and Left being so polarized, it’s near impossible to get the majority of Americans to agree on anything. There is simply no way in the climate that we have today that we can all agree on a change to the Second Amendment. So this idea is dead. What is clear, outside of the Second Amendment, is that no constitutional right is absolute. The best example is that you cannot yell fire in a crowded theater if there’s no fire. This is in spite of the fact that we have the right of free speech.

Ignore Stupidness

Currently, there’s lots of craziness being discussed in the media. Please ignore it. Our president, along with lots of others, has suggested that all we need to do to fix violence at schools is to have teachers armed with guns. This is an idea supported by The National Rifle Association, which wants to put guns in the hands of every American. (Approximately half of the NRA’s funding comes from gun manufacturers, through grants, advertising in NRA publications, and even one manufacturer paying the NRA a royalty each of one type of its guns bought by a member.)

Yet we know this is a bad idea. We know that humans, even well-trained humans, can freeze at the moment of truth. We have seen it in sports. We know it happens in war, and many other life-and-death situations, including civilian life.

We know that in the downtown Dallas shooting, several police officers who had opportunities did not shoot at the perpetrator. They froze. The media is currently focused on a security guard who didn’t run into the Parkland school building when the shots were being fired. I don’t blame that security guard, and I will not vilify him. (According to some reports, he was following his department protocol in a situation where details were uncertain.)

We also know that just because you don’t freeze does not mean that you have the steely eyes of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry. As you recall, in the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting a “good guy with a gun” emptied his clip and did not hit the perpetrator once. There was the famous University of Texas shooting in 1966 in which two off-duty police officers stormed the tower where the shooter had barricaded himself. One of these police officers emptied his revolver at relatively close range and hit nothing. We must not forget the Fort Hood shooting in which an Army major, a psychiatrist no less, killed 13 people and injured 30 more. On an Army base. Where nearly everyone has a gun!!

I think we can all agree that arming teachers is a bad idea.

Focus on Solutions

Please understand that some politicians are completely focused on doing as little as possible. Therefore, they will propose something that sounds good but will have little impact on the gun violence in the United States. Here are my thoughts:

  • No automatic or semi-automatic weapons should be sold to the public in the United States. (The tricky part will be confiscating the ones in circulation. This must be done.)
  • There should be no armor-piercing bullets sold to civilians.
  • No person diagnosed with a mental illness should own a gun. We can argue over the definition of mental illness later.
  • You are responsible for your gun. If someone takes your gun and kills someone you are responsible.
  • Americans convicted of domestic abuse lose their right to own a gun, forever.
  • Concealed handguns should be restricted to law enforcement.
  • Finally, we begin to embrace smart technology. A gun that will only fire if it recognizes you could help prevent a lot of these suicides.

The carnage must stop. We must pressure our state and federal representatives to pass legislation that will reduce the number of guns.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.

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A Letter to America

The Thirteeneth Juror

Where is The Outrage Topics
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