Our country is still experiencing the equivalent of three Newtown tragedies a day, with an average of 85 gun deaths daily. But we’re finally seeing a bit of sensible gun control legislative activity both nationally – especially in favor of universal background checks for gun purchasers – and in some states. However, much more needs to be done in order to reach the “Nirvana” of eliminating almost all of these deaths.
In 2010, there were about 31,000 gun deaths (11,000 murders, 19,000 suicides and 600 unintentional fatalities) in the United States, immensely more than in most other countries worldwide. In fact, we have even had 10,300 gun deaths since Newtown.
That’s an average of 30 murders, 52 suicides and two unintentional deaths every single day, most leading to unbounded grief and lost potential. Just ask the parent of any first-grader killed, or of any infant or teenager, or ask the family members of any adult whose life has been snuffed out.
The gun death rate in the U.S. is 20 times that of the Netherlands’, 36 times the United Kingdom’s and 129 times Japan’s. Per year, the Netherlands has only about 75 gun-related deaths, the United Kingdom 140 and Japan 90. Although the odds of a single gun killing a person in our country are just 1 in 10,000 per year, the average gun is associated with an annual cost of $580 in medical expenses, work lost and criminal-justice expenditures.
Bringing a gun into a home to protect one’s family is like bringing in a time bomb, especially if there are mentally unstable people in residence.
It has been repeatedly shown – as in a study from Harvard Medical School and School of Public Health published in JAMA Internal Medicine on March 6 – that laws resulting in fewer guns in homes are accompanied by dramatic decreases in suicides and homicides. Eliminating guns saves lives.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has only 4 million members (less than 1.5 percent of the population) and an annual budget of only $230 million (less than half of what gun-opponent Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City – who still has $27 billion altogether – donated himself to keep tobacco companies from marketing to children). Through the 1990s the NRA actually had very little influence on most public opinion. Its clout is currently starting to wane, although it still receives a lot of media coverage.
In any event, many point out that its stance supporting gun rights for individuals is really not supported by the Second Amendment of our Constitution, since a “well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state” is no longer pertinent to our national defense and was not intended to apply to individuals but just to states. Actually, it is now considered treasonous for states – or individuals – to take up arms against our nation.
Furthermore, the Preamble of our Constitution states that the government must safeguard the well-being of the people (“insure domestic Tranquility” and “provide for the general Welfare”). It follows that allowing 31,000 gun deaths a year is itself unconstitutional and is not what any government or its people should desire.
It would cost about $150 billion (about 4 percent of the annual federal budget of $3.7 trillion) to buy back and destroy – at an average cost of about $500 each – most of our country’s 300 million guns and their ammunition, except for those belonging to active military personnel, police officers or licensed hunters (whose number has decreased substantially in the past two decades). This is a relative bargain as a one-time expense to eliminate most guns from our society where many emotionally disturbed people – who are everywhere – have access to them.
Mental-health issues should also be directly addressed, provided this can be done without distracting our lawmakers from the need to eliminate a large number of our country’s guns.Frequently facing descriptions of numerous gun victims – as The New York Times has recently offered – might have considerable impact, perhaps even on members of the NRA.
Whatever it takes, we have to decrease those 85 daily gun deaths.
John O’Shea, MD, is a adjunct professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine.