Can We Talk About Guns?
Timothy Egan at the NY Times opined yesterday about the instant attack that rains down on anyone who dares ask whether more control of certain types of weapons is a good idea for the US. As he puts it, "The gun gag rules." He details the immediate hostile response to sportscaster Bob Costas when he speculated that Kassandra Perkins and/or her murderer, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, might be alive if guns were not so readily available. We tolerate a staggering level of gun violence in the US. According to the CDC' 2009 data, something like 104,000 people get shot every year, and more than 31,000 killed. (That figure includes nearly 19,000 suicides.) In my city of Oakland, CA, more than 2000 people were shot in 2011. There was an increase of 17% in reported incidents of gun violence from 2010, and that was up from the prior year. Part of what OPD used to do more of before harsh staffing cuts was to get guns off the streets.OK, let me draw some distinctions. First, most of the guns used in street violence aren't legal--however, a PBS Frontline report links street guns to various kinds of shenanigans in the under-regulated legal gun market, with straw purchases leading the list. How we deal with legal guns affects the availability of illegal guns. Even states with tough gun laws like CA are easily flooded with available weaponry from nearby states. Second, there's a place for guns in the world. For example, a rifle or shotgun is, I think, a reasonable tool on a farm. But on the street in Oakland?Third, let's not ignore other aspects of violence. Kassandra Perkins was a victim of domestic abuse--but having a gun handy made that a deadly situation. Here's some data posted at the New Yorker by Amy Davidson:
According to the Justice Departments National Institute of Justice, The data are clear: More incidents of murder-suicide occur with guns than with any other weapon. In 591 murder-suicides, 92 percent were committed with a gun. States with less restrictive gun control laws have as much as eight times the rate of murder-suicides as those with the most restrictive gun control laws. Another study found that the mere presence of a gun in the house increased the chance that domestic violence would escalate to murder six fold.
But finally, this is, I think a cultural issue. The US is not the most homicidal nation on earth, (as of 2011, El Salvador leads that sad list, followed by iraq and Jamaica,) but we lead the pack among wealthy nations. Shouldn't this be an issue the churches lead on? Some, indeed, are stepping up, especially those in cities decimated by gun violence. The Catholic Church's leadership HAS spoken against private ownership of guns and for better gun regulation, including the USCCB as recently as 2000. Perhaps now is a good time for a reminder that the flood of guns onto our streets and in our homes is a hazard to all of us. Our cultural tolerance of ubiquitous guns is killing us. If nothing else, perhaps one memorial we might offer for the memory of Kassandra Perkins is to begin to talk about guns in our culture, and what we can do to change things.
About the Author
Lisa Fullam is associate professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).