In our series on the gun ownership debate in the United States, Matt and I ran into several surprises.
First, we learned that there are theories on both sides of the debate. Some people, such as Texas Republican Representative Steve Stockman, believe that the government is actively threatening the rights of gun owners. The most extreme versions of this theory argue that governments are perpetrating false flag attacks to sway public support. Quite a few people found these ideas tremendously offensive (and, for the record, Rep. Stockman has never endorsed this idea). On the other hand, gun control advocates like Father Michael Pfleger accuse the NRA of ruthlessly lobbying for easier access to guns, regardless of the threat these weapons might pose when mishandled or used for criminal purposes. Both of these ideas assume the worst about either the government or gun manufacturers -- that the US would sacrifice its own citizens (often citing Operation Northwoods proposals as evidence) or that gun lobbies "care more about profit than people".
Second, we found that there were some common misconceptions, both about current firearm statistics and the history of guns in the U.S. While guns are a leading cause of non-medical death, they are certainly not the leading cause. For example, it's true that more people recently died in traffic accidents than due to firearms (though studies argue that this may change by 2015). But statistics can skew perception. Comparing gun and traffic fatalities in no way lessens the stark tragedy of each and every preventable death.
So let's put this in absolute terms: According to the CDC, there were 31,347 firearm-related deaths in 2009, and 31,672 in 2011. These numbers include homicides, suicides and accidents. Statistics surrounding the successful use of a firearm in the prevention of a crime are more difficult to pin down, though the libertarian Cato Institute and the National Survey of Private Ownership of Firearms estimates that there are 1.5 million defensive gun uses per year.
The debate itself has changed over time, as have the capabilities of the firearms involved. As constitutional law professor Adam Winkler points out writing for the Atlantic, the current NRA probably wouldn't support the founding fathers. The founders of the U.S. were huge advocates of gun control, regulation and regular, mandated inspections. And the NRA itself has changed drastically. In the past, it too supported measures such as registration and waiting periods.
We also received loads of requests to examine some of the events and claims surrounding the terrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. While we weren't able to fit much information about Sandy Hook into our Wednesday episode, we did cover some of the more prevalent claims in our Friday show. We touch on the initial reports, as well as some explanations that came to light later. You can check it out here if you've haven't seen it already.
One final note: Regardless of your take on the firearm debate -- and whether you think there's skullduggery involved -- we can all agree that all of the innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Denver's Century 16 Cinema and other mass shooting locations deserved better than murder. Each victim deserved to live his or her life to its fullest potential; to grow, to travel, to experience and enrich the world around them. And, due to the actions of a handful of severely disturbed, armed individuals, they will never have that chance. We cannot undo these catastrophic events.
What, then, should we do to prevent further gun deaths?
In the days following the most recent tragedy, NRA executive vice-president Mark LaPierre recommended that armed professionals work at the country's schools, arguing that "we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work." Numerous gun control advocates and politicians have recommended that we immediately revise and strengthen regulations on gun purchasing and registration. As for the average American, a recent Gallup poll indicates that while 58% of Americans favor stricter laws on firearm sales, 51% still oppose outright bans on semiautomatic weapons.
What do you think?
A Shortlist of Sources
"Crime in the United States: 2011." Uniform Crime Reports. Criminal Justice Information Services (F.B.I.), September 2012.
Cramer, Clayton E. and David Burnett. "Tough Targets: When Criminals Face Armed Resistance From Citizens." The CATO Institute,
"Deaths: Final Data for 2009." National Vital Statistics Reports, Volume 60, Number 3. CDC, 29 December 2011.
Fisher, Max. "What makes America's gun culture totally unique in the world, in four charts." The Washington Post, 15 December 2012.
Hallowell, Billy. "This is The Blaze's Point-by-Point Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theory Debunk." The Blaze, 23 January, 2013.
Plumer, Brad. "How the U.S. gun industry became so lucrative." The Washington Post, 19 December 2012.
Saad, Lydia. "Americans Want Stricter Gun Laws, Still Oppose Bans." Gallup Politics, 27 December 2012.
"Sandy Hook shooting: What happened?" CNN, 2012.
Sedghi, Amy. "Arms sales: who are the world's top 100 arms producers?" The Guardian, 2 March 2012.
Shanker, Tom. "U.S. Arms Sales Make Up Most of Global Market." The New York Times, 26 August 2012.
Wilmore, Jennifer. "America's Gun Industry is Booming." Salon, 3 December, 2012.
Winkler, Adam. "The Secret History of Guns." The Atlantic, September 2011,
"National Rifle Association: Summary." Opensecrets.org, 2011-2012.