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Guns – We Consume Too Much

SUMMARY: If a problem has no solution, it’s not a problem any more. It’s a fact to be dealt with.

THE PROBLEM: Too often, Americans use their 300 million plus privately-owned guns to kill each other, without good justification.

Recent examples include the Los Vegas massacre, where a man shot and killed 47 random people gathered in large crowd below, and the Santa Fe, Texas, high school shooting in which 10 died. Mass, deadly, gun violence still arouses public demands for actions to prevent more gun killing, but frequency tends to dull outrage and there is always strong pushback from gun advocates. The United States stands alone among industrialized nations in extensive private ownership of firearms; this country’s death toll from private citizen shootings is higher than all other countries which are not at war.


1. Background checks. There are laws on the books intended to keep weapons out of the hands the criminal, the insane, and the incompetent. They have limited success. The 17-year-old Santa Fe man who killed nine of his schoolmates and a teacher had no bad mental health history, except as might be inferred from his private emails. He had taken no known actions which would brand him as a threat to his community and justify public intervention. He owned no guns, and killed with a shotgun and a pistol he took from his father. Interestingly, the teenager said after his killings that he had intended to commit suicide, but he lacked the “courage” to do so after he shot up his school. Second case: the more established Las Vegas gunman used high-powered, automatic weapons that he had acquired legally. He committed suicide after crowd killing, so law enforcement officers and psychologists cannot question him about events which led to his becoming a mass assassin. That middle-aged businessman turned rapid shooter of strangers had no significant criminal or mental health history. Background checks would probably not have saved lives in either unexpected assault.

2. Prohibit military-grade weapons. The Las Vegas and some other volume killings have been facilitated by automatic-fire, large magazine weapons. New laws restricting civilian ownership of weapons adapted from the military seem reasonable since they lack animal-hunting or other sporting use. Nevertheless, some Americans insist that AKs are necessary to protect against unspecified human enemies, who may at some point attack their families. Others may think it’s cool to have a weapon capable of killing many people quickly. There are hundreds of thousands of automatic weapons already in public circulation, and little hope of containing all of them.

3. Stop making new ones. The arms industry in America, manufacturers and distributors, use economic and political power to fight limits on availability and use of deadly weapons, and they will likely continue to be successful. Fortunes have been made pushing guns, and gold rules.

4. Lifeguards. It’s possible that armed security personnel could deter or stop some attacks. Maybe, but one of two armed guards at the Santa Fe school responding to the attacker was himself shot, and there were still multiple student deaths. A killer who is willing to die may not be deterred by armed security personnel, guards who must take time to balance dangers of shooting bystanders with the need to act quickly, both to save others and to protect themselves.

5. Increase costs. The civilian arms industry consumes resources – energy, materials, water and clean air – and raising the costs of the inputs for arms manufacture and distribution raises gun prices. Higher prices would reduce the numbers and complexity of guns produced, and reducing the resources used in the gun industry would cut some environmental stresses.

6. Spiritual. One of the Bible’s Ten Commandments is “Thou shall not kill”, and killing or threatening to kill people is what powerful automatic weapons are all about. Other spiritual traditions have peaceful structures, such as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan Buddhism, whose followers were subjugated by gun-toting Chinese 60 years ago. The Dalai Lama’s message appeals to our better angels, but the Dalai Lama lost his country. Would getting rid of guns make a more peaceful world, or do we need a more peaceful world to get rid of guns?

7. Stop glorifying gun violence in television, movies, video games and other media. This is tough in our free society with its Wild West individualistic traditions.

Bottom line, we are stuck for now with guns and predictable, but individually unexpected, gun violence. It will take a revolution, in values, to diminish significantly the destruction of life and resources America’s gun fixation encourages.


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