It’s hard not to feel sorry for gun-rights advocates who keep shooting themselves in the foot — and other parts of the anatomy — in their attempts to persuade us that more guns equal a safer society.
Last Saturday was Gun Appreciation Day, selected by apparently tone-deaf organizers on the weekend before a federal holiday to honor civil-rights giant Martin Luther King Jr., whose own life was cut short by gun violence.
On this day, five people attending gun shows were accidentally shot — in Raleigh, N.C., where a man’s gun discharged, striking a trio of bystanders at the entrance to the Dixie Gun and Knife Show; in Indianapolis, where a man shot himself in the hand as he exited the Indy 1500 Gun and Knife show; and closer to home, where a man shot a fellow exhibitor while opening a box containing a gun at the Medina Gun Show. All were accidental.
“Accidental” and gun mishaps, unfortunately, go hand in hand. In 2011, 851 people died in this country because of accidents with the 310 million estimated firearms in civilian circulation.
It’s only common sense to recognize that the introduction of a gun into a situation increases the chances that a gun will be fired, intentionally or unintentionally, in that situation — sometimes to the detriment of the user and sometimes to the detriment of innocent bystanders. Also, to be fair, sometimes to the detriment of an aggressor, but not as often as we might hope.
For instance, one of several Time magazine articles published in the Jan. 28 edition (where most of the statistics in this column originate) notes that New York City police officers’ “hit rate” in a gunfight is 30 percent when the target does not shoot back and an abysmal 18 percent when the target returns fire.
Yet one of the most insistent reactions to the recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary is a call to increase the number of armed personnel in our schools — either with armed police officers or teachers. If a New York City cop has only an 18-percent chance of hitting a shooter, do we really expect better results from a seventh-grade science teacher?
Proponents argue that the presence of guns on school campuses is a deterrent, so that guards and teachers may never have to use those guns, that their presence is enough to keep potential shooters away.
But consider: If five people can be shot accidentally in one day at gun shows, how many accidents might we have to accept as a consequence of keeping our kids “safe” in class?
More knee-jerk legislation is not the answer to gun violence. The country doesn’t need additional restrictions on gun ownership because the vast majority of gun owners — last weekend’s accidents notwithstanding — are responsible people with the sense to store weapons and ammunition safely.
Yet we also don’t need to encourage the further proliferation of guns. With more guns than people in this country, we have enough firearms already.
It is unconscionable that the NRA is using the recent Sandy Hook tragedy as an opportunity to extend its political reach, and it is just as unconscionable that politicians, including the president, are using it as an opportunity to advance a political agenda. Both sides are preying on — and perhaps are victims of — fear. Cooler heads on both sides, or maybe somewhere in the middle, must prevail.
The sad truth is that, in 2011, the most common reason for gun deaths by far was suicide, with 19,766 people ending their own lives with firearms. Clearly, more needs to be done to bolster mental-health services in this country, which is why the $15 million that Obama has proposed to train teachers to recognize mental illness and the $40 million that would help school districts refer students to mental-health help are the most sensible components of last week’s executive and Congressional to-do list. The same sorts of services need to be made more readily available to adults, as well.
Unfortunately, the parts of the president’s proposals that will get all the attention are the attempts to ban assault rifles and high-capacity clips, which will serve only to offend gun owners who use those items lawfully and safely for recreational shooting. It will do little to curb crime.
If you own guns, lock them up. Store ammunition separately. While this greatly reduces the effectiveness of firearms for home protection (which is a false sense of security, anyway), the life you save and the injuries you prevent may be your own or somebody who has done you no harm.
Especially if you go to gun shows.
Originally published Jan. 24, 2013, in The Alliance Review.