Firearms Discussions

Thanks to Cindy Sanderson for her thoughtful and detailed critique of my Butte Weekly column of February 21. I’d like to respond.

On the issue of a Washington Post columnist suggesting, “Don’t vote for Republicans,” Ms. Sanderson says that President Obama had a super-majority in Congress and failed to pass any gun control legislation.

She is partly correct. Obama had a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress during his first two years in office, and yes, that was how we got the Affordable Care Act enacted, without a single Republican vote.

After the push to get the ACA enacted there probably wasn’t any political juice left for gun control legislation. If she wishes to criticize Obama, however, she has a point.

After the 2010 elections, Democrats did not control the House of Representatives and after 2014, didn’t control the Senate, and any gun control legislation never had a committee hearing, much less any votes.

Ms. Sanderson is correct that there weren’t 18 school shootings by February.  I used the same cautious term the Washington Post used, (“incident involving a firearm in a school zone”). Incidentally, the Post later ran a story highly critical of the organization that first supplied the misleading statistic.

Regarding Ms. Sanderson’s attempt at putting school shootings “into perspective,” I don’t get much comfort that more school children are killed annually walking or riding bikes to school.

Frankly, I don’t think this recent history of people going off their meds or brooding over some slight they might have suffered, and then getting firearms and shooting up a school can somehow be put into perspective. We should be outraged when it happens. When it happens again and again, We the People should act.

I don’t know where Ms. Sanderson gets her information that there were just 146 mass shootings between 1967 and 2017. Gun Violence Archive, an organization that tracks this stuff, reports 100 mass shootings in 2014, 135 in 2015, 142 in 2016, and 154 in 2017.

Ms. Sanderson says that guns were much more easily available in years past than they are now.

Perhaps, but it’s different. I grew up in a rural area and I’d guess there wasn’t a farm that didn’t have a firearm of sorts. Most farms had a .22 rifle to deal with pests or to slaughter an animal. If there was a hunter in the family there might be a shotgun sitting in a corner. It seemed to me, and I concede this is not scientific, not many people had high power rifles. Most of the country didn’t have the deer populations we have now and most people wouldn’t have reason for a high power rifle. I didn’t know anybody with a handgun.

What’s different now? According to a CBS News/Washington Post poll in 2016, only about 35 percent of American households have a firearm, compared to around 50 percent a decade earlier. However, the number of firearms per household that have them is dramatically higher.

Ms. Sanderson writes, “Nations with strict gun control laws have substantially higher murder rates than those who do not.”  That’s a cherry orchard ripe for picking. According to Wikipedia, and information collected from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the U.S. in 2015 had a murder rate of 4.88 per 100,000 population.

Canada, our neighbor to the north, had a murder rate of 1.68. Ireland had 0.64, Norway had 0.56, United Kingdom had 0.92, France had 1.58, and Germany had 0.85.

In contrast, Uganda had a murder rate of 11.84, and South Africa had 34.27. The world’s most dangerous country is El Salvador, with a murder rate of 108.64.

Finally, she asserts that in every mass shooting since 1950, all but one occurred in areas where citizens were banned from carrying guns.

That is an arguable point. Mass shootings aren’t the acts of rational people. More often than not, the perpetrators don’t expect to survive, planning to commit suicide or “suicide by cop.” We also know the Parkland school had an armed school resource officer who cowered outside, waiting for back-up.

Still, these points underline that gun violence issues are complex and loaded with emotion. Thanks to Prof. Sanderson for continuing the discussion.

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