HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas

Ready, Aim, Shoot

Raised on John Wayne westerns, superheroes, and a latent distrust of Government, we Americans cling to our guns, even when data, common sense, and now the experts suggest we should curtail our zeal to pack.

First, the facts. Guns and violence: there is a correlation. But, like timid statisticians, we concede the correlation, but hesitate to declare causation.

Statistics bear out the correlation.

In the Western world, we are the most armed citizenry. Compared to Europeans, compared to Canadians, Americans find it easy, and inexpensive, to buy a gun – though an assault rifle will cost you much more than a Saturday night special (though both may do the trick). If you don’t want to buy from your neighborhood gun shop, you can scour the internet or a gun-fair. On the internet, the Aurora, Colorado, shooter amassed 6,000 rounds of ammunition in 60 days. In the parlance of Hopalong Cassidy, you can walk the streets of many American cities “packing” – sometimes with gun hidden (“concealed carry)”, sometimes not (“open carry”). Of course, in airports, courthouses and schools, guns are off-limits – though in schools without metal-detector screens students can easily pack.

At the same time, we out-kill, out-maim, out-injure the Western world. In 23 of the wealthiest countries, a lot of children died from gunshots – but 87% of them were Americans. In fact, in the United States, the rate of gun-deaths for children ages 19 and younger was similar in the most rural areas (4.0 per 100,000) and the most urban (4.6) though children in the former were more likely to die from suicide or accidents, in the latter, from homicide. Admittedly, our homicide rate has gone down – it is now the lowest in 47 years. But we still top the list in gun-mishaps.

Of course, as gun-advocates note, guns may not be the culprit. People kill people. The reason behind our statistical supremacy may lie with out warped natures, not with the high-powered weapons close at hand. So the correlation may perhaps be coincidental.

Yet commonsense suggests otherwise. Although criminals can wreak havoc with knives, machetes, and matches, rifles — especially ones revved up to fire multiple rounds — are more efficient.

With children, the gun mishaps may not reflect malice. Sometimes children shoot other children inadvertently – a game of cops-and-robbers gone awry. Sometimes children shoot themselves when they come upon a nifty weapon stored atop a shelf. Hours of watching super-heroes on television have inured children to the sequelae of shoot-em-up antics. Sometimes despondent teenagers reach for a gun when despondency grows too onerous. Whatever the reason, children risk harm when they have a gun close-at-hand.

So common sense would dictate that we bar guns from places where children live and play. Indeed, common sense would also dictate that, if we cannot ban guns from the American landscape, we make it hard for anybody other than a hunter to buy one.

But commonsense hasn’t budged American lawmakers to seriously restrict our Second Amendment, John Wayne-blessed right to pack.

At last the experts have weighed in. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the professional association of the nation’s pediatricians, recently delivered the kind of dictum that belongs in a Monty Python world. They advise that for safety’s sake (these pediatricians treat the sequelae of gun-play) children should not live in homes with guns. Since the august body recognizes that parents would rather risk children’s harm than forego their right to pack, they add that if a parent must keep a gun on-hand, the parent store it in a locked container far from children’s prying hands. (Children can sometimes open locks that would stymie Houdini).

Statistics, let alone common sense, haven’t propelled states to limit access to guns. Let’s see what happens now that the experts have spoken.

Joan Retsinas is a sociologist who writes about health care in Providence, R.I. Email

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2012

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