And thinking about the young vet in Texas with PTSD who shot and killed two other vets who were taking him to a shooting range, perhaps for therapy, perhaps just for relaxation. And the former cop (also a veteran) in California who allegedly killed three people in retaliation for his firing. And beautiful 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, killed in a crossfire in Chicago right after participating in Obama's inauguration.
And the fact that many people joining the fight against gun violence are new to the issue, have lived secure lives in the suburbs and had no idea that over 30,000 Americans are killed by guns annually -- accidents, suicides and homicides (the latter are 12,000 of the total), committed mostly with hand guns, not assault rifles, mostly in the inner cities, and mostly by and against young African American males.
In 2011, the total was 31,672. The number killed in motor vehicle accidents that year was 33,687. But the latter are declining while the former are rising. Each of those numbers -- more than half of all the Americans killed in Vietnam, for example -- pass mostly without comment, as just the way "life is" in this country. Finally, both are being challenged, and it's about time.
The following is an excerpt from the Dec. 20, 2012 Fresh Air interview with Tom Diaz, author of The Last Gun and an analyst at the Violence Policy Center. (Thanks to the Hartford Catholic Worker newsletter for bringing it to my attention.)
"[I]f you take all of the Americans who have ever died in any terrorist attack that's been recorded, more Americans die every year from gunshot injury. Since September 11, 2001, we've spent several trillion dollars on so-called homeland security. We have made changes in our constitutional protections, particularly in the Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment, against search and seizure and self-incrimination, that would have shocked people, shocked constitutional scholars, before 9/11. And yet we spend a tiny amount of money on public health concerning guns. We forbid [the 1994 assault weapons ban did] the Centers for Disease Control and Injury from actually researching gun safety. So we've started a war on terror. We have no war on guns."
So we've sent hundreds of thousands of men and women off to fight the "war on terror," while other Americans are being terrorized right here at home. And many of those returning from war are traumatized and in desperate need of help they can't get partly because that hasn't been a budget priority of the federal government -- not compared to the million bucks a year it costs to keep one soldier in Afghanistan. And the gun lobby is powerful enough, even after Newtown, to likely squelch most meaningful gun safety laws. ("Gun control" implies a revocation of rights; "gun safety" implies protection of innocents.)
Some politicians talk about a "sea change" since Newtown in the attitudes of some colleagues who were formerly hard-line NRA supporters, and grassroots activists say that newly engaged suburban moms will carry the day. Pro-gun advocates say we just need to enforce existing laws and keep guns away from the mentally ill. Those with mental illness and the people who care for them worry that they'll take the fall for growing numbers of gun massacres, even though it's well-established that the former are much more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence. (The first-in-the-nation-law-post-Newtown, passed in New York, includes some such provisions.)
There seems to be a growing consensus -- including many NRA members, but not those at the top of the organization -- that universal background checks for all gun sales -- whether from a dealer, a gun show, or a private sale -- is a good idea. Even if that could pass, with guns proliferating like the flu virus, I'm not optimistic about that leading to a major reduction in violence. I hope I'm wrong.