A few weeks ago I suggested that the most telling weapon ISIS possesses is its ability to make people feel unsafe. And they have used that explosive device with great effect. Americans are frightened of terrorism! But ISIS does not have an exclusive corner on fear mongering. It is a technique that has been employed for years by the gun lobby and the political operatives that support the proliferation of firearms. We are told that the only way to be safe is to be armed. Some bad person is out to get you. Danger lurks behind every shadow.
Of course we want to feel safe. We have all known people who were continually fearful. When a sense of danger is so strong a person will not leave the house, walk on a public street or shop for groceries, we are probably observing evidence of a mental illness. The Bill of Rights was an effort by the nation’s founders to guarantee our personal protection from the unwarranted intrusion of government. From illegal searches to the guarantee against self-incrimination, these first ten amendments to our Constitution allow us to feel less afraid. At the same time, we do what is within our power to insure our personal safety. We put locks on our doors, look both ways when crossing the street and drive vehicles with seat belts and air bags.
Even with these systems of protection, these days many Americans are still made to feel less safe. But the real problem is not the lack of guns, but their proliferation. Students from kindergartens to graduate universities run a greater risk of getting shot than students in any other country. A mass shooting is defined as an incident in which a single shooter kills at least four persons. Since 2008 one such incident has taken place about every two weeks. Many of these shootings have happened on school property. Three quarters of these deadly attacks have been made with handguns.
The problem, however, is not that we do not possess firearms but that they are everywhere. In the US there are 88 privately owned weapons for every 100 people, which is eight times the rate in the rest of the world. So in this country you have a much greater possibility of being shot than in any other nation. The evidence is clear. The more guns there are in civilian hands, the more people will be killed with them.
Does carrying a gun or having one in your home increase or decrease your chances of being shot? The National Rifle Association is fond of telling us that the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a gun. Is that really true? Consider the following scenario. A bad person intent on committing a crime encounters a good person on the street, in a shop or in a home. The good person may or may not have a weapon. If the bad person assumes that the good person is armed, because almost everyone is, what do you think the bad person will do? In all likelihood, the bad person will shoot first! On the other hand, if the good person is thought not to be armed because firearms in civilian hands are a rarity, the robbery might well take place, but everyone will walk away alive. The statistics are clear. For every home-invader shot, nine family members are gunned down, often with the family’s own weapons.
What about the Second Amendment? A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The Supreme Court has spoken, and has held that it is a constitutional right for civilians to posses an unlimited number of firearms. How is it possible that the Second Amendment can be construed to mean that any person can own one or fifty assault weapons, carry them openly and have clips holding any number of rounds? But that is what five of the nine justices affirmed. Of course the Constitution can be amended, but the best possibility to reverse that ruling is to elect leaders who will appoint justices committed to its reversal.
Obviously hunters need guns, as do a significant number of our farm-based and other rural neighbors. Nevertheless, no matter how many children and others are murdered in these continual mass shootings, the politically potent NRA backed by gun manufacturers can intimidate enough members of Congress that not even the most modest modifications — such as universal background checks — can be enacted. As a result we are all less safe.