Generally speaking, our local news here in the Northwest is pretty tame: sometimes a baby Orca is spotted in the Sound or a kitty gets stuck in a tree, and local editors often have to make do with watery pablum about the new ferris wheel on the skyline or this year’s cherry crop.
But recently there’s been a disturbing trend around town—gunshots have been fired. Lots of them.
Last evening, in two unrelated incidents, one person was killed and six others were wounded by gunfire, bringing Seattle’s 2012 homicide total to 22, a number which, at just over halfway through the year, surpasses 2010’s total and brings us even with 2011.
In case that last sentence was unclear: there have already been as many people murdered in the past six months in Seattle as there were in all of last year. 20 of those 22 murders have been caused by guns.
Here’s one of the pertinent tensions: As far as major cities go, Seattle has a very low homicide rate; at the same we’re on pace to double that murder rate within the year.
Presently there are roughly 300-million (yes, 300,000,000) privately owned guns in America, which is roughly 1-gun/person and is the highest rate in the world (coming in at a distant 2nd is Yemen, honest-to-god). One-third of the weapons we Americans have are handguns.
Most of us don’t own a gun: they’re only found in 1 out of every 3 households, which means that about 75% of people who own a gun own many guns. 49 out of 50 states permit citizens to carry concealed weapons for personal protection, and federal restrictions on semiautomatic weapons drop each year from the law-books like withered November leaves.
Despite recent high-profile cases: Trayvon Martin and Gabrielle Giffords; despite the fact that four out of our 44 Presidents have been shot dead, and many others shot at; and despite the fact that gun-related deaths in the US occur 20-35 times more frequently than in other countries of comparable economic and political development, it’s exceptionally unlikely that any substantial gun control laws will be passed anytime soon, to say nothing about state or federal officials seriously debating this issue.
I need to pause and be very clear: I don’t pretend to offer a solution here. I’m not an expert, nor am I a rabble-rouser, and I certainly don’t enact legislation. I’m simply a guy sitting on his couch thinking about how shitty things have gotten outside.
I realize that gun control is a challenging issue. I understand that the 2nd Amendment seems timeless and unchangeable to some very intelligent people, and that these same people frequently conflate terms such as ‘the people’ and ‘militia’ with ‘an individual’ and ‘whatever she wants/needs to defend herself’. I hear the logic behind the argument that ‘people kill people, not guns,’ though I also believe that guns make it a helluva lot easier for people to do so.
And for the record: I actually enjoy shooting guns and believe that people should be allowed to own them.
But the issue remains: there are a rampant number of guns in our country and their high numbers are unavoidably and directly related to our national and local murder rates. And while it’s complicated, to my eyes the biggest reason we’re in this current situation is the ongoing lobbying and political clout wielded by the National Rifle Association.
(Interestingly enough, for most of its lifetime the NRA was a sporting/hunting organization. The argument of gun-ownership-for-hunting seems valid to me but is also full of curious numbers: approximately 5% of Americans hunt, which would mean that if we permitted guns-for-hunting, then each of the 15-million people who hunt today would have 20 guns at their disposal.)
There are roughly 4.3-million Americans who are members of the NRA, which is less than 2% of the population. The organization’s annual income is over $200-million. There are few organizations who seem to have greater influence over contemporary politics, politicians and legal interpretations.
In an earlier post I offhandedly referred to the NRA as the most dangerous and destructive political organization in America; in case anyone thought I was being glib, I was not.
I don’t know how to hold an organization accountable for ensuring that so many guns—machines whose purpose is to pierce flesh—are readily available. And I doubt very much that any of the multitude of elected officials who kowtow to the organization’s power, and who by doing so are definitely as odious and culpable as the NRA itself, will ever read this. But I also know that being quiet while the shots ring out won’t change a thing.
I do believe that reducing the number of guns on the streets will reduce the amount of violence on those streets. I also believe that this can be accomplished by enacting more stringent federal and local gun-control laws, by having greater police presence, enforcement and community involvement, and by curbing the NRA’s power to turn off our elected officials’ brains.
Last month a man close to my age was killed by a stray bullet on the streets of Seattle. He was driving in the middle of the day with his family through an intersection a mile from where I live. This is the neighborhood where I go jogging, where I grocery shop, where I go out for dinner and walk home late a night. There is absolutely no logic beyond inexplicable dumb luck that he was killed and not me.
I don’t know how to go about enacting purposeful and effective changes: like I said I’m only a guy sitting on his couch fretting over how shitty things have gotten outside. But being quiet while shots get fired feels like collusion, and I’m nauseated at the thought of sharing my bed with the NRA.