The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 11, 2013

My View: Guns: The unsolvable problem

By Tom Maertens
My View

— By most estimates, there are 300 million privately-owned guns in the U.S., or nearly one for every citizen. No other country has as high a rate of gun ownership.

Following the Newtown shooting, the NRA asserted that the answer to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns, and therefore, we should put armed guards in every school.

This is crazy. Studies have consistently found that more guns result in more violent deaths, both in and out of schools. In fact, 10 times as many kids are killed outside of school. Making schools armed encampments just won’t work; the two armed guards inside Columbine High School did not prevent 13 students being massacred there. What is more telling, Captain Hassan Nidal shot 42 soldiers inside an army base, Fort Hood.

Even when police, who are trained and experienced with guns, open fire, everybody in sight is in danger. Last August, nine innocent bystanders and a criminal suspect were shot in an incident in the Empire State building. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly later announced that all nine bystanders had been hit by police gunfire.

Statistics from the Harvard School of Public Health show that the American murder rate is 15 times that of the other wealthy countries. Under current law, disturbed people can purchase a Bushmaster assault rifle at gun shows in 33 states without showing an ID and without a background check. Forty percent of gun purchases involve no background check because of the “gun show loophole.”

The NRA cites a book by John Lott, entitled “More Guns, Less Crime” to argue that crime rates have declined in right-to-carry states.

This is misleading. First, virtually all types of crime have been declining nationwide since 1980, according to FBI crime statistics, well before the current concealed carry craze.

Second, several studies, including by the National Academies of Science in 2004, have criticized Lott’s work as flawed, concluding that “No link between right-to-carry laws and changes in crime is apparent in the raw data. “ The Harvard Injury Control Research Center concurred, noting that “There is no evidence that having more guns reduces crime. None at all.”

Further, crime deterrence statistics do not account for the other consequences of widespread gun availability: suicides, accidental shootings, and domestic “crimes of passion.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that having a gun in the house makes the odds of an accidental shooting or child’s suicide greater than the likelihood of stopping a home invader. Six hundred people were killed in accidental shootings and more than 14,000 injured in 2010, according to The New York Times.

There was once a time that the NRA was principally a sportsman’s organization. I was a member then. It is now a front group for the gun industry. Wayne LaPierre and the NRA leadership claim they are defending the Second Amendment, but in practice, they are promoting gun ownership by fear-mongering and spreading nutty conspiracy theories about the U.N. confiscating Americans’ guns. (And no, there are no U.N. black helicopters, either.)

In the paranoid world of the NRA leadership, every restriction on military-style weapons is portrayed as a “slippery slope” leading inevitably to a ban on hunting rifles. LaPierre once labeled federal law enforcement officers “jack-booted thugs” and “Nazis” and accused them of planning to take people’s guns away.

The NRA leadership is so extreme that even their members don’t agree with them: poll after poll, including one last July by GOP pollster Frank Luntz, found that 74 percent of NRA members and 83 percent of all gun owners support a requirement for criminal background checks for anyone purchasing a gun, and broad majorities support other controls on guns, such as assault rifle bans, closing the gun show loophole, and stopping “straw-buyers.”

Australia instituted a similar approach, along with a gun amnesty and buyback program following a 1996 rampage that killed 35 people. While previously the country had suffered roughly one mass killing per year, there have been no rampages since 1996, and firearm homicides dropped 59 percent between 1995 and 2006.

Another example is Japan, which has very strict laws; only 11 people were killed with guns in 2008.

This compares with 12,000 killed and 14,000 wounded yearly in the United States.

Why do we tolerate this, and where are the Right-to-Lifers? We propose more laws to control women´s bodies than we do to control guns.

We know what works to reduce gun violence; all we need is common sense and some political will.


Tom Maertens describes himself as a political centrist who has worked in national security for both political parties in the White House and in the U.S. Senate. He is part of a Free Press team of readers from all political viewpoints asked to write columns.