It’s time for a little honesty.
On July 20th, 2012, a young man walked into a late night screening of the latest Batman movie at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, killed 12 people, injured 70 others and walked outside to get into his car where he was arrested by police. He leaves broken families, broken hearts, and broken dreams in his wake. Now the questions start: how did it happen? Who is at fault? Who can we blame?
Now I’m watching a news conference where public officials and police are congratulating each other for a great job. While I’m sure they all were very heroic, based on what I’ve seen and heard in the reporting, the police were not involved in ending the shooting or preventing any of the deaths inside the theater.
I’m thinking it’s time to lay it all out and see if we can make sense of it all and see if there is a solution that will work. The only way to get to a solution that can actually work is to look at this with honesty, so here goes:
In 2010, there were around 309 million people in the United States(1). There are somewhere in the region of 270 million guns in the United States(2). Since 1999, 19.79 Billion movie tickets were sold in the United States(3). Being honest about this requires that we acknowledge that when 20 billion people go to movies over 13 years, and that during that entire time twelve people are killed by violence at movie theaters, it does not require changes to gun laws to make them harder to own and get. Why not, you ask? Let’s take an honest look at the situation.
In 2010, 8,775 people were killed by firearms(4). That is tragic. The loss of any life is devastating. However, honesty requires us to do the math:
8775 (gun deaths in 2010) divided by 309,000,000 (population of the US in 2010)
This means that less than 3 thousandths of a percent of the population was killed by guns in 2010 (keep in mind that 1 percent of 309,000,000 is over 3 million people).
In 2010, the NHTSA reports 32,885 people were killed in automobile accidents(5). That’s four times as many as guns, although that still represents 1 one-hundredth of a percent of the population
The CDC reports that 443,000 people die from smoking and second-hand smoke every year(6). That’s 50 times the rate of gun deaths. Now that’s a lot of people, right? Well, not really compared to the total number of folks alive in the US. It’s still only .14 percent of the population.
More perspective? Over the course of your life, you have a 1-in-5 chance of dying from heart disease, a 1-in-7 chance of dying from cancer, a 1-in-100 chance of dying in a car accident, a 1-in-246 chance of dying from falling down. You have a higher chance of dying from suicide than you do from firearm violence. You are 10 times more likely to die of an accidental injury as from firearm assault(7).
So if all of this is true, then why is it that every time a shooting happens, we hear that guns should be banned. Why don’t we hear calls to ban automobiles? Why not make cigarettes illegal altogether instead of just taxing the poo out of them? Why isn’t movement outside of the safety of our beds banned?
Ok, so now for more honesty: A few minutes ago, I heard a reporter say that there have been 27 ‘mass’ shootings since the 1999 Columbine attack(Fox News Channel – 7/20/2012 – no source given). Chicago nearly equaled the violence of the theater shooting over the Memorial Day weekend with 10 dead and more than 40 injured in gun violence. If you include homicides that did not include guns, 21 people were killed in Chicago alone (8).
You may be surprised to learn that there is more gun crime in places with more gun laws. Illinois has some of the toughest laws on the books. Chicago is even more restrictive than the rest of Illinois. However, for some reason Chicago is rampant with shootings. Same thing with Philadelphia – Pennsylvania has fairly liberal gun laws, but Philly heavily restricts those freedoms. Both Chicago and Philly are extremely dangerous places, gun-wise. Why is it that St. Louis gun violence per-capita is lower than East St. Louis, just right across the river in Illinois? Tiny East St. Louis had two murders and 3 other shootings following a ‘Stop the Violence’ rally Memorial Day weekend(9).
Some more honesty: Did you know that in Chinese grade schools, 51 people (mostly children) were killed and 207 injured in attacks in the last 10 years? Did you know that none of these attacks was done with guns? In one of these attacks, the killer killed 12 people and injured 5 with a machete(10). They involved knives, meat cleavers, machetes, gasoline, hammers… it seems that in the absence of guns, people will still kill each other.
So this brings us to the real meat: What would have stopped this idiot in Colorado? We know exactly what the result of a disarmed citizenry is, so we can discard that option first: 12 people dead and nearly 70 injured. We know that if you have a room full of disarmed people and someone comes in and wants to kill them, whether with a gun or a machete or a meat cleaver, that there isn’t much that can be done to prevent it. That’s what happened in this case.
So if disarming isn’t the solution, what is? More gun laws? Remember, we’re trying to be honest, now: There are currently more than 20,000 gun laws on the books nation-wide(11). Gun laws do not stop gun crime. By definition, a criminal is someone who commits a crime. If someone wants to kill another human being and makes the decision to do it, more gun laws won’t prevent the murder any more than a sign saying ‘no swimming’ will keep kids who really want to swim from swimming. If laws and signs could stop crime, there would be no crime. In the case of murder, the laws may change the method, but ultimately the penalty for committing murder is worse than the penalty for using a gun or a machete, so the gun is only the tool used to do the more serious crime.
What about banning guns? If this is your choice, you should consider moving to another country. Utterly banning guns is not an option in the United States: The 2nd amendment gives the citizens the right to be armed. Most politicians seem to think that the next best thing is to make more laws. Making it harder to get a gun is what usually is suggested. We know that this shooter spent months buying his guns, stockpiling ammo and whatever. We know he had no criminal history. He was legally able to own firearms. Would more laws have stopped him? Only if you believe that a kid really won’t run away from home because he was told he isn’t allowed to cross the street.
Ok, so more laws won’t work. Banning guns won’t work. What will? More police? Can we afford that? Especially when you consider that out of the 300+ million people in this country, less than 9,000 are likely to die from gun violence? How many police would be needed to ‘up’ visibility by 100%? Is that enough? Do we need 10 times as many police? 100 times? This is like saying that since the fire department can’t stop all fires, we need 100 times as many firemen. Wouldn’t it make more sense to teach people to deal with fires so you only need the firemen for the really BAD fires? If we treated house fires the way we treat guns, a house burning down would lead to laws making it harder to get and use fire, not requirements to learn how to use an extinguisher.
Ultimately, then this is the solution to the gun problem. The current solution is to affect the lives of the innocent. We need to shift that focus to affect the lives of the guilty. Unofficially ‘deputize’ the public through training, common sense laws that allow law-abiding citizens to carry legally owned firearms anywhere (no exceptions) and harsh, mandatory penalties for people who commit crimes. You may not like guns. You may not like to even consider guns. But for just a moment, imagine these scenes:
- Scenario 1: A young man is considering attacking a crowded theater with guns and smoke grenades. His plan has a lot of variables. Will anyone in the crowd be armed? If he thinks it’s a possibility, it complicates his plan. So he wears body armor. When he comes in and begins shooting, the crowd realizes that it is NOT a stunt. In that crowd, nobody is armed. The shooter is able to kill people with impunity. Nobody will stop him. He fires so many rounds that it may take days or weeks to figure out how many shots were fired. The police arrive 2 minutes after the shooting starts, but still aren’t able to stop him until he is getting into his car in the parking lot.
- Scenario 2: A young man is considering attacking a crowded theater with guns and smoke grenades. His plan has a lot of variables. Will anyone in the crowd be armed? If he thinks it’s a possibility, it complicates his plan. So he wears body armor. When he comes in and begins shooting, the crowd realizes that it is NOT a stunt. In that crowd are 5 to 10 people carrying legal firearms they are trained to use. The shooter doesn’t know who the people are that have guns. Since the training of the armed citizens includes knowledge of body armor, at least one of the armed citizens fires, hitting him in the head, killing the shooter, saving many people.
Or what about this one:
- Scenario 1: A group of terrorists board airplanes and partway into the flights pull out knives and take over the aircraft to crash them into buildings. The terrorists kill several passengers and flight crew, and take over the aircraft. The passengers on one of the planes try to re-take the plane and fail. Over 3000 people are killed in the aircraft and in buildings.
- Scenario 2: A group of terrorists board airplanes and partway into the flights pull out knives and guns and attempt to take over the aircraft to crash them into buildings. On board each aircraft are several citizens legally carrying their personal firearms. The terrorists don’t know who has a gun or if anyone does. The citizens draw their fire-arms and open fire, killing the terrorists and saving the aircraft.
Some of you may be saying that there is a third scenario for the above events, so in the interest of honesty, here it is:
Let’s assume that the citizens who are armed in my scenarios above fail to bring down the people threatening their lives. What would be different about the outcome from what actually happened? Probably virtually nothing. The planes would still have been flown into the towers, the Pentagon and that Pennsylvania field. The 12 people who died in the theater, probably would still have died. The difference is that if the citizenry was armed, there is at least a CHANCE that the passengers on those planes, the people in those buildings, the folks at the Pentagon and some of the movie-goers in Colorado would have survived.
So honestly, what’s the downside?
Doug FitlerUS Air Force Retired