Here we go again. With 12 dead bodies at Washington's Navy Yard, not including that of the shooter, Americans are back to the usual handwringing: Why, oh why can't we stem the tide of gun violence?
People, this is not rocket science. (Yes, I'm mad).
For a start, we have too many guns sloshing around. A recent Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) backgrounder notes that "The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, has about 35-50 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns." Reading the news, you might imagine that Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or some other conflict-ravaged nation would be leading the most guns-per-capita race, but nope: That's us. We're number one.
Yes, you say, but guns don't kill people, people do. Well, bless your shrunken little NRA heart, that's true! Last I checked, guns just lying around all by themselves don't spontaneously start shooting at elementary-school children or random passersby. With rare exceptions ("I dropped it on the floor and it just went off..."), it takes a finger on the trigger to get them going.
But while guns don't kill people on their own, they sure make it easier for people to kill people. This, incidentally, is why our troops carry guns, instead of slingshots or brass knuckles: If you need to be able to kill quickly and surely, guns will do the trick.
How likely are you, though, an ordinary citizen, to have a need to kill quickly and surely -- keeping in mind that a gun kept in the home is 12 times more likely to kill a family member or guest than an intruder? Correlation is not causation, but here are two charts (courtesy of CFR) that tell you pretty much all you need to know, unless you're a believer in really, really big coincidences:
To spell things out, since 2003, America has lost more than twice as many kids 19 and under to firearm homicides than it has lost soldiers and citizens to two wars and global terrorism combined. (I was going to add a column for non-homicide gun deaths involving kids, and another for all gun deaths across all age groups of the U.S. population, but the columns would literally have been off the chart -- between 2003 and the end of 2010, 7,027 Americans died in Iraq and Afghanistan and from terrorist attacks, while 35 times as many Americans, or 247,131, were killed by guns in the United States.)
Solid data are not yet available for the years after 2010, but if recent trends have continued, U.S. firearm deaths since March 2011 will come within spitting distance of the number of deaths caused by Syria's bloody civil war.
Moral of the story for all you national security types out there? If you're concerned about saving American lives, gun control would be a good place to start.
Americans currently have crappy gun-control laws, "crappy" being the technical legal term for "hopelessly, pathetically inadequate," especially when compared to other countries' laws. Yes, those countries with fewer guns and fewer gun deaths -- they have much tougher gun-control laws than the United States does.
Right again, NRA friends, this could be a coincidence. The fact that the sun appears to rise every day in the east could also be a coincidence.
And why do we have crappy gun-control laws? Because of the Second Amendment, which gives Americans a constitutional right to crappy gun-control laws. That's why we fought a war against the British: We wanted to the right to kill each other, instead of being killed by foreign enemies.
Ah, now we're getting to the real culprit. Why, oh why are so many Americans killed by guns? In the end, I blame the U.S. Constitution and our weird quasi-religious worship of that antiquated text.