The American (Gun) Problem
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him,
“for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.”
Matthew 26:52 (NIV)
I have mixed feelings about writing this month – it is a busy time and this is one more thing to do – and to write about gun violence seems a bit like jumping on the bandwagon, to say nothing about this being a very serious topic at a time when we would like to focus on the hope, love, joy and peace of Christmas.
Also, writing to those who seek to promote peace and nonviolence is, perhaps, preaching to the choir!
But … as many have said about the issue of gun violence, this is a time when we all are more sensitive to the problem following the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, CN and, therefore, a good time to be focusing on it.
As I see it, there are three main issues to be addressed: the availability and prevalence of guns, limiting gun access to high-risk individuals, and the general culture of violence in the 21st century and in the United Stated in particular. The first two of these are dominating the discussion with little being said about the third. One exception is Sojourners. In a recent post, Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, a Christian organization which advocates for social justice, stated:
And we finally need a very honest conversation about our growing culture of violence, and all the “entertainment” and “products” that project the worst expressions of violence as solutions to problems, or even just as “fun.” The distinction between games and reality becomes blurred. Sojourners
Gun violence is a significant problem in the US. Consider the following statistics:
- In 2002 the US had 9369 murders with firearms. By contrast, Germany had 269, Canada 144, and the UK 14
- On a per capita basis (per 100,000 population) the US had 2.97 homicides, Germany 0.19, Canada 0.51, England and Wales 0.07
- The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people. That puts it first in the world for gun ownership
- Taking all gun deaths into account – murders, suicides, and accidents – the US had 30,364 gun deaths in 2005 compared to Great Britain which had 42 (2008). Accounting for population differences, the comparison would be 30,364 (US) to 210 (GB)
According to an article in the Washington Post December 14, 2012, “Shooting sprees are not rare in the United States” and “15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the last 50 years took place in the United States.” Source
Writing on July 24, 2012 in the Huffington Post, Michael Moore sums it up like this:
In modern times, nearly every nation has had a psychopath or two commit a mass murder, regardless of how strict their gun laws are – the crazed white supremacist in Norway one year ago Sunday, the schoolyard butcher in Dunblane, Scotland, the École Polytechnique killer in Montreal, the mass murderer in Erfurt, Germany … the list seems endless.
And now the Aurora shooter last Friday.
But here’s the difference between the rest of the world and us: We have two Auroras that take place every single day of every single year! At least 24 Americans every day (8-9,000 a year) are killed by people with guns – and that doesn’t count the ones accidentally killed by guns or who commit suicide with a gun. Count them and you can triple that number to over 25,000.
That means the United States is responsible for over 80 percent of all the gun deaths in the 23 richest countries combined.
The old adage “guns don’t kill people, people do” is a truism. Nevertheless, as the statistics and facts cited above demonstrate, easy access to guns, and a prevalence of guns in the US results in very high gun related death rates.
Another factor that relates to people’s use of guns is violence in our US culture, especially media violence. According to the American Psychological Association
There is increasing evidence that early exposure to media violence is a contributing factor to the development of aggression.
In their Christian ethics book, Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen and David Gushee include the following quote related to TV violence:
“early viewing of violence on television stimulates aggression and that early aggression is a statistical precursor to later criminal behavior.”
Source: Kingdom Ethics, p. 181
I am not able, nor inclined, to spell out a solution to the gun violence problem in our nation. It is something each of us needs to be informed about, and then determine in what ways we are contributing to it and what we can do to reduce gun violence. Here are a few resources to start with:
- Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States
- Gun homicides and gun ownership listed by country
- Violence in the United States
- Early exposure to TV violence predicts aggression in adulthood
- Media Violence: What if we changed the Question?
This is not only an appropriate time to be having a conversation about gun violence as a nation and to be joining into the discussion; it is a real opportunity for those committed to peace and nonviolence to contribute. We already have a commitment to peace and nonviolence; we have tools such as conflict resolution, and resources in the form of books, pamphlets, videos, newsletters like Peace Signs, and other media to share. We have a voice through channels such as Mennonite Central Committee, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and many others. And we have church families in which and through which to raise awareness of the problem of gun violence and to contribute to its solution.
As peace advocates, let’s “step up to the plate” to contribute to the reduction of gun violence and deaths in the US – let’s contribute to the solution of the American gun problem.