The United States already has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. There are about 89 guns per 100 citizens, and in 2011, 34 percent of adults owned a gun and 47 percent of adults live with a gun in the house. The United States also ranks eleventh worldwide in total firearm-related deaths, with not a single country ahead of us categorized as “developed” by the United Nations. Given this data, how is there any reasonable expectation that giving even more guns to Americans will somehow lower the rate of firearm-related deaths?
The reason that there is a debate over this issue in the first place is because we all recognize that America has a problem: lots of people die from guns. We disagree on how best to solve this problem because the data we have is mixed, confusing, and ultimately unclear. We cannot pinpoint why America has such a culture of violence; does it stem from our past, violent video games and movies, some combination of factors, or something we haven’t even considered? Given a complete lack of compelling evidence for any action, it seems unwise to jump to the conclusion that we need more of what’s causing the problem in the first place.
The catchphrase supporting this policy seems to be that “the best way of stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is not supported by evidence. We have no idea how many times a year Americans actually defend themselves with guns; estimates seem to suggest anywhere from 25,000 times to 250,000 times. In fact, some studies suggest that we defend ourselves 2.5 million times a year, although the consensus on that study, run by Gary Klick, is that his methodology resulted in a gross overestimate, and should be closer to 250,000 times per year. It is estimated that, of these, about a fifth is made up of police officers defending themselves (at least between 1987 and 1990). However, we know that in 2009, 66.9 percent of homicides were committed with a gun. We know that two thirds of all suicides in the country are caused by guns. So why are some of us so eager to hand out more guns when we have no idea how that will affect our gun-violence problem?
While the data certainly does not support increasing gun ownership, the morals of doing so also concern me. Martin Luther King Jr. has an excellent quote that can be applied directly to the issue of guns; I am quoting in full because I believe that to take only an excerpt would not do it justice:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
Honestly, we don’t know whether giving everyone guns would solve the problem of gun violence. But even if it did, is that really the best we can do? This country claims to be a moral compass for the world, but the best way we can answer violence is with violence? This country claims to have some of the brightest minds on the planet, and the best we can do is give our citizens sticks to beat off the other citizens with sticks? This country spends more on defense than the next 19 nations combined, but we can’t convince our citizens not to kill each other? Must we truly resort to such a band-aid approach, such a brute-force solution? Why can’t this country, with all of its wealth and brilliance, move forward in an effort to find and address the roots of this problem? Why don’t we fix the disease, instead of just attempting to mask the symptoms?
Most political issues evoke my passion for one side or the other. It drives me crazy that we’re not doing enough for education, we’re ignoring the poor, and that Wall Street gets away with its white-collar crimes. Yet, on most issues, both sides have at least some value in their position. I really do believe, perhaps naively, that the vast majority of politicians and citizens honestly do want to make this country a better place; they just disagree on how to do it. But when I hear people tell me that the way to fix gun violence is to hand out guns to everyone, it just makes me sad. It makes me sad because I’m hearing from that person that they’ve given up on finding a real solution. They’re telling me that they don’t believe that we can figure out how to fix what appears to be a cultural problem. They’re telling me that, even in the absence of evidence, they’re willing to throw violence and fear at a problem that is, quintessentially, one of violence and fear. As a people, I have to believe that we are better than that.