When Will Blood Outweigh Bullets?

16 11 2018

Mass shootings are more and more commonplace, and still our congress does nothing. The political calculus is insurmountable. The NRA and the gun industry just have more influence than human blood and breath. Or so it seems.

I asked myself, what will it take to change the equation? Do the dead and the bereaved just need to greatly outnumber the gun advocates? How long until we reach that point, if we haven’t already?

I was going to pose the question as a brief pithy post on social media, but I thought I should at least try to dig into the numbers first. Not surprisingly, the question quickly became far too complicated to address in a single sentence.

Be aware, as always, I’m not a journalist. I don’t have the time or resources for anything but an abstraction that nevertheless will at least point to the truth, to the best of my ability.

Also, I was quickly reminded in my Googling that hard data around guns is scarce. The CDC is forbidden from from studying the impact of guns on public health. No one knows exactly how many guns we have in America. Only in the last few years, as national leadership has utterly failed to address the rising body counts, have private citizens taken it on themselves to track and analyze mass shootings.

Given all that, here’s what I got.

Best estimates generally agree that about 52 million households own guns, about 45% of America. I have to admit, I was surprised that nearly half of American households own guns. But I don’t have a quarrel with simple gun ownership. I believe that the majority of gun owners are fine and decent people, who would not oppose common sense gun regulation, let alone open fire without dire provocation.

Much of the resistance to gun regulation comes from the NRA. As mass shootings have become a national norm, the NRA has pushed farther and farther into extremist policies and dehumanization of gun control advocates and shooting victims. The influence of the NRA is a brick wall in Congress that few candidates and zero legislation can get past. So, for my little thought experiment, the people that the dead and bereaved have to outnumber are the members of the NRA. They don’t give an exact figure anywhere to anyone, but their website says “nearly five million members.”

The Gun Violence Archive tracks injuries and deaths by shooting, going back to 2014. They record the total number of shootings, then break it down into deaths, injuries, death by age groups, officer involved shootings, defensive shootings, mass shootings, and other categories. By virtually all measures, the numbers keep ticking up, except for the current year.

gun stats Agun stats B

 

I don’t have the statistics skills to do any kind of extrapolating, so I’m just looking at averages. I started with the total number of deaths, then subtracted suspects shot by officers, home invasions, and defensive shootings. There is a lot of nuance within each category, not to mention the overall total, but to me this seems like the best snapshot of preventable, unjustified shootings. The average per year: 7,934.

gun stats C

At that rate, it would take 630 years to reach 5 million dead, the same number as members of the NRA. But the number of dead isn’t strictly what I’m after. My original question was about voters; how long until those directly affected by gun violence outweigh those who advocate for unrestricted gun rights?

To answer that, I can only estimate. Those directly affected would include all the loved ones of the dead, all the injured, and all the loved ones of the injured. I think a safe and conservative estimate would be that for every death, 20 other people feel traumatic loss. That’s 158,680 people, which adds up to 5 million in 31 years.

Honestly though, I think it’s more realistic to assume that for every person killed, 100 others would either know that victim personally, or feel a loss through some other connection (an injured party, proximity to the location, a shared interest or workspace, etc). In that case, the traumatize would outnumber the NRA in just over 6 years.

Then we have to ask, what year to we start counting from? When did our epidemic of violence start, and when did it spiral out of control? There’s no way to definitively answer those questions. If I had to choose, I would choose the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. That singularly horrifying event should have been the moment when gun regulation finally got some traction. Instead, it became a painful, sickening object lesson on the values expressed in our national policies.

If my estimates are correct, then now is the time we should start to see some progress. And there is some evidence that progress is starting. In the 2018 midterm elections, over 1,000 candidates in state and federal elections ran and won on platforms of gun control.

Our years of inaction convinced the Parkland students to mobilize, because no one else would defend their lives. Many others are equally fed up and fired up. We’re not there yet, but I’m seeing signs that our reckoning with unfettered deadly weapons is on the horizon.

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An Open Letter to Members of the NRA

27 08 2015

Dear hunters, target shooters, and gun enthusiasts, I have no quarrel with you. While I don’t enjoy guns myself, I do like swords and knives. I don’t own a sword, but I would like to. So I can’t fault you for owning and enjoying guns. But I urge you to cancel your NRA membership immediately.

Some of you are my personal friends. Every gun owner I know takes great pride in knowing how to shoot, care for, and store a gun responsibly and safely. So why would you belong to an organization that promotes exactly the opposite values?

The NRA has become the voice and the engine of a powerful lobby that causes lawmakers to lose their jobs if they do anything to reign in our current policies of reckless abandon toward guns. The NRA continues to push for looser gun regulations, even when our country averages more than one mass shooting per day.

The NRA is effectively fighting to put guns in the hands of criminals, the mentally ill, and children. Why are they like this? Base, short-sighted greed is the only reason I can imagine. The paranoid fringe of gun culture is passionate, and passion is just the low-hanging fruit where business is concerned. While the NRA is composed of human beings, as an organization it is simply a machine that follows the money without conscience. The NRA will never respond to arguments about human lives. But maybe, if the sane and honorable gun owners were to stop paying membership fees, maybe the machine would get the message.

Ultimately my speculations don’t matter. What matters are the innocent people dying every day in murders that are 100% preventable. The NRA, as a powerful lobby with strong influence in our national and state legislatures, is directly culpable. Please cancel your membership today.