Friday, January 6, 2012

Joy of Killing

A friend of mine who likes guns and thinks everyone should own them delights in posting news stories on his Facebook page about people who shoot and kill people and claim self defense. He recently pointed out a story about an eighteen-year-old woman who shot a man whom she said was breaking into her house.

My friend has also recently posted stories in which gun stores claim to have sold a lot of guns as Christmas presents and a story that said people are arming themselves in anticipation of the upcoming elections.

Other friends of mine point out stories like these, too. One such story said that so many people are applying for permits to carry concealed weapons in Wisconsin that the state can't process the applications as quickly as they come in. But there is a difference in the way people bring these stories to my attention.

The pro-gun people add gleeful comments to the stories. They view the shootings as evidence that people need guns to defend themselves. The anti-violence people, on the other hand, add sad comments to the stories. They view the proliferation of guns and their lethal use as an indication that people are reacting to the challenges of our time in inhumane ways.

In short, the pro-gun people think that guns solve problems. The anti-gun people think that guns create problems. Who is right?

Statistically, the picture is pretty clear. Of the nearly 100,000 people who are shot in the U.S. each year, very few are shot while they are committing a serious crime or any crime at all. Defensive shootings are so rare – from a few hundred to a couple of thousand a year – that the gun industry makes sure that every one of them receives the maximum amount of publicity. These are the shootings that my friend helps the gun sellers publicize. Neither he nor the gun sellers looks very closely at whether the victims could have defended themselves any other way, such as by calling the police. Nor do they care much whether the shooter was defending a person or just preventing the loss of a few dollars worth of property.

What the gun enthusiasts don't talk about is that every day, two to three people are accidentally killed by gunshots and another 30 are sent to the hospital with non-fatal injuries because they were shot accidentally.

The gun lovers also don't mention that every day in the U.S., nearly fifty people commit suicide by shooting themselves to death. That's about forty percent of all the shooting deaths, or about 18,000 gun suicides a year.

So, it looks like both sides are right. Guns are used defensively by a few people, they are used by a massive number of people to kill themselves, and they are the instrumentality of a huge number of accidental shootings and deaths. If you can't do grade-school mathematics, you may agree with my friend and the gun industry that more people should have guns in their homes. If, however, you look at the facts honestly, you will come to a different conclusion.

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