Few things have impacted life in the US more than the increased availability and lethality of guns. Since the 1960s, Americans’ gun ownership has evolved from a variety of bolt-action, pump-action and lever-action hunting weapons to semi-automatic assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns.
Where once only police and those who could prove a need could legally carry a handgun, we now must assume that everyone on the street or in public places is armed. Moreover, given that there are, on average, roughly 15,000 non-suicidal gun deaths and 350 mass shootings each year, many Americans now live in near constant fear that they could soon be included in those statistics. Indeed, if you include gun suicides, deaths by gunfire are as common as traffic deaths.
Given the pervasiveness of guns, Americans must now worry that they could become victims at the hands of a former spouse or lover, an unhappy coworker, a disenchanted student, an angry driver, a drive-by shooter, a white nationalist or a random mass shooter.
Such circumstances are now more worrisome and more deadly than encounters with criminals.
Given this, one must ask why. Why are so many Americans so heavily armed? Why do many Americans feel the need to stockpile military-style weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition? And given the fact that gun owners are more likely to injure themselves or to die from their own guns than from the guns of others, why do so many feel the need to carry them?
I believe those questions can be answered with three letters: NRA.
Since the 1970s, and especially the 1980s, the NRA has pressed state legislatures to eliminate gun laws at the behest of gun manufacturers. Most states now have conceal and carry laws. Many even have open carry laws. And the NRA is pushing to standardize laws across the nation. It has encouraged, even threatened, congressmen and senators to vote against universal background checks, government studies of gun violence, assault weapons bans and bans of bumpstocks. The NRA has accomplished this by misrepresenting the 2nd Amendment and by creating distrust in our own elected government. “Guns are the antidote to tyranny.” “You will have to pry my gun out of my cold, dead hands.” And, as we’ve recently discovered, it has been helped by millions in donations by Russian oligarchs.
Even after we’ve witnessed the slaughter of school children, the NRA has refused to admit that guns are the problem. Instead, it proposes that guns are the answer: “The only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
It must be acknowledged how unusual this is compared to most of the world. The US has nearly 4 times as many guns per 100 citizens as any other nation in the world. And it has 6 times more gun violence than Canada, 12 times more gun violence than Germany and Australia, and 53 times more gun violence than the UK.
Those statistics are not coincidental. More guns means more gun violence. Until Congress recognizes that fact, we will continue to see gun violence in our neighborhoods and in our business districts. We will continue to see mass murders in nightclubs, in churches, in synagogues, in mosques, and at concerts. And we will continue to mass murders of our children.