Bloomberg View

Tears aside, the most el­e­men­tal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for new reg­u­la­tions is that firearms are un­safe

Bloomberg Businessweek (North America) - - Contents -

Obama’s best bet for gun con­trol • Ja­pan and South Korea make up, sort of

Guns are dan­ger­ous. This sim­ple fact de­serves more promi­nence in the dis­cus­sion of gun rights and gun reg­u­la­tion in the U.S.—A de­bate that was re­joined and re­newed on Jan. 5 when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama an­nounced new ef­forts to re­duce gun violence, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing the scope of peo­ple who would be sub­ject to back­ground checks.

The pres­i­dent teared up when he men­tioned the first graders who died in Sandy Hook in 2012 and said the gun lobby “can’t hold Amer­ica hostage.” But the gun move­ment isn’t alone in ig­nor­ing the dan­ger of firearms. It’s a wider cul­tural fail­ing. In Oc­to­ber, a 2-year-old in South Carolina found a re­volver in the seat pocket of a car and shot his grand­mother while they were rid­ing. Last year, a 9-year-old girl lost con­trol of the Uzi she was fir­ing at an Ari­zona range and shot her in­struc­tor dead.

About a third of U.S. house­holds with chil­dren un­der 12 con­tain a gun. Ev­ery year from 2005 to 2012, ac­cord­ing to one es­ti­mate, 110 chil­dren un­der the age of 15 were ac­ci­den­tally killed by a gun—most by other chil­dren or them­selves.

Still, the heav­i­est toll of gun violence falls on adults: More than 30,000 Amer­i­cans die each year, and tens of thou­sands more are in­jured. The U.S. isn’t an out­lier in crime in gen­eral. Amer­i­cans are less likely to be as­saulted, for ex­am­ple, than cit­i­zens of other de­vel­oped na­tions. The U. S. is merely an out­lier in its lev­els of gun violence—a gar­gan­tuan one.

This is a pub­lic safety prob­lem. But it’s also a cul­tural prob­lem, and it should be ad­dressed as such. Drunk driv­ing was once per­ceived as a dan­ger­ous yet in­evitable nui­sance, al­beit one with oc­ca­sion­ally deadly con­se­quences. It’s now widely re­garded as an­ti­so­cial and some­times crim­i­nal. Amer­i­cans still drink plenty of al­co­hol. But they drink and drive far less than they used to.

Clear-eyed recog­ni­tion of the in­her­ent dan­ger of firearms is nec­es­sary to draw at­ten­tion to the ways in which they’re sold, stored, and ac­quired, and by whom. It would prompt so­cial con­dem­na­tion of par­ents who pro­vide weapons for their un­sta­ble chil­dren, or fail to safely and prop­erly store guns in their homes. It would re­in­force the call for univer­sal back­ground checks on gun pur­chases and for tech­nolo­gies that can re­duce the risk of ac­ci­den­tal in­jury or death, such as trig­ger recog­ni­tion. It would dis­cour­age the all too com­mon habit of treat­ing guns like play­things.

The econ­o­mist Her­bert Stein once fa­mously said: “If some­thing can­not go on for­ever, it will stop.” With­out changes to Amer­ica’s gun cul­ture and laws, there will be hun­dreds of thou­sands of point­less deaths and in­juries in the years ahead. No civ­i­lized so­ci­ety can tol­er­ate so much violence for­ever. It will be re­duced only when so­ci­ety fi­nally rec­og­nizes the dan­ger— then moves to ad­dress it.

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