Bloomberg Businessweek (North America)
Tears aside, the most elemental justification for new regulations is that firearms are unsafe
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.