I like firearms — let’s get that straight. When my eyes were sharper and my back was straighter, I was a crack shot. Among other things in my safe, I have the Colt .45 my grandfather carried in France in World War I. I’ve got a cap-and-ball pistol from the Civil War with the date of Lincoln’s first national Thanksgiving Day engraved in gold on its battered walnut grip.
I had an AK-47 pointed in my face in eastern Kenya some years ago, along with similar weapons in different locales in other awkward encounters. Then there was that time I was shot at in Seattle. I walked in on a bank robbery in Wallingford and the guy raised a long barrel revolver and fired at me. Me! Ted freakin’ Olinger! “Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you know what I’ve been through?” I thought, later.
So, I know some things about guns.
Here’s one thing. We all face problems every day and we all find resolutions of one kind or another, but when we have a gun in easy reach, some of us will look at those problems in a different way.
I was invited to shadow some security professionals in a small arms tactics course a while back. The final exam was to get in and out of a tight spot — without the weapons they’d been training to use. That test was the most valuable part of the course. It really messed with our minds. We learned it’s not about the gun, the knife, the hammer or whatever ordinary everyday object that can be used as a weapon. It’s about the need or desire to use it.
Addressing that reality required problem-solving or — as they called it back then — strategy.
In the spirit of developing a strategy to counter what I think we can agree is a national crisis of gun violence that endangers us all, here are some facts to consider:
There were approximately 120.5 privately-owned firearms per 100 people in the U.S. in 2018. It’s certainly increased during the summer of Black Lives Matter marchs and the the pandemic. In Canada, that number is about 35 per 100 (Small Arms Survey, Geneva, 2018).
In 2020, the most recent year of complete data, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S. (Centers for Disease Control). That’s a mortality rate of about 13.7 per 100,000. In Canada, that rate is 2.1 per 100,000 (UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation).
Of those 45,222 deaths, 54 percent were suicides, overwhelmingly boys and men between the ages of 10 and 34 (National Institute of Mental Health). Gunshots are the leading cause of death in children in the U.S., having increased by 29.5 percent just between 2019 and 2020 (New England Journal of Medicine).
We have the highest rate of gun ownership and the weakest restrictions among wealthy countries. Waiting periods to get firearms, universal background checks, restrictions on carrying in public and mandated gun locks may not prevent an individual incident, but all have been repeatedly proven to lower gun-related death and crime rates (CDC).
Chicago’s crime rate is often cited as proof that restrictions on gun ownership don’t work. Chicago has an enormous gun violence problem — and some of the strictest gun laws in the country. But more than 60 percent of guns used in Chicago gang-related crimes and 31.6 percent used in non-gang-related crimes between 2009 and 2013 were purchased in Wisconsin, 30 miles away, or Indiana, 50 miles away, neither of which require licenses, permits or waiting periods (University of Chicago Crime Lab, 2017).
Advocating for the Second Amendment, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, among other founders, opined that “well-regulated militia” actually meant “well-regulated militia,” not unfettered access to deadly weapons. They envisioned proper civilian corps regulated by the states for self- and common defense (Federalist 46).
After a massacre of college students in California in 2014, Samuel Wurzelbacher, better known as Joe the Plumber, wrote in an open letter to the mourning families, “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights” (Washington Post). But the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a personage about as liberal as an axe handle, wrote in a majority opinion that while owning a handgun for self-defense was a “core” meaning of the Second Amendment, “it is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose” (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008).
Video games and violent movies do not cause gun violence according to Justice Scalia, who wrote in another majority opinion: “These studies have been rejected by every court to consider them, and with good reason: They do not prove that violent video games cause minors to act aggressively…. They show at best some correlation between exposure to violent entertainment and minuscule real-world effects” (Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 2011). A 2018 FBI study concluded just 25 percent of perpetrators responsible for mass shootings (four or more victims) had a mental illness (U.S. Dept. of Justice). Almost all of those shooters obtained their weapons legally (U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security).
In summation, I want to keep my guns. But the data say restricting gun ownership means fewer innocent people maimed or murdered. Some of my best friends are innocent people. I think they should live their lives as untroubled as the Fates allow. If that means people like me have to wait around or get a permit to provide a shield to protect them, I will accept that. If I have to pass a test to prove I know how and when to use a firearm, I will accept that. And if I fail to qualify and have to bend my swords into plowshares, I will accept that too.