Weapons of Mass Destruction

As I’ve aged I’ve discovered it advantageous, perhaps even “grown up,” to keep my passions on a short leash. That’s not so easy when it comes to the subject of handguns in America. Realizing my opinion of anything doesn’t really count for much, I yet feel the need to “prophesy to the wind,” to bring my personal passion to the page. I’m thoroughly convinced our culture has outgrown the need for handguns. Much more than that, I believe handguns should be outlawed at the point of manufacture making them available only to Military and Law Enforcement. At the very least, handguns, indeed firearms in general, should be subject to health and safety standards like those that apply to virtually all other consumer products. Guns and tobacco are the only two consumer products for which there is no federal health and safety oversight.

I recently posed the question, “How many people have to die before something is considered a Weapon of Mass Destruction? 100, 1,0000, 10,000, a million? Handguns qualify.” The responses to the contrary, from articulate and similarly impassioned people, moved me to spell out my thoughts on the subject.

The Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., has managed to distil my thinking on the issue by saying, “America’s gun problem is a handgun problem. Handguns exact an inordinate toll on American lives. The vast majority of gun death and injury in homicides, suicides and unintentional shootings is carried out with easily concealable pistols and revolvers.” For me, handguns are a Public Health and Safety issue.

Own a rifle, a shotgun, a crossbow, whatever. Take lessons, become an expert marksman, go for the Olympics, provide for your own family, protect your domicile from fanciful invasions and may the N.R.A. prosper. Enjoy. I’m talking about handguns, contending there is no longer a reason for them in our culture. Consider the following, references for which may be found on the website of the Violence Policy Center.

  • Of all firearm-related crime, 86 percent involved handguns.
  • On the average, if someone gets shot and killed, four out of five times it will be with a handgun. In 1997, for example, handguns were used in 79.4 percent of all firearm homicides.
  • In homes with guns, a member of the household is almost three times as likely to be the victim of a homicide compared to gun-free homes.
  • From 1990 to 1997, handguns were used in murder more than all other weapons combined. (55.6 percent)

Common arguments against any suggestion to eliminate handguns from our culture generally pit the individual’s right against the public good. Handgun owners represent but a small portion of the American people and, in a Democracy, one wonders why the smallest minority controls the agenda? Only one in six Americans own handguns and only 25 percent of adults own a firearm. Of these, 75% own more than one gun, leaving 10 percent of the adult population holding 77 percent of the total stock of firearms.

Polls over the past 20 years have consistently shown that one-third of Americans support a ban on handgun possession except for Law Enforcement Officers. Several polls taken in 1999 show this level of support reaching as high as 44 – 50 percent.

Common arguments against ANY kind of gun legislation will, invariably, include a few of the following, presented to me by good folks of a different opinion.

Guns don’t kill, people do. I’ve used the word, “stupid,” in response to this argument but perhaps I shouldn’t have been so demeaning. In a murder, a crime, the gun becomes an extension of the individual. While it’s certainly true handguns don’t think or purpose to do harm, it’s silly to say the weapon doesn’t kill. If I may be allowed an example from my own life, my oldest child was shot to death by a careless hunter. A good man, a godly man, he was our neighbor and thoroughly devastated by the accident. People don’t scatter the brains of innocents all over a dusty hayfield or a city wall, guns do. If the weapon were not available, the death would not have occurred.

There will never be a way to take every gun from every criminal in this country. Heroin addiction is another Public Health issue made illegal because of its devastating impact on people and cultures. Though we cannot eliminate it, we still have laws against it. Most guns in the possession of street criminals were stolen at some point in the chain. Stolen from good people who’d never think to use the weapon for harm. Outlawing handguns at the point of manufacture, a Government Buy-back [it’s being done in cities, why not nationwide?] adding a mandatory ten years for possession, and the destruction of all handguns confiscated would eventually dry up the supply. Will we ever completely eliminate handgun atrocities? Of course not. Does that mean improvement isn’t possible or that we shouldn’t flex our collective will and try?

If someone with a mental illness wants to kill people they will find a way to do it. I’m not concerned about the mentally ill coming after me with a gun. It’s the sane, sneaky, character-damaged folks who concern me. While the argument is as basic as one might get, this is also correct; killing someone with your bare hands or cutting them up into little pieces is something for which the average offender wouldn’t have the “steel.” Why do we continue to make it easy for people?

Talk about weapons of mass destruction; I think automobiles would qualify also. While accidental deaths claim far too many lives and others use their autos to commit suicide – driving off a bridge, into a wall, etc., it’s quite difficult to conceal a car beneath your jacket, sneak up on me and then whip it out to do me harm.

If guns were banned it would have no effect on suicides. The largest category of firearms fatality is Suicide, not Homicide. About six out of 10 suicides are committed with firearms, with handguns being used twice as often [69%] as rifles and shotguns. Four out of 10 suicides were committed with handguns and people living in a household with a gun are almost five times more likely to die by suicide than people living in a gun-free home. The attraction of a handgun in suicides is found in the notion of instant death, no pain or suffering. Most people wouldn’t stab or hang themselves to death. The absence of the easy means would certainly impact the tragic numbers.

I have a Constitutional right to carry a handgun. Specifically, a handgun? That’s debatable. The Second Amendment speaks of, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…,” frustrating handgun hobbyists who prefer to emphasize the “right to keep and bear arms,” while de-emphasizing the context of an official militia.

I own a gun to protect my home. For every time a gun is used in a self-defense homicide, a gun will be used in 1.3 unintentional deaths, 4.6 criminal homicides and 37 suicides. Among handgun homicides, only 193 [2.3 %] were classified as justifiable homicides by civilians.

In 1997, for every one time a civilian used a handgun to kill in self-defense, 43 people lost their lives in handgun homicides alone. Beyond that, for every firearm death, there are nearly three gun injuries requiring emergency medical services. By conservative estimates, gunshot injuries cost about $4 billion a year in medical expenses. At the risk of being redundant, this has become a Public Health and Safety issue.

If every person in this country had their CCW when they turned 18 yrs old the crime rate would drop drastically because the criminals would know we could defend ourselves. With all due respect, the possession of Nuclear Weapons by the “Super-Powers” has not stopped war. Arming everyone is not the solution. There are about 65 million handguns in the United States making up 34 percent of all firearms. Isn’t that enough?

Charleston Heston glorified the owning and use of a firearm when he spoke of gun owners saying, “They know that sacred stuff resides in that wooden stock and blued steel, something that gives the most common man the most uncommon of freedoms. When ordinary hands can possess such an extraordinary instrument, that symbolizes the full measure of human dignity and liberty.” With respect to Mr. Heston, anyone who truly believes that “the full measure of human dignity and liberty” is determined by the possession of a Weapon of Mass Destruction has somehow missed the mark. Then again, I’ve been wrong before.

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