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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,987
September 12, 2019
Time for Gun Legislation
By Mike McManus

There have been three major mass shootings in the past five weeks: 8 killed in Odessa, TX on August 31, 10 murdered in Dayton, OH on August 4, and 22 killed in El Paso a day earlier.

If a mass shooting is defined as multiple victims by firearms, there were 297 mass shootings in 2019, with 1,219 people shot and 335 who died. Most get no publicity beyond their community, such as a 14-year-old boy who killed five members of his family on September 2 in Elkmont, AL - two parents and three siblings.

America has more than 300 million guns - roughly one per citizen. By contrast, Japan has less than one gun per 100 people and fewer than 10 gun deaths per year.

Guns are not the most common way people attempt suicide - but they are the most fatal. Guns are used in only 6% of suicide attempts, but kill 54% of those trying to kill themselves, while all other methods account for only 46% of deaths.

In fact, there were 39,773 Americans killed by guns in 2017. According to the Center for Disease Control, this was the highest number of deaths in 50 years. The high number was driven by suicides. Sixty percent of gun deaths were self-inflicted. Only 4% of the world's population lives in America, but a third of the world's gun suicides are here in the U.S.

To put it more specifically, a stunning 23,844 Americans killed themselves, mostly with guns in 2017.

Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns and we don't ban them! However, America works hard to regulate cars to reduce the death toll. Seat belts began to appear in cars in 1950, and Tennessee was first to require child safety seats. New York was the first to require seat belt use. Air bags became mandatory in 1999.

Regulating autos has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95%.

It is time to regulate guns in America. What specific steps might be taken?

In March, the House voted 240-190 to require universal background checks for any purchase of guns, with Democrats cheering as the bill passed (though a few Republicans voted for it). And by 228-198, the House also passed a bill to extend the time for a background check from 3 days to 10 days.

Why are these bills needed? About 46% of guns sold in America are sold by licensed dealers who must conduct a background check of buyers to be sure they are not selling to criminals. These checks did prevent the sale of weapons to 2.4 million dangerous people!

However, millions of guns are sold at 3,500 "gun shows" which do not require a background check. A universal background check law would close that loophole, preventing more than 2 million sales and and save many lives.

Sen. Mitch McConnell has blocked Senate consideration of universal background checks. However, President Trump said this week "We are looking at background checks," which is an encouraging sign that the Republican Senate might be nudged to vote for the bill.

A second law that is needed would ban the sale of assault weapons, The perpetrator of mass killings in El Paso, Dayton, Odessa and Parkland all used assault weapons that fire bullets like a machine gun.

There was a federal ban of the sale of assault weapons in the U.S. from 1994 to 2004. During that decade, the number of gun massacres fell by 37% and the number of people killed dropped by 43%.

But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the number of gun massacres shot up an astonishing 183% and 239% in deaths in one year! If the assault weapon ban were passed and made permanent, "You would see drastic reductions in what I call gun massacres," says Louis Klarevas of the University of Massachusetts and the author of a 2016 book, Rampage Nation.

Klarevas says the key provision of the assault weapons ban was a ban on high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. "We have found that when large capacity mags are regulated, you get drastic drops in both the incidence of gun massacres and the fatality rate of gun massacres."

I urge readers to contact their Senators to urge passage of both universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.

Let's save lives!

Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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