The Washington Naval Yard mass murder has produced a macabre good news/bad news story:
The good news is that a week before the shooting a Virginia gun dealer didn’t sell an AR-15 assault rifle to the shooter, Aaron Alexis, because Alexis wasn’t a resident of the state, a requirement under Virginia state law.
The bad news is that the dealer did sell Alexis the pump-action shot gun he used to kill 12 innocent people.
What if Virginia had tougher laws and only permitted sales of all kinds of guns to residents? Or what if gun purchase standards were higher everywhere and we had a robust database of gun offenders and persons with documented behavior that should preclude gun ownership, behavior like hearing “voices speaking to him through the wall,” as Alexis heard?
It should be tragically clear to everyone that stiffened gun control laws would have prevented Alexis from just walking into a store and buying a lethal weapon. Those who argue that a criminal will find a way to get a gun forget that Alexis, Lanza and most of our mass murderers are not criminals. Something else they all have in common: all manifested behavioral problems that should have precluded legal gun ownership or use.
We now seem to have these national days of mourning and hand-wringing about every six months. The public discourse following these tragedies almost always follows a classic formula: Gun control advocates point out the obvious lesson that we need to tighten gun control, while gun industry toadies and factotums create tortuous arguments to show that the mass murder really proves we need more guns in the street and less gun control. Major political figures say they will renew efforts to pass gun control laws, but “momentum” peters out in days or weeks. There’s a spike in both gun sales (out of fear of gun control) and articles in the mass media analyzing the impossibility of getting any gun control legislation passed. Nothing happens.
That’s sad, but what’s even sadder is that these occasional mass murders collectively represent a drop in the bucket of all the U.S. deaths and injuries annually from guns—from accidents, disputes among family and friends, suicides and murder. If we use a base figure of 32,000 deaths by guns a year, that works out to almost 88 a day. We typically have national days of mourning when a crazed killer takes the lives of 12 or 24 people. Perhaps we should declare every day a day of mourning.
The gun lobby has tried to sell us the bill of goods that more people packing will make the streets safer, because the bad guys will be frightened of retaliation. A study released today shows that argument is completely bogus: The study, published Wednesday in the American Journal of Medicine (AJM), compares the rate of firearms-related deaths in countries where many people own guns with the gun death rate in countries where gun ownership is rare. The US, with the most guns per head in the world, has the highest rate of deaths from firearms, while Japan, which has the lowest rate of gun ownership, has the least. The study concludes that guns make a nation less safe. AJM published the study early because of the shootings at the Washington Naval Yard.