I will mention one more: on August 1, 1966 Charles Whitman killed his wife and mother, went shopping for supplies (guns, ammunition, food, water, etc.) and then climbed to the observation deck at the University of Texas clock tower and over the next several hours shot and killed fourteen people while wounding thirty-two others.
Charles Whitman, 1963
Gun powder was invented in China during the thirteenth century. Humankind, being an industrious and creative lot, have continued to refine and enhance that original invention to the point where we have some pretty amazing devices that can propel deadly projectiles with pinpoint accuracy. It took roughly six hundred years from that first invention for Samuel Colt to mass-produce the first multi-shot, revolving firearm.
It has taken us a much shorter period of time to reach a point where it's almost as easy to purchase a handgun as it is a hamburger.
Glock.40 caliber - available at Academy Sports and Bass Pro Shops everywhere
Guns are as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution states: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Through the Civil War, the great Western migration, a couple of world wars and several industrial and technical revolutions, guns have been off limits to any but the most superficial of regulations. I remember reading that one of the reasons there were less deaths in the Old West than popularly assumed was because when everyone has guns, we're all a lot less likely to start a ruckus. Of course, that was before MTV made it trendy to pop a cap in someones, er, derriere.
I wasn't around for the late fifties and early sixties classic shows like Peter Gunn and Have Gun Will Travel. But I clearly remember Wild, Wild West, the iconic Clint Eastwood films of the seventies and many others in which guns were glamorized. How many of us - me included - went around quoting this scene from rebel hero Harry Callahan:
Looking back, I wonder what's so glamorous about a 44 Magnum (no longer the most powerful handgun in the world) being able to blow your head clean off?
Nowadays, instead of watching our heroes on the tube, we actually get to play them - to be them - on-screen. Unlike guns, video games have taken a much shorter arc into popular culture. We have gone from Pong in 1972 to Grand Theft Auto in 1997, followed by titles like Halo (2001) and the even more realistic Call of Duty (2003). Forget Superman; why be a spandex tights-wearing man of steel when I can mount up as Master Chief (John 117) and use a variety of spicy ordinance to waste Covenant scum?
Forget the six hundred years between gun powder and the first revolver; forget the nearly one hundred years between the first revolver and the first automatic pistol; it only took us twenty-nine years to go from hitting a tiny electronic ball back and forth across the screen with paddles to an immersive , unlimited body count experience like Halo. If only there was a way to plug people into their Spartan suits when uncontrollable violent urges come upon us.
According to the FBI, in 2011, an estimated 14,612 persons were murdered in the United States. This was a 0.7 percent decrease from the 2010 estimate, a 14.7 percent decline from the 2007 figure, and a 10.0 percent decrease from the 2002 estimate. On the contrary, the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 38,364 suicide deaths were reported in the U.S. in 2010. This latest rise places suicide again as the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. Nationally, the suicide rate increased 3.9 percent over 2009 to equal approximately 12.4 suicides per 100,000 people. The rate of suicide has been increasing since 2000.
Although these statistics don't tell the whole story regarding homicides and suicides involving guns, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention notes that firearms are used in more suicides than homicides, death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide, and firearms account for fifty percent of all suicides.
2011 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that guns accounted for 31,940 deaths:
- Accidental discharge: 851
- Suicide: 19,766
- Homicide: 11,101
- Undetermined Intent: 222
So in 2011, over 31,000 people died as a result of gunshots. At the risk of being cast as insensitive, if there is one common thread in all of this, it is that a person has pulled the trigger in each of these cases. In an NPR report this week, Dr. Paul Appelbaum (professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University) opined that, "The approach that calls on us to identify dangerous people is inevitably going to fail. That's an impossible task, at least given our current state of knowledge. And so a much more reasonable set of approaches would focus on decreasing the availability of means of mass violence rather than trying to identify every person who's likely to get behind an automatic weapon and start pulling the trigger."
I agree that it will be harder to solve the problem at a human level vs. regulating the tool that is used in the crime, but in the end, if we don't solve the human problem another tool will be found. The New York gun law signed by Governor Cuomo yesterday limits, among other things, the capacity of the magazine to seven bullets. I would counter with: if we do nothing about the human element, we can register all gun owners until we're blue in the face and we can decrease magazine size to one but people will still find ways to kill themselves and others using guns.
I felt sick reading the account of Charles Whitman. He didn't really have any high capacity weapons - he just had a lot of weapons and a lot of bullets. One could argue that we need to restrict the number and type of weapons any one American can own as well as the number of bullets each American is allowed to have. If you did, you would be in direct contravention of the Second Amendment.
...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
I see both sides of the argument. Obviously there is a fear that if guns become highly regulated then there is a loss of freedom. Conversely, to do nothing - to let gun ownership, technology and capacity continue to escalate with no regulation could also be considered foolhardy - and tragic.
Here's a radical thought for the evolutionists in the discussion to ponder: could this be an example of natural selection at a higher magnitude? Is there something horrifically self-regulating about the increased number of deaths caused by guns?
I don't have the answers but Americans need to be talking about this. Not screaming at each other and pointing fingers - but having a reasonable discussion to find solutions that maintain our freedoms and protect our citizens at the same time. If we restrict the size of magazines, I believe we will just shift the technology creep over to the bullet itself. It's likely that someone will simply develop a more powerful, more deadly round. I know President Obama's proposal wants to restrict sale and possession of armor-piercing rounds. The New York bill bans magazines holding more than seven rounds. But if those seven rounds are powerful enough to kill someone no matter where the bullet strikes, or if they are made to explode on impact or if they are laced with chemical or biological agents - have we really solved the problem?
What do you think?