The Death By Gun Problem

An article in the NY Times Sunday magazine, the focus of which was restorative justice being tried in unimaginable circumstances, served to highlight for me, how strange the conversation of the previous few weeks had become  — that another mass killing, with automatic weapons and large capacity magazines had catapulted weapons control back into the national conversation.

The relevant piece of the story?

Conor went back in the house, locked the door, went to his father’s closet, pulled his shotgun down from a shelf, unlocked it, went to another room where the ammunition was kept and loaded the gun. He sat down in the living room, put the gun under his chin and his finger on the trigger.

“I just felt so frustrated, helpless and angry,” Conor says. “I was just so sick and tired of fighting. I wanted us to work out just because, I mean, I loved the girl. I still do. I was so torn — this was the girl that just said she wants me to die. I’m sick of the fighting. I just want to die, and yet I love her, and if I kill myself she might do something to herself.”

All these thoughts were running through his head when Ann started banging on the door. Conor stood up, placed the weapon on a table and let her in. They went into his bedroom, and a few minutes later Conor went to get her something to drink. When he returned, he found her lying on the couch, breathing in a way that seemed to indicate distress. Her mysterious behavior made him so angry that he started screaming: “Let me help you! Tell me what’s wrong!” Conor says that he would frequently fall into this “wrathful anger,” and on this day “there was so much anger, and I kept snapping.” Ann started sobbing, saying that Conor didn’t care and that she wanted to die. “At this point, I just lost it,” Conor says. He left the room and got the gun. Ann started to follow him, but she may have stumbled or tripped, because when Conor returned with the gun, she was on her knees halfway between the couch and the door. Conor was frustrated, exhausted and angry and “not thinking straight at all.”

He pointed the gun at her, thinking, he says, that he could “scare her” so that “maybe she would snap out of it.”

“Is this what you want?” he yelled. “Do you want to die?”

“No, don’t!” Ann held out her hand. Conor fired. [Read all]

Not a mass killing.  Just one dead.  Just one more of the 85 dead by gun that occur every day in the united states.  And how could it have been prevented?

Legal gun. Check.

Legal gun kept in an out of the way place. Check

Legal gun locked. Check

Legal ammunition kept in a separate place.  Check

Probable NRA member? Check

Known emotional problems?  His ‘wrathful anger’  was probably not beyond the common in young men these days — though arguing for three days seems like a crisis begging an intervention.  [Since his anger didn’t raise alarm bells in those who knew him we’d have to project that mental health dragnets, suggested by the NRA,  necessary to keep murderous weapons out of the hands of those who might use them so would be unsupported by any of its members.]

What we do have, in the United States of America, is not a mass murder problem but a Death by Gun Problem.  It’s a problem that exists nowhere else in the world to such a degree.  When a rare mass murder does occur in other countries, the people are swift to clamor for, and the law-makers to enact,  laws to address — as best they see fit– the causes of those murders.  Not so in the U.S.

And it is a Death by Gun problem, not simply a Mass Murder problem, however heart stopping those are.  Mother Jones has taken the lead in looking at mass murders which, following the FBI definition, are those which involve more than four people, not including the killer.  It’s good work — but mass murders are a very small part of the Death By Gun Problem in the United States. Something like 1%!  [Between 2006-2012 there were 71, 945 homicides to 774 victims of mass killings. Between 2000-2010 there were 165,068 homicides reported.  Of these 111, 289 were by firearm (67.4%); 20,503 (12.4%) were by knife. (Different studies)]

It’s true that in America we have a Death by Car Problem also.  Perhaps some are suicide by car but very few are murder by car.  Almost all deaths by car are caused by a human attention problem, a self-created accident of too little sleep, too much alcohol, too big a distraction (too little concentration) all the while manipulating a multi-thousand pound vehicle at speeds faster than rhinos can run.

Even though some 12% of murders were by knives, we don’t have a Death by Knife Problem — particularly if considering stranger murders.  We don’t any longer have a Death by Lynching Problem. We don’t have a Death by Poisoning Problem.  In fact the one Death by Tylenol many decades ago lead instantly to safety seals and safety caps that have plagued us ever since. We don’t have a Death by Machete problem, though surely, it exists in other countries, most notably, Hutu against Tutsi in Rwanda in 1994.

What we have is a Death by Gun Problem and have had one for decades without a safety seal or cap in sight.

Perhaps we can start by using the mass murders to raise us to determination and action but if all we are trying to solve is how to stop those relatively few murders in a year we will fail by defining a problem to small to have a solution.

As a friend of mine asks:  How can these weapons escape being understood as Weapons of Mass Destruction?


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