Fatal Addiction

In America, it is the Civilians Rather than the Soldiers at Risk of Dying From a Bullet

Opinion | Margaret Childs | May 2007

There have been many European analyses of the reasons for the recurring incidents of slaughter by handgun in the United States.

Some blame the readily availability of guns, that may be purchased at Walmart or even the local supermarket in some communities is the essential precondition for the everyday violence in America.

Others say it could happen anywhere.

But it doesn’t.

The question is, why not?

One must admit that Blacksburg, the latest shock in the relentless series of school shootings, is no longer an exception in the United States.

Again, politicians have been reviving the age-old video-game argument, insisting that virtual violence trains children to think of shooting people as the way to "win."

But that doesn’t work either. In Europe we have the same games and somehow the connection to actually firing a gun is seldom made.

How so?

The guns are simply not available. The chances that a European youth (or for that matter an adult) has even held a handgun is slim, much less fired one. The connection between game and reality is easier to make when the deadly weapon is as close to home as it was in Blacksburg.

According to Marian Wright Edelman the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, America loses "eight children a day to gun violence." That’s the Virginia Tech body count every four days.

"Americans are addicted to violence," concludes Bob Herbert in the International Herald Tribune, "especially gun violence." Although Americans are appalled by each mass slaughter, there is "no evidence that we have the will to pull the guns out of circulation," he wrote.

Perhaps the addiction to violence is a factor in America’s approach to its foreign "policy."

Our own soldiers, though, come out pretty well. Since the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, over a million American civilians have died from gun violence – more than the total combined American combat deaths in the country’s entire history.

But "guns don’t kill people, people kill people," as we hear again and again in the confused and often quoted statement by former NRA (National Rifle Association) President, Charlton Heston. This core argument  against changing American gun laws has been repeated so often it almost begins so sound as though it must make some kind of sense.

But a few statistics from the Harvard School of Public Health help clarify the issue:

American children in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership are 16 times more likely to die from a gunshot wound, seven times as likely to commit suicide with a gun, and three times as likely to be murdered by a firearm, than those in the states with the lowest rates – rates that are still higher than any in Europe.

If it’s really only "people who kill people," I’d still be willing to bet that every one of those "people" had a gun.

Other articles from this issue