We’re republishing this post from 2012, because it continues to have relevance to our ongoing debate about gun violence in America. After the recent mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, the media diverted attention from the problem of gun proliferation to ” how do we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill?” Instead, we should be asking: Why do we allow gun manufacturers and importers to flood the country with tens of millions of guns every year? Why do we allow the NRA to posture as a gun enthusiast’s organization when its main purpose is to, a) sell weapons for the gun industry, and b) undermine any laws that might stem the flow of guns into our communities?
The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the lobbying arm of the firearms industry. It uses fear, racism, and focus-group tested catchwords like “freedom,” and “self-defence” to pimp sales for the over 300 firearms manufacturers in the United States. While the NRA represents itself as an association of gun enthusiasts, its real purpose is to serve the interests of gun manufacturers. To that end, it bullies elected officials into passing laws that will make it easier for the gun industry sell more rifles and handguns. It promotes gun sales among the public by stoking fear and racism. It conflates patriotism with gun ownership, suggesting individuals have a patriotic duty to own a firearm.
Playing off fear and racism, the NRA says “good,” people should carry a gun to protect themselves from “bad” people whom they perceive as threatening them or their loved ones. In its latest strategy to boost gun sales, the NRA has, with the help of ALEC, passed “Stand Your Ground” or “Kill at Will” laws in dozens of states across the country. By encouraging a vigilante mindset, these new laws have resulted in a large increase in “justifiable homicides.” Unfortunately, the recent shooting in Florida of “bad” hoodie-wearing, unarmed African-American teenager Trayvon Martin by “good” gun-toting, neighborhood watch citizen George Zimmerman may add to that statistic.
It’s no surprise that gun sales and concealed weapons applications have boomed since Barack Obama was elected. That’s because NRA president Wayne LaPierre has been spreading the rumor that President Obama “has a secret plan to take away your guns.” The NRA has cynically used the election (and racist feelings against President Obama) to gin up gun sales—because the NRA is not about what is good for the country, it’s about promoting gun industry profits.
Politicians pander for NRA campaign contributions
At the 2012 NRA convention in St Louis, MO, Newt Gingrich—while simultaneously reaching for new heights of absurdity and new lows in pandering—called for “universal gun ownership.” In delivering the ultimate gun industry wet dream, he promised if elected president to submit a UN resolution calling for the arming of everyone on the planet. Yes, really. As quoted from Digby:
The right to bear arms comes from our creator, not our government,” Gingrich said. The NRA “has been too timid” in promoting its agenda beyond American borders. The Bill of Rights was not written only for Americans, he said. “It is a universal document.”
“A Gingrich presidency will submit to the UN a treaty that extends the right to bear arms as a human right to every person on the planet.” Every world citizen, he said, “deserves the right to defend themselves from those who exploit, imprison, or kill them.” For his latest big idea, Gingrich earned a standing ovation from the crowd of roughly 5,000.
The jaw-dropping irresponsibility of Gingrich’s craven statement, aimed squarely at the primitive reptilian brain—the one in all of us that responds to fear with fight or flight—boggles the mind. But then again, the GOP specializes in pandering to the lower aspects of our human nature in order to win elections for their corporate overlords.
The social and economic toll of gun proliferation in the United States
The Medical school of the University of Utah has collected some powerful statistics that throw a stark light on the devastating effects of gun proliferation. In the end, gun ownership has huge economic and social consequences for the United States. Here are a few highlights:
In the U.S. for 2010, there were 31,513 deaths from firearms, distributed as follows by mode of death: Suicide 19,308; Homicide 11,015; Accident 600. Firearm injuries are among the top ten causes of death in the U.S., right up there with cancer, stroke and heart disease.
There are over 200,000 non-fatal gun injuries per year in the U.S. Many of these injuries require hospitalization and very expensive trauma care. An older study from 1994 revealed the cost per gun injury requiring admission to a trauma center was over $14,000. The cumulative lifetime cost in 1985 for gunshot wounds was estimated to be $911 million, with $13.4 billion in lost work productivity.
A 2003 study of firearm deaths in high-income countries used data from the World Health Organization (WHO). To put these statistics in perspective, the total population in the United States for 2003 was 290.8 million while the combined population for the other 22 countries was 563.5 million. There were 29,771 firearm deaths in the US and 7,653 firearm deaths in the 22 other countries combined. In other words, of all the firearm deaths in these 23 high-income countries in 2003, 80% occurred in the US.
Accidental shooting deaths are most commonly associated with one or more children playing with a gun they found in the home. The person pulling the trigger is a friend, family member, or the victim. In the period from 1979 to 2000, accidental firearms deaths involving children declined in the U.S., aided by child access prevention laws and felony prosecution of offenders. A study of non-natural deaths in a large American city revealed that half of such deaths in persons from 10 to 19 years of age were due to homicide, and firearms were involved in 88% of them.
In a 2004 study, regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and suicide in the home. Persons who own a gun and who engage in abuse of intimate partners such as a spouse are more likely to use a gun to threaten their intimate partner.
In a 2009 study, individuals in possession of a gun at the time of an assault are 4.46 times more likely to be shot in the assault than persons not in possession. So much for the “self-protection” argument for gun ownership.
Forget public safety, there’s money to be made in selling lethal weapons
According to Hoovers, a Dun and Brandstreet company: “The US gun and ammunition manufacturing industry includes about 300 companies with combined annual revenue of about $6 billion. Major gun and ammunition manufacturers include Browning Arms; Freedom Group (which includes Remington Arms, Marlin Firearms, and Bushmaster Firearms); Olin; Alliant Techsystems; Sturm, Ruger & Company; and Smith & Wesson. The industry is highly concentrated.
To underscore the lucrative nature of this business, large private equity firms like Cerberus and The Freedom group have been buying up gun manufacturing companies, like Remington and Bushmaster, because they have decided there is an opportunity to grow the industry beyond what it is and make even more money.
Changing the conversation about guns in America
Do we want a country where everyone is paranoid and armed to the teeth? Or do we want a country like Denmark, that has the lowest rate of deaths involving firearms of the 23 largest industrial countries? The reason Denmark has the lowest rate is because guns are illegal in Denmark and the laws against them are stringent, putting anyone who carries a gun and is not legally allowed to do so in jail. Only police officers and soldiers are allowed to carry guns. Other weapons, such as knives or lead pipes are now considered deadly weapons in Denmark, and in recent years stricter laws have been passed for assault with those deadly weapons.
The current conversation about gun ownership in the United States is based on a misguided interpretation of the Second Amendment. Widespread ownership of guns is considered a given in American culture and discussion about guns is myopic, limited to “responsible” gun ownership vs. irresponsible gun ownership, legal gun ownership vs. illegal gun ownership, or open carry vs. concealed carry. Elected officials are afraid of the NRA and rarely take it to task . To avoid hundreds of thousands of gun injuries and deaths per year, and to create a more peaceful and safe society, we need to call out the NRA as the official pimp of the gun industry—and begin the discussion about disarming America.