Sunday, August 30, 2015

American madness #36

“The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States.” — Nicholas Kristof

AFTER the murder of two WDBJ journalists August 26 on live TV, I decided to walk back through Hey Look Something Shiny since it's inception to see how often I'd written about the firearm bloodbath in this country. In the two years between August 2012 (four months prior to the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary) and August 2014, I'd written about this national disgrace 35 times. 

What surprised me more than how often it had been my chosen topic, was the discovery that until today, I had not written about it at all in the last year.

Despite the ever-rising tally of dead and maimed, despite the mass murders in malls and theaters, despite the repeated incidence of children shooting other children (or themselves) to death — for example when 3-year-old Dalis Cox was accidentally shot to death by her 7-year-old brother July 29 in Washington DC — I wrote nothing. I'd given up. 

Dalis Cox

When I began writing about our American gun insanity back in 2012, with each passing tragedy I'd think, "Surely this will open people's eyes." Then it became, "What is it going to take?" And then I stopped talking about it altogether. Despair had gotten the better of me.

The same day that television reporter Alison Parker and cameraman/ videographer Adam Ward were murdered on-air, WalMart coincidentally (and believe me, WalMart is going out of its way to make sure  we understand that their actions have nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the type of guns they sell have been used to kill 12 and wound 70 in the Aurora, CO theater shooting and 26 children and adults in Sandy Hook) announced that it would stop selling semi-automatic rifles. 

Alison Parker and Adam Ward

WalMart spokesperson Kory Lundberg said that the company's removal of AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons from its shelves is purely an issue of supply and demand; sales of military-style guns have fallen, and getting rid of them will make more space for better sellers.

One of my New York Times writer-heroes is Nicholas Kristof. Below are his thought on the WDBJ killing.

Kristof: Lessons From the Virginia Shooting

By Nicholas Kristof
August 26, 2015

The slaying of two journalists Wednesday as they broadcast live to a television audience in Virginia is still seared on our screens and our minds, but it’s a moment not only to mourn but also to learn lessons.

The horror isn’t just one macabre double-murder, but the unrelenting toll of gun violence that claims one life every 16 minutes on average in the United States. Three quick data points:

■ More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides every six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

■ More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.

■ American children are 14 times as likely to die from guns as children in other developed countries, according to David Hemenway, a Harvard professor and author of an excellent book on firearm safety.

Bryce Williams, as the Virginia killer was known to viewers when he worked as a broadcaster, apparently obtained the gun used to murder his former co-workers Alison Parker and Adam Ward in response to the June massacre in a South Carolina church — an example of how gun violence begets gun violence. Williams may have been mentally disturbed, given that he videotaped Wednesday’s killings and then posted them on Facebook.

“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while … just waiting to go BOOM!!!!,” Williams reportedly wrote in a lengthy fax sent to ABC News after the killings.

Whether or not Williams was insane, our policies on guns are demented — not least in that we don’t even have universal background checks to keep weapons out of the hands of people waiting to go boom.

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seven pages of regulations concerning ladders, which are involved in 300 deaths in America annually. Yet the federal government doesn’t make what I would call a serious effort to regulate guns, which are involved in the deaths of more than 33,000 people in America annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (that includes suicides, murders and accidents).

Gun proponents often say things to me like: What about cars? They kill, too, but we don’t try to ban them!

Cars are actually the best example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. Over the decades, we have systematically taken steps to make cars safer: We adopted seatbelts and airbags, limited licenses for teenage drivers, cracked down on drunken driving and established roundabouts and better crosswalks, auto safety inspections and rules about texting while driving.


  1. I read his article and would have sworn it was here, on your blog. Must have been someplace else. :( It is so disheartening to know that our government does not wish to protect us. Not in firearm sales or in the food we eat / water we drink. In the meantime, the auto industry is very heavily regulated. That's not a bad thing. The percentage of deaths has dropped a great deal since seat belts and insurance were required. Sigh.

  2. It's always all about money. (It took way too long for many auto regulations to be put into place.)