May 3, 2013

Collateral Damage

Dawn Hochsprung was the principal at Sandy Hook. She was among the first to be gunned down by Adam Lanza. Her daughter, Erica Lafferty, recently traveled to a New Hampshire town hall meeting to confront New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who recently voted against expanded background checks. Lafferty asked Ayotte, "You had mentioned that day the burden on owners of gun stores that the expanded background checks would harm. I am just wondering why the burden of my mother being gunned down in the halls of her elementary school isn't more important than that." Good question.

Then we have the story of the 5-year old boy in Kentucky who accidentally shot his 2-year old sister with a Crickett rifle, a .22 caliber rifle manufactured by the Pennsylvania-based Keystone Sporting Arms, which specializes in firearms for children. Here is a poster advertising some of their products.

CHIPMUNK FIREARMS. Really? Call me crazy, but I don't think the Second Amendment right to bear arms extends to children. Maybe there was a time and a place in American history when giving your kid a rifle was a necessity. Those days are gone. We don't need to hunt for food. We don't need to arm our children to help defend the little house on the prairie. Some may want to do it, but they don't need to do it. No child needs his own rifle. But that's just my opinion.

Here is an undeniable fact. Dawn Hochsprung and that little 2-year old girl in Kentucky are both collateral damage, both of their deaths being directly due to some Americans' obsession with guns and gun rights. They weren't the first, and they won't be the last.

In looking around the Internet, I came across this graphic, which compares deaths from firearms with traffic deaths. This is somehow appropriate, given America's longstanding obsession with both.

I don't know about you, but I was surprised to learn that the annual number of gun deaths and traffic deaths in 2010 were pretty much the same, about 32,000, give or take. This makes a crazy kind of sense given that in America there are nearly as many gun dealers as there are gas stations and gun stores outnumber grocery stores. In both cases -- cars and firearms -- we accept the fact that there will be collateral damage in terms of fatalities directly associated with their use. People die in traffic accidents every day. People die from guns every day.

Of course, there are a couple of significant differences. First, the ownership and sale of cars is strictly regulated. You need to pass a background check to get a driver's license, and you'd better have the license and registration when a cop pulls you over or you'll have some explaining to do. Not so much with guns, where not all sales are documented and background checks are not universal.

The other big difference is that in American society owning a car is for most people a necessity. Even people who don't like to drive still learn how to drive because we have built a society in which public transportation is spotty and distances between work and home are ever greater. While owning a gun may be seen as a necessity by some, the fact is that people who don't like guns can live quite nicely without them.

No doubt about it, we Americans love our cars and our guns. And it's absolutely true that millions of Americans drive cars and own guns without having a problem. But both regularly cause fatalities in connection with their use. Every day. We accept that driving a car is risky business and will invariably result in death for the driver or a bystander. We accept that there will be collateral damage in the form of traffic fatalities and injuries. The same is true for gun ownership. People will die every day from guns. There is just no getting around that.

If you are willing to live with that, so be it. A lot of us aren't. We tolerate it in cars because most of us have no choice but to own a car. Buying a handgun does not fall into the same category. Millions of unarmed Americans live side by side with those who have bought a weapon for personal protection. You don't have to own a gun. A lot of us don't understand why we have to be at risk because obtaining a handgun is so damned easy to do, easier than getting a car in many states, and just as transportable across state lines.

You feel like you have to own a gun to feel safe? You believe that the right to bear arms is inviolate? That further regulations of gun sales is an undue burden on your right as an American to own a handgun or a .22 rifle or a semi-automatic weapon? Fine, go ahead. Just know that there will be a cost to be paid for your beliefs. People will die. Every day. Hope it was worth it.

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