In the aftermath of the tragic rampage at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that left nine people dead, America has once again been forced to have a conversation about our atrocious, sickening rates of gun violence. This is a conversation that we have every few weeks after each spectacular mass shooting – which occur daily – and despite the “conversation” and the perfunctory remarks from politicians, as President Obama noted in his emotional address to the nation, we never actually do anything about it. That inability to act is downright shameful given the toll of 30,000 deaths a year that gun violence is taking on our country. The criminal willed ignorance of the Republican party and their NRA backers has kept us from even trying to address this problem and as a result has cost our nation tens of thousands of lives, lives which shameless and idiotic Republicans ultimately bear some responsibility for. It is absolutely astounding that we have done nothing on an issue on which there is such overwhelming factual evidence telling us exactly what needs to be done. As on many other issues, however, Republicans are able to ignore an overwhelming amount of factual evidence telling us that more guns means more death.
Prominent Republicans continue to insist that the only answer to gun violence is more guns. One has to wonder how many guns is enough given that the United States is already home to about half of the world’s guns – almost one for every person in the country – and yet has far and away the highest rate of gun violence in the developed world. In every single other country, it is less guns rather than more that save lives. If one actually looks at facts, there is a near-perfect correlation between more guns in a state and higher rates of gun death, and the pattern is just the same internationally. And despite the macho fantasies suburban Republicans who drive four-by-four off-roaders to drop their kids off at soccer practice, studies have repeatedly shown that armed citizens – the “good guys with guns” that the NRA and their backers fetishize – are at best useless in stopping a murderous man with a gun, and in fact often cause more harm than good. Again, however, conservatives are more than happy to ignore facts and continue pouring gas on the fire in an attempt to put it out.
The most straightforward representation of the relationship between looser gun control and higher gun murder rates is this wonderful chart compiled by the National Journal, which shows a near-perfect correlation between gun control and fewer gun-related deaths. This chart should really be the end of the back-and-forth about the effectiveness of gun control. And yet, in the Republican fantasyland, facts count for nothing. Republicans are fond of saying “stuff happens” in response to gun violence (imagine if Hillary said that about Benghazi) and insisting that nothing can be done about it. Why, however, we would not at least try to address this epidemic is beyond me, and no Republican has ever been able to explain it to me either. Sure, some people will still get their hands on guns, but some people will still die in car crashes even if we use seatbelts.
For all their ‘Murica chest-beating who would’ve thought that in response to our nation’s most pressing issue of violence they would simply throw their hands up and say “what’re ya gonna do.” Moreover, despite the legions of hammer, fork, or crayon murderers that Republicans fret about, instituting tighter gun control also brings down the overall murder rate. That is because the overwhelming majority of America’s murders are in fact committed with guns, a weapon that, given that its sole use is murder, is much easier to kill someone with than a fork. This is fifth-grade stuff, and while it doesn’t surprise me that Ben Carson can’t grasp it, the vast majority of America’s population should be able to.
To deflect the public’s attention from gun control, Republican politicians often disinterestedly cite the need to do something about “mental health,” not that they ever actually do. The “concern” they show for the mentally ill on the Sunday talk shows however is apparently yet to lead them to investigate the effects of gun control on suicide rates. While it often gets lost in the sensationalism surrounding public mass shootings,about two-thirds of gun deaths in America are suicides, and even more so than with homicides, the evidence tells us that gun control could save thousands of these lives every year. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine compared suicide rates in the states with the highest and lowest rates of gun ownership. Unsurprisingly, at least to people with the capacity for reasonable thought, the firearm suicide rate was nearly four times as high in the states with higher rates of gun ownership. And, crucially, the rates of non-firearm suicide were almost exactly the same, statistically indistinguishable. The wave of hammer suicides apparently doesn’t materialize when access to guns is cut off and it is clear that literally tens of thousands of lives can be saved every year simply by implementing gun control that reduces suicide rates.
In the words of Kristen Brand of the Violence Policy Center, “Each year the data consistently show that states with strong gun violence prevention laws and low rates of gun ownership have the lowest gun death rates in the nation. The highest gun death rates are in states with weak gun violence prevention laws and easy access to guns.” It is so painfully obvious and provable that one can only conclude Republicans’ refusal to even consider gun control legislation is borne out of a criminal disregard for the tens of thousands of lives we lose every year in this nation to a wholly preventable scourge. It’s sick, agonizing, and disgusting and the American people should hold them responsible for it.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.