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Illustration courtesy of goboxy.com

Illustration courtesy of goboxy.com

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” (Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States)

“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Bible, Book of Matthew, Chapter 2. There’s nothing modern about killing children.)

We don’t much like guns and we don’t have any.  Many of our friends, though, do like guns and do have them.  These friends fall into three categories: hunters, who keep their rifles and ammunition locked up in gun cabinets; target-shooters, who also keep their weapons under lock and key; and those who keep weapons for self-defense.   Presumably these later keep their weapons loaded, locked and close at hand.  The reason I don’t like guns and don’t want one anywhere near me is I’m afraid I might use it, against someone innocent, someone guilty, or on a really bad day, myself.

Gun ownership in the U.S. is an incredibly complex issue. Exactly what the Second Amendment, quoted above, means has been hotly debated pretty much since it was adopted (you can read about Second Amendment cases that the Supreme Court has heard here, earlier Second Amendment cases seem to have had more to do with States versus Federal Rights rather than the right to bear arms per se).  In any case, so far the judges have found in favor of the interpretation that private citizens have the right to own, keep at home, and use pretty much any kind of gun. Forty-nine states have laws which allow carrying concealed weapons of varying types.

As we are all too sadly aware in these days, there are plenty of guns to go around.  The best estimate I could find on various web-sites was about 300,000,000 or more guns in the U.S., which works out to almost one for every man, woman and child in the country.  The following chart offers lots of interesting gun statistics, including the most obvious: that the US has more guns per capita  than any other country in the world. Italy, in comparison, has about ten guns for every one hundred people. In many parts of the world there are fewer than ten guns per hundred citizens.

gun ownership
I know – it’s teeny.  If you click on it it will be larger, and if you want to see it in much larger format, click here. The graph on the right show people in favor of gun control (white line) and those against it (black like).  The number of Americans against gun control in the U.S. has been growing in the last few decades.

There is no end of data available about gun ownership and use in the U.S.  The question we all must face, and answer, in the days ahead is this: how can we keep guns out of the hands of people who will abuse them, without abrogating the rights of those who use them responsibly?  Regulation has been a joke up to now.  I’m adding my voice to the growing chorus saying enough is enough.  The precious right of all of us to carry a weapon (assuming the Constitution gives us that right, and I’m not convinced that was the framers’ intention) is not worth the lives of the twenty little six- and seven-year-olds and six adults who were gunned down in school in Newtown last week.  It just isn’t.  Let the guns be held in militia headquarters and if you want to go hunting or target shooting, go check one out.

I hear my friends howling that they have the absolute right to protect their loved ones.  But I have to ask, is your right to protect your family worth the lives of all the children who have been slaughtered in the spate of school shootings over the past years?  Have you ever actually needed or used your gun for self-protection?

It is such a can of worms.  95% of gun owners are probably responsible and careful. The people we know are obsessively careful with their weapons.  But the havoc wreaked by the other 5% in gang shootings, murders, and rampages ruins it for everyone else.  The number of people killed by accident by guns is astonishing (680 in 2008) and again, it is frequently the children who suffer.  According to The Survivor’s Club, every day five children in the U.S. are injured or killed by handguns.

I wish there were an easy answer, but there so clearly isn’t.  And I wish a rational and calm discussion could take place, but I think that’s unlikely as well.  People who have guns become enraged at the idea of having to give them up  (being someone who has gotten on very well for many years without a gun I have to wonder why) and people who want gun control are equally emotional, vituperative and accusatory.  Anti-control voices tell us there are so many guns already in circulation that limiting their purchase or ownership now would be next to useless in stemming the violence, that we would be removing guns from the law-abiding while the crooks and nut-cases would still have access to theirs.  That may be true, but somehow it would at least feel like a start.

Can we not all work together to keep guns out of the hands of those who will misuse them?  It shouldn’t be impossible to identify those individuals.  If you haven’t read “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” you can do so here for an idea where we could start.  It would be nice to think we have evolved, at least a little, since the days of Herrod.