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American gun culture

Americans with guns is the problem


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Tesa Becica's recent opinion piece ("Guns aren't the problem, society is," June 14) dances around some telling statistics, misuses other statistics, and applies a distorted logic that appears too frequently in these pages.

This country's gun problem is framed by the facts, which have been well documented for decades in worldwide gun ownership and homicide by firearm studies. Whereas it's true in other countries that the mere presence of guns doesn't necessarily lead to high homicide rates, here, the situation is different. Compared to other developed nations, Americans have, by far, the most guns, and its homicide by firearm rate is 25 times higher the average of these other nations, according to a study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2016. Not double, not triple—25 times higher.

Within the country itself, the state-by-state correlation between higher rates of gun ownership and higher levels of gun violence is clear. Stated simply, in America, a higher gun count is directly related to more gun deaths.

Echoing the talking points of the NRA (National Rifle Association), Becica points to mental illness and absent fathers to explain this epidemic. These things are red herrings.

Canadians have a lot of guns, too, but their homicide by firearm rate is six to seven times less than ours. Are we supposed to think that we're six to seven times as mentally ill as Canadians? (These days, Canadians might think so).

There are also vast numbers of fatherless young men in Canada and other developed nations. But whether fatherless, frustrated, or alienated in some other way, young men in other countries don't turn to gun violence the way they do in America. Why?

America has a gun culture that promotes easy access to firearms and encourages their use. Whether it's to defend the home, enforce the law, stand your ground, save your pride, or gain a twisted notoriety, the cultural message is the same: You can feel bigger, better, and stronger with a gun, and you can use it to shoot your way out of trouble or just make your mark when all else fails. Guns are touted as the ultimate answer to interpersonal problems. Guns are associated with individualism. This hardwiring of guns to personal liberty and assertiveness doesn't exist in other developed nations.

This gun mentality is articulated in Al Fonzi's frequent contributions to this paper. Twice in the past three months ("Take a step back and think," March 29, and "Objection to a 'modest proposal,'" April 12) he has ridiculed Britain's gun laws and their unarmed police officers. He cited a spike in violent crime in London and argued that gun control measures have left people "defenseless." What he neglects to mention is that Britain has a homicide by firearm rate that's 2 to 3 percent that of the United States. Al Fonzi seems to think that the security and strength of gun ownership is more important than preventing the equivalent of a jetliner full of people from crashing each week. Apparently, so does America.

Becica's comparison of motor-vehicle related and drug overdose deaths to firearm related deaths is certainly ironic. The use of cars, drugs, and a lot of other dangerous and potentially lethal things are strictly regulated—even when almost all injuries and fatalities are accidental. Guns provide a massive point of contrast. They are designed for one thing, which is to maim and kill. And yet every reasonable law and regulation is resisted, even when evidence from around the world clearly shows restrictions on their ownership and use reduce the body count. Why? American gun culture.

Finally, Becica mentions the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This organization, effectively directed and funded, might actually shed light on the gun violence epidemic. But for more than two decades it has been prevented from doing so by Republican lawmakers and the NRA lobby. Why? American gun culture.

This gun culture's deep and complex roots aren't easily undone. But loosening the grip this culture has on our thinking begins by dismantling the distortions of the NRA and commentators like Becica and Fonzi. Δ

Glen Slater writes his opinion from Grover Beach. Write a response for publication and send it to letters@newtimesslo.com.


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