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Gun-violenceIt may not meet the definition typically associated with the word these days, but there should be no mistake that “terrorism” came to Lumberton, North Carolina yesterday.

Amazingly, however, it barely made a ripple in the news cycle. Raleigh’s News & Observer devoted all of a 130 words in a few buried paragraphs from A.P. to the genuine horror:

A 3-year-old boy has died after accidentally shooting himself with a handgun he found behind the counter of his father’s Lumberton convenience store.

Police Capt. Terry Parker told local media outlets that officers were called to the store around 11 a.m. Sunday.

Parker said the boy was at the store with his father, Manal Abdelziz of Laurinburg. The boy’s name was not released.

Parker said the boy found the gun under the cash register. He said the father’s attention had been diverted momentarily.

The boy was taken to Southeastern Regional Medical Center in Lumberton where he was pronounced dead.

Parker said the Robeson County District Attorney’s Office will decide whether charges are filed. It is illegal to have an unsecured gun in the presence of a child.”

Now, just imagine what the news coverage would have looked like if the child had been killed by someone who met the usual definition of “terrorist” — especially a “foreign terrorist.” There would be people in the street demanding vengeance, missile attacks, strategic bombings and perhaps even a declaration of war.

But, of course, here’s the remarkable truth: Since the end of the September 11 attacks in 2001, roughly 400 Americans have been killed in “terrorist” attacks. (The number balloons, of course, to 3,400 or so if you include the 9-11 horrors.)

During that same period, the number of Americans killed by gun violence is well north of 400,000. That’s more than 133 September 11 attacks! There were 372 “mass shootings” and 64 school shootings in the U.S. in 2015 alone. Gun murders in the U.S. occur at 30 times the rate in the United Kingdom.

Talk about terror. If Osama bin Laden were alive today, he’d no doubt be smiling at these data and the fact that American gun manufacturers and their apologists are taking on so much of the task he had assigned to himself and his followers.

Commentary

The lead editorials in this morning’s New York Times and Los Angeles Times are absolutely correct in their assessments of the insane gun carnage that grips our nation. This is the excellent conclusion of the NYT piece:

“Those who reject sensible gun controls will say anything to avoid implicating the growth in the civilian arsenal. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, for one, responded to the killings at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs with a call for better mental health care, and is supporting a new bill that sponsors said would expand services to provide earlier treatment so violent people might theoretically be intercepted. “For those with mental illness, what we ought to be doing is treating the mental illness instead of responding to the crime,” Representative Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican and a chief sponsor of the bill, told The Wall Street Journal in an interview on Tuesday.

This is the familiar line trotted out by Republican politicians after every massacre, as if unfettered access to high-powered weaponry — which they and the gun lobby have made possible — is not a factor in this national catastrophe. Congress’s Republican leaders are betting they can brazenly go through another election cycle without enacting gun safety laws.

Congress has allowed the domestic gun industry to use assorted loopholes to sell arsenals that are used against innocent Americans who cannot hide. Without firm action, violent criminals will keep terrorizing communities and the nation, inflicting mass death and damage across the land.”

The LAT puts it this way:

“Enough. This nation’s infatuation with guns — inflamed by the ludicrous stances of the NRA, and abetted by Congress’ fear of that powerful but irresponsible group — is suicidal. There are too many guns, too easily obtained. Often they are in the hands of those who should not have them at all, such as the mentally ill.

It’s absurd that one of the richest, freest, and most advanced societies in world history endures such a scourge with such equanimity. But there is hope. A Gallup poll in October found that 55% of Americans support stronger gun control measures, and other surveys have found that even a majority of NRA members support mandatory background checks — something the NRA itself has assiduously opposed. There is broad political support for stronger laws to address the nation’s gun addiction, but gun control advocates have so far been unable to counter the money and organizational heft of the NRA. It’s obscene that a single interest group is able to endanger an entire nation’s safety….

This crisis in American society must be combated through the ballot box, and through lobbying to loosen the iron grip the NRA holds on Congress and many state legislatures. That is where the pushback against this culture of death needs to occur. And it needs to occur now.”

Amen.

Commentary

Gun-violenceThis morning’s “Monday numbers” column by Chris Fitzsimon reminds us yet again of how out of control America’s gun madness has spiraled. Not only does the easy availability of killing machines to the mentally ill continue to result in regular mass murders (1,000 just since the Sandy Hook tragedy!), but the mass shootings are coming so fast now that many don’t even make front page news, except perhaps in the communities in which they take place. Add to this the strange form of mental illness that afflicts our nation’s political leadership (clinical name: NRA-phobia) and the situation is rendered even more troubling.

And still sane voices continue to speak out. This weekend, a lead editorial in Greensboro’s News & Record put it this way:

“The United States should do better. This should not be a country that accepts so much death by firearms.

It’s not just mass shootings that should concern us. Shootings are commonplace in every American city, including Greensboro, and in many small towns and rural communities.

We can’t say there aren’t tough gun laws. Crimes committed with firearms are punished, usually with long prison sentences. Many offenders serve hard time for possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon. Continued efforts are needed to keep guns out of the hands of people with histories of committing crimes. Liberals and conservatives should agree on that point.

Where else can common ground be found? On the idea that there are other people, those with mental health issues, who should not be allowed access to guns.”

The editorial concludes with this eminently reasonable take:

“All firearms purchases should require background checks — a position strongly supported by public opinion — but more evaluation is needed. In North Carolina, sheriffs grant pistol permits. This is a good precaution on the theory that a sheriff may have information about domestic abuse, personal feuds or other signs of trouble indicating that a gun should not be added to the equation.

Law-abiding citizens are entitled to keep guns for personal protection, for sport or for collecting. They aren’t the problem, as long as they keep their weapons secure from children and thieves. But so many shooting deaths prove absolutely that something is terribly wrong in our country. Surely, there are effective, acceptable remedies that can save innocent lives without compromising anyone’s legitimate rights. Let’s find them.”

Commentary

The good people at the online news site known at The Trace are out with an excellent new article today on the efficacy of sensible gun laws and the demonstrable benefit they provide in lowering crime and violence. Here’s the introduction to “Gun-Rights Advocates Claim Criminals Don’t Follow Gun Laws. Here’s the Research That Shows They’re Wrong. How the right kind of regulations deter criminals from getting guns”:

“Despite the fact that mass shootings are predominantly an American phenomenon, gun advocates are quick to insist that there is nothing we can do to prevent them. Instead, they suggest these murders could only be reduced by having more armed civilians — aka  “good guys with guns” — roaming the streets, a solution that inevitably involves fewer gun regulations and more gun ownership. Reducing gun violence through straightforward policies of the sort implemented in virtually every other industrialized nation is regarded as a chimera by the National Rifle Association. After all, criminals don’t follow laws, so what would be the point?

John R. Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, recently evoked a version of this slogan in a piece for The Daily Caller, arguing that closing the loopholes in the background check system would not have stopped the Charleston mass shooting from happening. The alleged killer’s record included an admission of drug use that should have blocked the purchase when he bought his Glock from a licensed dealer, but an FBI examiner didn’t catch it in time and the sale was allowed to go through by default. Even if had been denied, Lott reasoned, “[i]t seems hard to believe that he couldn’t have figured out some way of obtaining a gun.”

It turns out, however, that the scientific evidence suggests precisely the opposite: criminals routinely respond to incentives, and policies such as background checks and permit-to-purchase requirements demonstrably save lives by reducing criminal access to firearms. The problem, these studies show, isn’t that criminals don’t follow laws, but rather that criminals aren’t dissuaded by weak laws. And gun laws in all but a few states are decidedly weak.”

Click here to read the rest of this compelling explanation of why tougher gun laws make us all, on the whole, much safer.

Commentary

Scott Lemieux of The Guardian has written a fine article about yesterday’s horrific murder-suicide tragedy in Virgina that’s worth your time. Here’s one of the best parts:

“It is true – as apologists for the status quo will be sure to point out – that it is impossible to know whether today’s murder specifically could have been prevented by a more stringent gun control regime, let alone by one characterized exclusively by background checks. But on a more systematic level, the result of our lack of substantive, internationally comparable gun control is entirely clear: the US is not only an international outlier in its lack of gun control, it is also a massive outlier in terms of firearm violence. The ease of access to firearms clearly causes large numbers of unnecessary deaths by homicide, suicide, and accident.

Thus, the staggering human toll of gun violence in the US is not just a random coincidence; it is the result of political choices.

Which policies could reduce the huge number of mass killings in the US are not a mystery: after 35 people were killed in Tasmania in 1996, Australia’s conservative government enacted sweeping gun control measures. The result was that both homicides and suicides by gun were immediately and sharply reduced, and there have been no mass killings in the country since. Conversely, there have been 885 mass killings in the United States since December 2012, when a gunman killed 20 elementary school students at the Newtown Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.”

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein has more on Vox about some of the lessons we might glean from the Australian experience.