When I woke up on December 14, 2012, I was a very pro-Second Amendment Democrat. I was troubled by the shooting of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords and the other mass shootings at Virginia Tech and in Aurora, Colorado. Still, I was willing to accept these as the actions of a very few lunatics.
As the days and weeks unfolded, however, my staunch support of gun owners' rights waned. Don't get me wrong, I still support the Second Amendment, but my view of many gun owners has changed. I was disgusted by the incredibly insensitive response of the gun lobby. They forced me to do something I had not up to this point: look at the facts.
Fact #1 - The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the industrialized world, almost one gun per person. The population of the United States is approximately 311 million people and there are an estimated 270 privately owned guns in the country. That's about four guns for every five people in the country. (There are 29 people in my immediate family and just one gun)
Fact #2 - The United States has the second highest rate of gun deaths of any industrialized nation. We are behind only Mexico, where they are in the midst of a bloody war with drug cartels who frequently massacre large groups of people.
Fact #3 - Of the 25 worst mass shootings in the world over the last 50 years, 15 (60%) took place in the United States. Second Place on that prestigious list goes to Finland. Of the top 25, they have two entries.
Fact #4 - While gun violence has dropped in the United States, we are still far above the rest of the industrialized nations in gun deaths per 100,000 people.
Fact #5 - While gun violence has dropped, mass shootings are increasing at an alarming rate. Of the top 12 deadliest mass shootings in the United States, six have happened since 2007.
Fact #6 - Of the 61 mass shootings since 1982 (that's an average of more than two per year), the weapons were obtained legally in 49 of them.
These facts certainly don't support the arguments of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun enthusiasts who say if more people were armed then gun violence would drop. They certainly don't support the gun enthusiasts' argument that criminals get their guns illegally, so new laws won't stop criminals from getting guns.
The other arguments made in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre were just as knee jerk and ill informed, and helped me see that there was not going to be a sensible discussion about curbing gun violence in our country.
I have seen no empirical evidence supporting the emotional response that people who want to kill will kill anyway. Guns are an easy tool of death; just point and pull the trigger. The more bullets, the more death. The larger the magazine, the higher the death toll. Bombs are hard to engineer and difficult to build, and hard to sneak into places. Knives? Please. On the same day as the murders in Sandy Hook, a man in China attacked a group of kids with a knife. Injuries? 22. Fatalities? Zero. If a gun is not available to some killers, they may not resort to another more difficult or effective means to murder.
My favorite argument: since cars cause death they should be banned, too. First, no one is banning all guns, just a type of guns. Secondly, we have been regulating the crap out of cars for years. We require seat belts, horns, lights, crash testing, air bags. We mandate car seats for our kids and where those must be mounted. We have speed limits and laws against drinking and driving and using your phone and driving. The result? Traffic related fatalities per mile driven have dropped by 90% since the 1950's. Regulation works. We don't have to ban cars - or guns for that matter.
I do not accept that there is nothing we can do about this. We simply must look at our gun laws. I recognize there are more factors in this complex equation like violent video games, movies and books, and songs that glorify violence. (My son wants to own a gun someday. Since he has had no exposure to firearms in our family, he has clearly decided that based on his PlayStation.) I also recognize many people who kill are mentally ill and we must assure the mentally ill don't have access to firearms.
Beyond the facts, the response of gun owners was far more troubling. While I hoped for better from the NRA, Chairman Wayne LaPierre's response was exactly what I expected. "Leave our guns alone." "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." I must admit, his "arm the teachers" response was definitely unexpected. It was the other gun owners, those on Facebook and Twitter, who surprised me the most.
On the eve of the vote in the New York State Assembly, Assemblyman Ray Walter posted on his Facebook page "This isn't going to be about limiting assault style weapons. This is going to be a full assault on the way of life and the liberty of upstate." I find Ray to be a sensible guy so when he posted rhetoric worthy of an NRA press release, I took notice. I engaged him and asked how upstate's liberty and way of life was being fully assaulted, the only response I got was that grandpa couldn't pass his shotgun down to family members without a background check. Sorry for that inconvenience. If that saves lives, I am okay with it.
At the end of the day, I have no interest in taking anyone's guns away. All I want is for people to stop shooting each other, and particularly the mass shootings must stop. I do not see any aspect of the SAFE Act as an infringement on the Second Amendment. The absolute best thing the NRA could do to protect gun rights is to help to stop people from killing each other.
Most of all, I hope gun enthusiasts will come to their senses and realize the best way to protect their rights is to work together to end gun violence.