Who is really trying to kill me?

”Sept. 11, like other catastrophes, makes people panic, makes them fearful, makes them want to protect themselves and their families against the enemy, who, in this case, is hard to identify.” -James Alan Fox, Lipman professor of criminal justice -Northeastern University in Boston.

In the post September 11th world, the US government remains determined to tell us that our lives are in danger and that we ought to be fearful of everyone in the outside world because so many of them “want to kill us.” After many weeks of travel in Europe and the Middle East this past summer, these warnings are hard to believe.
During my travels, Italians welcomed me to their cities, Lebanese airport officials were happy to help me with a visa, and Syrian shop owners pleasantly and patiently bargained as I purchased goods in the Souk. Where is this anti-Americanism? Where is the threat? Overall, I am thrilled that I did not see or feel any of the anti-Americanism everyone in the US is talking about, nor did I at anytime during my travels feel threatened.
As I return home, I am beginning to rethink my stance on many issues in the U.S. At home and abroad, there is a lot of trauma when one thinks about it. Examples include hurricane Rita or Katrina, the fighting in Iraq or terrorist attacks like those of Bali, London, Madrid or New York. Recently, however, my research suggests that there is a desperate need to take care of a much more immanent danger right here in the United States of America– the rise of gun possession and violence.
In last month’s column, I wrote “in 22 African countries, – during only one year (2001) – small arms conflicts cost over 8 million lives.”1 To put this into perspective that number equals that of the entire population of Manhattan. What I find more disturbing is how many people in the U.S. have their own small arms and how many people are using them to either kill or wound themselves and others each year, and we are not even at war!

Approximately 192 million privately owned firearms exist in the U.S. — including 65 million handguns.2 The National Rifle Association tells us “the number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time high, and rises by about 4.5 million per year.”3 The United States Census tells us that the population is 297 million. That is more than one gun per person. And, that figure is rising.
People have guns for many reasons. The National Rifle Association likes to point to collecting, hunting, and self defense as a few. Since it is our own sense of security that we are worrying about, let’s look deeper into who uses all these arms for what.
In the case of gun collectors, it is rather difficult to find the number of in the U.S. To find out, I emailed the Ohio Gun Collectors Association. Lisa of the OGCA was kind enough to respond that it is very difficult to estimate how many collectors there are, “there is no registry,” as she put it. When asked if she could estimate how many guns a collector might own, she responded, “The specific information you seek is not easily available since it varies widely with what one collects, the time they put into their collection and their financial resources.”
According to the National Sporting Goods Association (2003), there are 18.5 million active hunters in the United States. The same seems to be true for hunters. No one really knows how many guns each hunter owns, even though gun-owners are required to register their weapons.
So, after a thorough, but non-conclusive review for which I had hoped to estimate the number of guns owned by these groups, I can only agree that people do use guns to hunt and to collect. Moving on to self-defense.
According to the F.B.I., after September 11th, gun sales went up anywhere from 9% to nearly 22% during September, October and November. Buyers argued they needed guns for self-defense, even though most of the terrorists were not on U.S. soil.

After hurricane Katrina, Louisiana Wal-Mart stores were inundated by people trying to buy firearms for protection. Wal-Mart finally halted sales stating there were ”some very fluid circumstances and changing situations.” Mike White of Kenner, Louisiana agreed with Wal-Mart saying “people who need guns for legitimate reasons, such as hunting, would not be buying now.” He went on to say about the purported self defense argument, ”Why can’t we get along? This is a time of crisis.”
Since none of this information could clearly tell me which parties had how many guns, I decided to move on and see what other things guns were being used for besides hunting, collecting and self-defense. Therefore, I went back to my original research on the rise in violence and took a look at the national statistics on gun violence.
In the case of death, we see that according to the CDC in the year 2000: 4 suicide with firearms took the lives of 16,586 Americans; homicide with firearms took the lives of 10,801 Americans; unintentional firearm injuries took the lives of 776 Americans; 75,685 people suffered nonfatal firearm injuries5; more than 2,200 Americans aged 18 and under died from bullet wounds.
In comparison to other countries: within the year of 1997, firearms killed no children in Japan, 19 in Great Britain, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, 153 in Canada, and 5,285 in the United States.6 If you specifically look at the US child death rates in the years 2000 and 1997, they seem to be decreasing, but they are still too high in my opinion. Twenty-two hundred children killed in 2000 is a high number; higher than the number of soldiers killed so far in the Iraqi war!
Let’s bring one more issue to the forum now that we are talking about gun possession and use. I am sure most of you out there are aware of the new initiative in Florida. New York Times columnist Amy Goodman recently published an article in The New York Times entitled, Tourists to Florida Get a Warning as Greeting. This article discusses the new “stand your ground law.” By 2007, Floridians will legally be allowed to carry firearms on the street and in their car legally. The former NRA president, Marion Hammer, told the New York Times, “They [employers] can’t any more tell you that you can’t have a firearm in your vehicle, than they can tell you that you can’t have an umbrella or a pair of sunglasses.” The link between umbrellas, sunglasses and guns is unclear, but it is even more perplexing that amid all the fear in the U.S. due to terrorism, the horrendous natural disasters, and gun death statistics that the Federal, State and Local governments are not duly concerned about this and other new State gun possession laws.
Corporate security executives are the ones who are no doubt worried. In an annual study done by Pinkerton, the largest security services firm, workplace violence is the most significant threat to American businesses.7 The Workplace Violence Research Institute and the U.S. Department of Justice also report that violence in the workplace costs employers $36 billion annually and results in three deaths daily plus thousands of injuries each year.8 Although the report does not clearly state the type of weapons used in workplace violence, one can pretty much guarantee that workers are not assaulting each other with sunglasses.
In light of all of this information, it behooves us to attempt to figure out why there are so many guns on our streets, why we know for example that over 85,000 of guns are obtained illegally, but we don’t know who has the legal ones. More importantly, shouldn’t we know why we feel the need to have them and in such great numbers?
It is not a constitutional issue anymore. It is not just about the right to or not to possess arms, it is about why criminals can so readily get guns and, more importantly, why America is showing clear signs of sever internal conflict. Notably, why are we using guns to solve our problems?
We read daily how children are picking up guns in their parent’s house, shooting siblings, other kids and even themselves. Kids like 16-year old Jeff Weise of Red Lake Minnesota. He saw a gun as a solution to his problems and, in turn, took several other lives, including his own in a fit of rage. Twenty-two hundred kids are in jail for life because they had easy access to guns. Perhaps they thought “it would be cool to carry a gun” and ended up killing someone. Some are there more simply because someone “made them mad” so they shot them.9
According to American Psychology Association, violent children who are exposed to violent behavior at a young age will, as adults, lash out in fear when they feel insecure. Psychologists tell parents to shower attention and love on them to help them develop trusting relationships. Allowing people to take the law into their own hands (in Florida or anywhere else) should be rethought until we can figure out how to get some care and compassion to the psychologically injured.
We need to begin with awareness. Looking more specifically at why not only are we carrying all these guns, but the real reasons as to why we are using them. Is it fear or anger? Is it our own history with violence? Is the public just scared? Why do individuals feel that they have the right to take the law into their own hands? Have we lost trust in the police and the law to continually feel that we need to keep weapons by our side?
The bickering about the right to hold weapons needs to stop. Instead, it is time to look at why so much senseless killing and violence continues to perpetuate on our streets because of them.
Through my research, I found that, “on average, in the US, 80 people a day are killed by guns.”10 When will the luck of the draw be aimed at you or me? I cannot help wondering if my luck will end tomorrow. I would feel better if we could move the discussion toward these central issues and a concern for people before giving the green light to more arms sales, trade and ownership, which statistics continually show leads to greater amounts of violence.
If people do not have the means (i.e. guns), kind of like terrorists not having bombs, then just maybe our statistics could look a little bit more like those of Japan – zero children killed this year in acts related to gun violence. In the U.S., our greatest threat or danger does not lie in Iraq or Afghanistan, it lies in our very own drawer or cabinet.

1 http://www.un.org/ecosocdev/geninfo/afrec/vol15no4/154arms.htm. 2 Police Foundation ©1996, Guns in America: Results of a comprehensive national survey on firearms ownership and use. p.13. 3 http://www.nraila.org/Issues/FactSheets/Read.aspx?ID=120 4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 50, No. 15, September 16, 2002. 5 “Overall Firearm Gunshot Nonfatal Injuries and Rates per 100,000.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2001). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (producer). URL: www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars. Information accessed 1/03. 6 Embassies and foreign reporting agencies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, unpublished data from the Vital Statistics System, 1997. 7 Top Security Threats & Management Issues Facing Corporate America, 2002, www.ci-pinkerton.com. 8 http://members.impulse.net/~sate/survey01.html
9 New York Times Series, Jailed for Life, October 2-5, 2005. 10 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 50, No. 15, September 16, 2002.

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