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Jul 30

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One nation, under the gun

Why do so many Americans believe that to properly protect ourselves today, we need guns?

By William A. Collins

William A. Collins

Won’t be me
Who spoils your fun,
Go ahead,
And tote that gun.

Following that dark opening-night screening of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, it’s time to contemplate yet again why America’s troubled young men kill so many more people than their counterparts in the rest of the world’s more affluent nations.

Most wealthy countries don’t care much for handguns. They have better things to do. And in Europe, fading tribal memories dating back to the lawless Middle Ages have, at last, largely receded.

LordFerguson/Flickr

Americans are different. Our most hazardous epoch is more recent. Popular Western movies and TV dramas refresh robust memories of the great frontier. While that heritage is fading, it still grips many of us. After all, our voluntary and involuntary immigrant ancestors were bold and strong. They survived death-defying trans-oceanic trips, some of them as cargo.

Perhaps our frontier complex can explain why so many Americans believe that to properly protect ourselves today, we need guns.

I don’t get it. Reality has changed. If there’s a Native-American menace today, it’s casinos. Duels are out. Slavery ended 150 years ago.

But guns have sunk truly pernicious roots into our culture. In the first half of 2011, nearly 700 Americans perished in murder-suicides. About 90 percent involved a firearm. Overall,

we bump ourselves off at the rate of 30,000 per year using bullets. A total of 110,000 of us are killed or wounded. Plenty of those wounded are in bad shape too, with gunshot victims accounting for 15 percent of all spinal cord injuries.

The requirement for a background check reflects the desire by most governments to tamp down today’s flood of guns and epidemic of shootings. The National Rifle Association (NRA), which is generously financed by the gun industry, strenuously opposes this civilized public safety policy. That dark duo has many supporters.

Take Alaska for example. Sixty percent of Alaskan households own guns, and 20 out of every 100,000 Alaskans die annually from gunshots. In Hawaii, by contrast, only 10 percent of families own guns. And bullets kill just three out of every 100,000 Hawaiians each year.

Yet the dark duo still argues that the solution to too many gun deaths is to make sure that even more Americans obtain these deadly weapons. It has persuaded the U.S. House of Representatives to force states with restrictive handgun laws to honor concealed-weapons permits from Wild West states when their residents come to visit. Sort of like drivers licenses.

One state that won’t care is Florida. In 2010, the Sunshine State prohibited local governments from imposing any of their own restrictions at all on gun-toting, invalidating a host of existing municipal ordinances.

As usual, ironies abound, especially since Tampa has banned water pistols from the streets outside the upcoming Republican National Convention. Thus you will be able to pack real heat out there, but not your super soaker.

Fortunately, the Secret Service is in charge inside the venue. Especially after the Aurora massacre, the GOP faithful will be lucky to get in armed with nail clippers. They’ll have to conduct their mayhem out front. 

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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