If ever there was an issue warranting public debate and reform its our annual toll of about 14,000 gun homicides. Most involve deaths in our inner cities committed by single shot pistols and revolvers. We have more gun homicides than the entire developed western world. And our 300 million guns in civilian hands dwarfs gun ownership in the entire developed western world. Some 100 million were acquired illegally through the private markets or theft. And it’s these weapons largely responsible for our grim annual gun homicide rate.
The first place to begin is acknowledging that outside the U.S. in developed western nations gun ownership is severely restricted with mandatory training and background checks. That explains their low incidence of gun homicides. And even in the U.S. gun homicides by licensed permit holders is very small. While mandating background checks is useful, they would not impact private transactions. And it’s the private transactions that are behind our 100 million estimated illegally acquired weapons.
To make serious progress in reducing gun violence we need to make major steps in reducing the astonishing large inventory of illegally acquired guns in civilian hands. A good first step would be a combination of buyback, heightened penalties for illegal ownership/use and penalties for private purchasing without background checks and theft. If we can’t reduce the inventory of illegally owned weapons we’re not going to make much progress.
We need to keep in mind that our incidence of mass shootings, while awful, amounts to about 200 homicides yearly and is only a very small proportion of the 14,000 annual gun homicides total. And let’s keep in mind that by far the largest number of 14,000 annual gun homicides are executed with single shot revolvers and automatic pistols –not by so-called assault rifles, the single-shot replicas of multiple fire military rifles that are often used in mass shootings that attract so much public attention.
With national elections coming up surely there’s no better time to demand our elected officials and candidates “stand and deliver” with credible proposals for reducing gun violence based on facts, not on slogans. Our elected officials might just be surprised that owners of legally acquired guns are in the forefront of reform to reduce the annual carnage.
Peter I. Berman lives in Norwalk.