Saturday, June 27, 2015

Real Murder

Our name is Type M for Murder and so I decided to tackle murder for real. This last week, the U.S. had another mass-murder, nine shot dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. As a gun owner, on hearing the tragic news, I hung my head, both in condolences for the dead and their survivors, and to tell myself, here we go again. The American gun-control shouting match immediately heated to white-hot rhetoric before veering into an argument about racism and the Confederate battle flag.

Though many claim gun ownership in the U.S. is defined by political lines, it's not. I've got strong leftist sentiments and own guns, and I know plenty of liberals who stock quite an arsenal. And I know conservatives who have never fired a gun and don't care to. When I'm among gun aficionados, politics is rarely discussed.

The numbers I'm offering below are drawn from the most verifiable statistics available to me such as the FBI crime tables,, and others. The comparisons won't be exact but hopefully will paint an accurate enough picture. And any numbers I use will certainly incite trolls of all political stripes.

There's no doubt the U.S. is seen as a violent country. In 2014 we had 12,253 murders, of which 8,454 were committed with firearms. If we take the difference, 3,799, that homicide total still places us at the top of the murder list of Western-developed countries. But not so fast...if we include violent crime that didn't end up with bodies Dead Right There, then England and France are more dangerous than the U.S. What complicates any fact checking is that countries have different definitions of "violent" crime.

To the anti-gun crowd, the answer is quite obvious. Ban all guns, and gun-related crimes (and deaths) will go away. But it's not so simple. First of all, the U.S. is the only country where private ownership of guns is specified by law: the Second Amendment. And, almost all countries do allow private gun ownership in some degree (even Australia, which is often mistakenly touted as gun-free). Two countries that don't allow any private gun ownership are China and North Korea, and I don't think we want them as our model for civil rights.

The U.S. leads the world both in rate of gun ownership and numbers of guns. We have about one gun per person, and so the guns number about 300 million. At number two in rate of private gun ownership is Switzerland at 45.7 per 100 people. Number 3? Finland, 45.3 per 100. Who is second in number of guns? India! With 40 million in private hands.

So if lots of guns equals lots of gun deaths, then Switzerland, Finland, and India should be awash in bullet-riddled bodies, but they're not. Based on that, the argument can be made that strict licensing is what reins in gun-related deaths. However you have the example of Brazil, with 8.6 guns per 100, which translates to about 17 million guns (lots of people in Brazil). Owning a gun and ammunition in Brazil requires a license, with a criminal, mental, and employment background check, and that license must be renewed every three years. But given these controls, the Brazilian homicide rate, to include gun-related, dwarfs that of the U.S. Brazil in 2010 (most recent numbers): 43,272 total homicide; 36,153 gun-related. U.S. in 2010: 16, 259 total; 11,078 gun-related. Plus, in the U.S. as the number of guns is going up, both the numbers and rate of homicide is on the decline. So something else is prompting murder besides the availability of guns. Like poverty. Income disparities. Lack of opportunities.

But if we move to episodes of mass-murder, then what's at work is something more problematic than what motivates other violent crime. It's a failure of the spirit, it's a surrender to nihilism, it's dissociation from society. It's what drives some people to suicide and on that subject is where we can find tools to help address these problems. The recent mass-murders occurred in circumstances similar to what Viktor Frankl discussed in his monumental book, Man's Search for Meaning. He pointed out the irony of an increase in suicide in developed countries despite greater prosperity and material comfort. Killers driven to mass-murder clearly have mental/emotional issues, and here the failure lies with family and acquaintances who didn't step in. Easier said than done. In our family we had a murder-suicide, and the tragedy blindsided us. What could we have done to prevent this heartache and bloodshed? In hindsight, plenty. But looking forward, nothing suspicious or dangerous presented itself.

To stop these mass-murders, we have the responsibility of educating ourselves, of looking out for one another, of reaching out. Of asking questions, showing concern, and acting.

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