Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

My Country’s Insane Obsession with Guns

Posted December 16th, 2012 by

Like most every American, I am horrified and saddened by the brutal and senseless killings that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Our horror is multiplied because so many of the victims were young children. My heart, my prayers, and my blessings are with the families of the victims and all who have been traumatized by this act of terror. I can’t imagine the anguish of the parents and grandparents who will never again hug their children tightly to their chests.

If history is any indication, this story will be in the headlines for a few more days before it begins to fade. What won’t make the headlines are the deaths of an average of eight children every single day as a result of gun violence in the United States.

Like most every American, I’ve thought a lot about this horrible tragedy as more information has emerged. I’ve read, and participated in, discussions on Facebook that often devolve into arguments about the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. Several of my friends, and many people I don’t know, have written things like “Don’t blame the gun…” “Guns don’t kill people..” “If teachers had been armed…”

These arguments are bull***t.

In the face of clear and present danger, the United States takes decisive action regarding almost everything except guns.

One passenger’s inept and unsuccessful attempt to blow up an airplane with a shoe bomb in 2001 resulted in the requirement that 800 million airline passengers flying to, from, or within the United States annually must remove our shoes for inspection. One terrorist plot to blow up an airplane in 2006 with liquid explosives means we can no longer carry 4 ounces of shampoo in our carry-on luggage.

Federal and State mandates requiring seatbelt use in automobiles came about as a result of studies indicating deaths could be prevented. Regulations governing the elimination of toxic ingredients in toys are accepted as a reasonable safeguard for children. Elimination of lead in gasoline and paint has been required in order to reduce health risks.

The United States regulates hair dryers, pacifiers, epoxy, asbestos, garage door openers, carpets, ink, bunk beds, kites, drugs,  fireworks, and hundreds of other items and activities more thoroughly, and with better results, than we regulate guns.

The fact is, in thirty-three states, individuals can purchase guns, including automatic weapons, at gun shows without a background check. Al Qaeda encourages jihadists in America to do just that (watch here).

This is insane.

As Marian Wright Edelman points out in “Dear God! When Will It Stop?” (I highly recommend you read Edelman’s wise commentary – it will only take a few minutes):

“Since 1979 when gun death data were first collected by age, a shocking 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. That is more child and youth deaths in America than American battle deaths in World War I (53,402) or in Vietnam (47,434) or in the Korean War (33,739) or in the Iraq War (3,517). Where is our anti-war movement to protect children from pervasive gun violence here at home?”

Bill Moyers’ spoke about “Living Under the Gun” shortly after the mass murders at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado (I strongly urge my readers to  watch Moyers’ commentary; five minutes of strong opinion with which I fully concur):

“We are fooling ourselves. That the law could allow even an inflamed lunatic to easily acquire murderous weapons and not expect murderous consequences. Fooling ourselves that the second amendment’s guarantee of a “well-regulated militia” be construed as a God-given right to purchase and own just about any weapon of destruction you like. That’s a license for murder and mayhem and it’s a great fraud that has entered our history.”

It is long past time for our political leaders to take decisive action; to prioritize the protection of American citizens over the millions of lobbying dollars invested by the NRA. It is long past time that we prioritize the protection of our children over guns.

The Children’s Defense Fund lists several actions (read them all here) we can take in our own lives and as advocates with our political leaders. They include 1) remove guns from our homes, 2) support common-sense gun safety measures for our nation (including closing the “gun show loophole” – no one should be able to purchase a gun without strict regulation – and reinstating the assault weapon ban), 3) boycott products that glamorize violence, 4) focus attention on the number of children injured and killed by gun violence.

We can make a difference if we don’t just let this moment fade as we did after the mass deaths at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Aurora.

Like most every American on Friday, I hugged the children in my life more tightly to my chest, and for a few moments longer, than normal. As every parent and grandparent does, I pray I will always be able to do so.

(PS: I have shared my views regarding the urgent need for gun control/safety regulations with both of my U.S. Senators and my U.S. Congressman. I encourage all my readers to take a few minutes to contact yours as well.)

12 responses to “My Country’s Insane Obsession with Guns”

  1. Dave Elkins says:

    Thank you, Tom, for posting this. It expresses my thoughts exactly. Yes, it feels horrible now, but will fade away unless we keep the pressure on. Please let me know of anything in which I can participate to help.

  2. Dain says:

    Tom, that is so well stated. Thank you. As you may remember, I spent 3 years, 38 years ago, debating members of the NRA on this issue.Tthe public was supportive of strong laws then but our spineless politicians failed us, and more importantly failed those 119,079 children who have lost their lives. I am hopeful after November's election, where we showed that the ballot box can defeat a billion ill spent dollars and extensive efforts at voter suppression, that American citizens will finally prove that the NRA is a paper tiger. But it will take us all working together to do it. Our politicians and the NRA have blood on their hands. Remember, the intrepretation of the Second Amendment as precluding common sense gun laws came about because our Supreme Court ignored precedent. And assult weapons were banned until congress tragically refused to renew the law. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

  3. iain mclennon says:

    Tom, I am extremely curious as to what kind of legislation would have the kind of effect you seek upon the ability of anyone who wants one, for any purpose, to obtain a gun? I personally am not a gun enthusiast, though I do have guns in the house – mostly handed down from family members. Emotions naturally run high in times like this, and it's easy to magically wish future tragedies away with thoughts like, "If he hadn't had access to guns, this wouldn't have happened." This is true, as far as it goes; however, in almost every case over the past 20 years, legal guns were illegally accessed due to improper or inadequate storage of those weapons.

    There is no gun control legislation on earth that is going to prevent someone from obtaining a weapon if they are determined to do so. As in so many instances, the real answers to these issues are slow in coming because they must be planted and nurtured to fruition through education and, more directly, viable healthcare for the mentally ill.

    The moments of Aurora, Columbine, Clackamas and Connecticut won't ever fade, despite the fickle nature of the media – but we must do our part to make sure that, while we protect those we love as best we can, we do NOT sacrifice the freedoms of choice according to the Constitution.

    • TNDeWolf says:

      Thanks for your comments, Iain. At this point in our nation’s history I believe we are so far behind in gun control and gun safety regulations that it will take a long time and very strong will (which has not been exhibited to date) to have the kind of impact that I would like to see. As a start, I support the legislative actions the Children’s Defense Fund lists (see link in my blog post): First, close the gun show loophole. Second, reinstate the assault weapon ban. Third, strengthen restrictions on people convicted of violent misdemeanor or a violent act as a juvenile. Fourth, require consumer safety standards and childproof safety features for all guns. Would these measures, had they been in place, stopped the multiple tragedies that resulted in mass deaths over the past several years? Maybe in some cases and maybe not in any of them; but to continue to do little or nothing is unconscionable.

      We can look to results in other countries to see the impact of strong gun control/safety legislation. There are many examples. In every country of which I’m aware, tighter regulation (or the ban) of guns has reduced gun violence. According to statistics from the American Bar Association, what we’re presently doing isn’t working. The rate of death from firearms is 8 times higher here than in our economic counterparts elsewhere. Firearm-related deaths of children in the U.S. is nearly 12 times higher than among children in 25 other industrialized countries COMBINED. The U.S. has the highest rate of youth homicides and suicides among the 26 wealthiest nations.

      Look at Australia’s experience, for instance. According to an article in the Royal Society of Medicine Journals (, “In 1996, Australia's Federal and state governments acted to radically reform gun laws, following a gunman killing 35 civilians at a tourist site, using two military style semi-automatic weapons. This incident was the 13th mass shooting in 15 years in which five or more victims died. Key components of the law reforms were effectively to ban all semi-automatic long arms and rapid-action shotguns from civilian ownership; amnesties and market-price gun buybacks in which more than 820,000 firearms were removed from the community; the formal repudiation of self-defense as a legally acknowledged reason to own a gun; and a requirement that all firearms be registered. The USA has 14 times Australia's population, 146 times its firearm suicide deaths (16,883 versus 116 in 2006), and 474 times Australia's firearm homicide rate (12,791 in 2006 versus 27 in 2006/7). While news of the latest gun massacre in the United States remains depressingly common, Australians today enjoy a much safer community.”

      The arguments that no legislation will stop every criminal and that we must protect the right to bear arms as guaranteed by the Constitution get quoted regularly. And they make no sense. The "protect my rights and freedoms" arguments have been used to argue against everything from seat belts to bicycle helmets. In the days when the Bill of Rights was written, George Washington was "bled" three times in response to a sore throat, hoarseness, and difficulty breathing. Would we respond to such symptoms in the same way today? Of course not. Our world has evolved. The ways in which respond to new technologies must also evolve.

      The weapon of the day in the late 18th century was a single-shot musket. The importance of having a well-armed militia and the right for citizens to bear arms was because we had just fought a war with the most powerful empire on earth and the possibility of another war with England was quite real; and, in fact, came to pass in 1812.

      Our attitudes and approach to weaponry must also evolve. We are killing ourselves and our children. If we want peace, we must be peacebuilders. We must begin.

      • iain mclennon says:

        Tom, I am completely behind everything stated in your first paragraph; however, your argument regarding self-protection scares the Hell out of me. I'm not quoting anyone or anything but the Constitution when I claim the importance of keeping our freedoms intact as originally scored in that document.

        I don't like any of the comparisons you make about seat belts and helmet for several reasons: First, I don't see any relation; second, while I wouldn't be without either, I am against the law that mandates them; third, we are on the brink of another war within this country; and if there is one thing which would bring me comfort in such a time, it is the knowledge that I have the means to protect my family and myself. Repudiation of self-defense is simply signing one;s own death warrant and agreeing to go meekly into that good night. No, thank you. The fact that the weapon of the day in the 18th century was a single-shot musket was most certainly not by choice, and it was what inspired Gatling to do something about it. This could be taken to a biblical level in which we concede that everything written was in the context of those times and, therefore, inapplicable to these. I can't even imagine the flak you'd catch. And flight – if we hadn't improved upon the Wright Bros.' invention, we wouldn't have Lockerbee, Flight 401, 9/11 or any of the other myriad plane disasters we've experienced. So, do we go back?

        Let me ask you this: You have come home early from a tour – no one is home but you and the family dog. You are changing clothes in your bedroom when you hear something in the kitchen – you assume it's the dog, so you go out to investigate only to find two guys high on coke standing in your kitchen (having broken in through the barricaded garage door), making their way to the rest of your house. Are you going to say to me, eye-to-eye, that you wouldn't want a weapon in your hand at a time like this? This is not a rhetorical question, because that exact experience happened to me. It didn't take any more than finding out that one of them was my next-door-neighbor's son with a $1000 a day coke habit to convince me that I needed a concealed weapon permit and the firepower to back it up. Along these lines, I would refer you to "Schindler's List" where the point is made that having the power and the free choice to use it or not is true power. Without the ability to defend one's self, one is powerless.

        There are common-sense approaches to the societal problems we face; but mass limitation of freedom is not one of them.

        If I had stated an opinion on lifting the assault rifle ban at the time, it would have been outspokenly against the lift. There is no logical reason for anyone beyond our military to possess such a weapon, and again, in my opinion, I believe they should be banned along with high capacity magazines. This should start at the manufacturing level and trickle down to sellers, simply making them unavailable. I also feel that, in some circumstances, there should be some liability on the part of the family of a shooter such as Lanza – it was directly because of his inappropriate access to the weapons that all of those people died. In a similar sense, these testerone-driven idiots who choose to rely upon their 'world-class' climbing skills and experience should have the full burden of the costs of rescuing or retrieving their bodies from the mountains. Slightly off-topic, but not really. Stupidity should have consequences in all cases.

  4. Dain says:

    Iain, you say "there is no gun control legislation on earth." Perhaps that should be amended to say "in the US." No other country on earth experiences the wilfull gun carnage which we do here in America, because they DO have successful gun control legislation, though the NRA does its best to persuade us that that is not true.

    What about the freedoms which were snatched away from the victims of gun crimes. Why are the "rights" of gun owners considered more important than the right to life. There are many common sense laws which could be enacted which would protect the public yet not unreasonably infringe on the right to bear arms. It depends on what is truly most important to us…guns or human life.

  5. Ryan Shuler says:

    There is more to this than guns, which have been around for a long time.
    I agree, assault weapons ban, limit magazine capacity, close loop holes, all these are good things to do.
    would they have prevented this recent tragedy? probably not.
    I think we must take a hard look at graphic violence in video games and TV (although I love Game of Thrones, Dexter, etc.) it must be desensitizing young adults (white males).
    Really I don' t know, but do know it is more than guns going on here.
    Nice piece Tom.

    • iain mclennon says:

      Yes, Ryan – nothing legislative would have prevented any of the tragedies, in my opinion. Part of what is at fault is the media spin on violence and death. What kind of society can we expect when a serial killer such as Dexter (and I love the show, don't get me wrong) is painted as a troubled hero? And this is but one of many, to say nothing of all the video games that chase the goal of making killing more and more realistic (while being totally unrealistic at the same time).

      As a former psychiatric therapist, I do not believe that a single on of these killers who ended up killing themselves was in any way cognizant of their own mortality and what that means. It is done largely as a twisted badge of honor, following the lead of other disturbed shooters who chose that way out.

      When all is said and done, I don't believe the fates of the shooters matter at all because society would only kill them "legally," something I am as against as the violence that invokes that process. Killing is killing, and it's wrong, no matter who does it or why. Or maybe I spent too much time in the 60's (or not enough…).

      iain mclennon

  6. Yoleen says:

    One pattern I see again and again is that the guns in these massacres are stolen from family members or close friends. Without delving into the whole pro-gun/anti-gun/second amendment argument, here is a piece of advice: LOCK UP YOUR GUNS.

  7. iain mclennon says:

    Tom, I am extremely curious as to what kind of legislation would have the kind of effect you seek upon the ability of anyone who wants one, for any purpose, to obtain a gun? I personally am not a gun enthusiast, though I do have guns in the house – mostly handed down from family members. Emotions naturally run high in times like this, and it's easy to magically wish future tragedies away with thoughts like, "If he hadn't had access to guns, this wouldn't have happened." This is true, as far as it goes

  8. Robert says:

    It does seem ironic that all kinds of dangerous chemicals, tools, machinery, etc. and even syringes require special permits that are nearly impossible to obtain except for companies and medical doctors and the like with special safeguards and extensive certified training and so on, and yet guns are more dangerous and relatively easy to obtain. In fact, even in industry and the medical profession, there is almost nothing that is explosive in nature with arbitrary orientation, and "actionable" merely by way of a hair trigger, as such a device would generally be considered too dangerous, e.g., too easy to "set off".

  9. Monica says:

    This statement highlighting a horrific statistic resonated very strongly with me. 'What won’t make the headlines are the deaths of an average of eight children every single day as a result of gun violence in the United States.'

    As a Brit, I am fortunate to live under laws that protect us to the extent that less human's die annually as a result of gun violence than the 8 children that are killed daily in the US. I hope that the future will bring stricter safer gun measures to protect innocent citizens across the World.

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Copyright 2012 by Thomas Norman DeWolf | Website: James DeW. Perry