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Firearms and Gun Control

(Topics: Society & Culture | Back to Home)

You can find them in seemingly any home in America. In total, they number in the hundreds of millions. There is a purpose to this technology, and a long and important history—but that's not why we're talking about them. It's because of their inherent danger. Because of the accidents, the suicides, and the homicides. The threat is real, especially to our children. And still, too many of us don't bother to lock them up, those hazardous chemicals we keep in the medicine cabinet, the hall closet, and under the kitchen sink.

In a country where people are shot every day, where there are mass shootings seemingly every week [1], bringing up accidental death by poisoning might feel insensitive. But these two social issues are more similar than one might think. Because of a few reasons:

  • Both firearms and toxic chemicals are incredibly common
  • Both firearms and toxic chemicals are in tons of homes and businesses and elsewhere
  • Both firearms and toxic chemicals have some uses that are generally accepted by society
  • Both firearms and toxic chemicals are linked to tens of thousands to tragic, preventable deaths

This is not say that they are identical. Guns are inescapably weapons, chemicals are not. And certainly deaths from poisoning span a wider range of experiences than deaths from gunshots.

Plus there is one more difference. Far more people die from poisoning than from gunshots.

The data [2] is easy to dismiss. Deaths from poisoning include drug overdoses, which might feel like a separate category. Poisons aren't frequently used in homicides. And the issue which captures the media frenzy—the mass killing—is more often perpetrated with AR-15 than with a bottle of arsenic. And with all data, you must believe the source. This one comes from the Center for Disease Control, and I get it: not all of us are confident in their accuracy these days.

But that's what the statistics say. And it brings us to the critical issue we face, with guns and with so much else. We're focused on something which isn't actually true. Firearm deaths aren't nearly as common as we think they are. The real problem may be worse.

The real problem is how we think about (and react to) mass shooting events, such as those at schools. The real problem is mental health, which would continue to be dire even if guns didn't exist. The real problem is not guns, but gun culture. And that's not something that legislation is going to change.

If you're feeling frustrated, you're not alone. There is no easy answer. Laws that try to expand or curtail gun rights aren't likely to be passed, much less likely to be effective. There is a reason that this issue has been at the forefront of national politics for decades and decades: we're locked into a devastating, intractable position.

What we need is to turn down the temperature. We need to acknowledge that there is a problem, but that the problem is complicated. (In fact, it's actually five different problems.) And until we look at each issue carefully we aren't going to make much progress.

The truth is rarely comfortable.


[1] Depending on how you count a mass shooting, but yes they happen frequently.

[2] This screenshot shows 10 years of data for these two categories. Visit the CDC's WONDER system.


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