Welcome to the gun show


Over the last several days, the nation has witnessed several instances of extremely brutal gun violence, all of which may well have been prevented with more stringent gun control legislation. In Binghamton, N.Y., 41-year-old Jiverly Wong blocked the rear entrance of the American Civic Association immigrant center with his car on Friday, effectively eliminating any escape route. He then entered the building through the front door armed with two handguns and proceeded to kill 14 people, himself included, before police could arrive on the scene. In Carthage, N.C., 45-year-old Robert Stewart entered a nursing home where his estranged wife works and killed eight people on March 30 — including seven elderly patients and one nurse — before being shot and disabled by Officer Justin Garner of the local police department. In Pittsburgh, Pa., 23-year-old Richard Poplawski killed three police officers on Sunday after they arrived at his home to deal with a domestic disturbance call. Poplawski owned several firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle. On the same day in Graham, Wash., 34-year-old James Harrison used a shotgun to murder his five children, aged between 7 and 16, before taking his own life after learning that his wife was planning to leave him for another man. Just under one month ago, in the towns of Kinston and Samson in Alabama, 28-year-old Michael McLendon murdered 10 people, including five members of his own family and an 18-month-old girl, firing more than 200 rounds during the course of his rampage. And on Christmas, 45-year-old Bruce Pardo dressed up as Santa Claus and shot to death nine people, including his ex-wife, at a family holiday party before later committing suicide.

These egregious events are just a few among the thousands of instances of senseless gun violence that take place in our country each year. In order to address this problem, we must first understand the prerequisites of committing a murder: desire, motivation to kill; ability, the capacity to act on one's desire; and feasibility, the circumstantial practicality of carrying out one's plan to kill others. The first component is very difficult to understand and control, as a given individual's desire to kill others depends on a great many personal and social factors. Of course, such desires occur annually in well under 1 percent of the population, but this figure should ideally be zero. Even if only 1/100 of 1 percent of the U.S. population have such desires, this still amounts to about 32,000 people having a motivation to kill others each year. If we can do little or nothing to reduce our countrymen's desire to kill one another, we can take substantial steps to reduce their ability to do so, as well as the feasibility of pursuing such actions. Firearms, first and foremost, greatly increase one's ability to kill others when compared with other weapons. Put simply, attacks carried out with guns are far more likely to result in death than those carried out with knives. Guns increase the feasibility of killing others dramatically. They allow single individuals to kill large groups of people, their users to kill larger or stronger people, frighten away bystanders who might otherwise attempt to help victims, leave their victims far less likely to survive any injuries they may sustain, and make it possible for the gunman to kill others from afar, thus reducing his own risk of injury and death.

Recalling those tragic events detailed above, it is highly unlikely that the gunmen would even have attempted mass murder had guns not been available and even more unlikely that they would have been successful. None of these men would have been able to kill as efficiently and mercilessly as he did if armed merely with knives or swords. According to the Center for Disease Control's statistics on suicide: "self-inflicted cutting wounds account for 15 percent of all suicide attempts but only 1 percent of all successful suicides. Poisons and drugs account for 70 percent of suicide attempts but less than 12 percent of all suicides. Conversely, nonfatal, self-inflicted gunshot wounds are rare — yet three-fifths of all U.S. suicides involve firearms." This fact illustrates just how frighteningly efficient firearms are at killing, especially when compared to other methods. Even more striking, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, 66 percent of the nation's 16,137 murders in 2004 were committed with firearms. It is a safe bet that the majority of these murder would never have occurred if guns had not been available.

More stringent gun control policies are imperative if we are to reduce the likelihood of occurrences such as those discussed above. In much of the European Union for instance, those who wish to own a firearm must demonstrate why they need one, be vetted by police, demonstrate their technical proficiency with firearms, undergo psychological testing, and renew their licenses frequently. Not surprisingly, far fewer people in Europe own guns and are killed by them each year. Here, of course, I must briefly address to the second amendment. I will only say that the amendment it specifically mentions the maintenance of a well-regulated militia as the reason for its existence. This part of the Constitution was written at a time when the U.S. did not have a professional volunteer army and so was still reliant upon its everyday citizens to defend against foreign invasions — this, obviously, is no longer the case and has not been for quite some time. Secondly, the founding fathers could never have predicted how much more deadly firearms would become over time. During the late 18th century, loading a musket and firing a single shot took about a minute. A modern semiautomatic handgun could be fired dozens of times during the same time span. It is my sincere hope that we as a nation will act swiftly to reduce the availability of guns and make the standards for owning them far stricter. If we do not, we are doomed to continue witnessing the needless killing of our fellow Americans with each news cycle.

Josh Baker is a Rutgers College senior majoring in sociology. He welcomes feedback at jbake74@eden.rutgers.edu. His column, "Zeitgeist," runs on alternate Wednesdays. He is also a contributing writer for the Johnsonville Press.


Josh Baker

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