At War with Ourselves

Posted: October 24, 2017 at 1 a.m.

"We all have a responsibility to figure a better path forward. This is not a liberal or conservative issue; this is about the fabric of our humanity. It is not a time to argue or politicize, but a time to act."-- Singer/songwriter Brian Kalinec

"Bang, bang -- you're dead!" we children of the 1940s and '50s would declare as we vanquished the cowboy or Indian at the other end of our cap pistols. When we were old enough to comprehend the seriousness of BB guns, safety lessons and target practice began. And, in those days, the guns looked more like toys than the replicas of revolvers or semi-automatics found in the air guns section of Wal-Mart nowadays. Some kids graduated to grown-up rifles and real ammo for hunting, but back in the dark ages of my youth, gun use did not go much past this stage. The only open carry we ever saw rested on the hips of law enforcement, and if there was concealed carry, legally or illegally, we were none the wiser. The concept of mass shootings (defined by the FBI as four or more shootings in one place at the same time) was virtually unknown in the daily life of our small town. Murder of children was mostly associated with the horrific specter of a lone pedophile or kidnapper, and big city crime to fear usually fell in the mugger assault or rapist categories. That was then.

This is now: The American Public Health Association (APHA) fact sheets state that 80 percent of all firearm deaths in about two dozen "high income countries" occur in the U.S. and that 87 percent of all children ages 0-14 killed by firearms in these nations are American children. Additionally, "the frequency of mass shootings has tripled since 2011. In 2015 there were 330 mass shootings, killing 367 people and injuring another 1,317."

APHA reports this "violence cost the U.S. $229 billion in 2015, ...[and] the social costs include work loss, medical/mental health care, emergency transportation, police/criminal justice activities, insurance claims processing, employer costs, and decreased quality of life." They did not mention funeral costs.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence website quotes, "On average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room." Their information says, "A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense." Other stats from Brady: "More than one in five U.S. teenagers (ages 14-17) report having witnessed a shooting," and, "An average of seven children and teens under age 20 are killed by guns every day," and, "In 2007, more pre-school-aged children (85) were killed by guns than police officers killed in the line of duty." Newtown happened in 2012, but evidently even the murder of 20 grade schoolers and six teachers was not a tipping point to U.S. gun sanity.

Arkansas legislators took yet another huge and dangerous step backwards when they passed Act 562 this year allowing concealed carry on campuses and in public places across the state. Except, heaven forbid, no guns are to be allowed at ball games or in the sacred halls of the state Capitol and justice buildings! Of only slight comfort was their tossed legislative crumb allowing private businesses to prohibit handguns if owners display a sign on all their entrances with specified legal wording readable within 10 feet.

To discuss these and other gun issues, the Washington County League of Women Voters, on Nov. 9 at the Fayetteville Public Library from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., is sponsoring a program, "Stop Gun Violence, Help Save Lives," on what we each can do toward prevention of violence in our state, towns and campuses. Panel members will be Greg Leding, state representative, discussing state law and legislation; Steven Gahagans, Chief of the University of Arkansas Police Department, addressing the enforcement and challenges of the current law; Stephen Boss, founding member of Arkansans Against Guns on Campus, reviewing statistics at local, state and national levels; and Nicole Clowney of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, outlining strategies to educate friends, foes and communities. Clowney and Boss will have free sticker signs for local businesses that want to prohibit guns inside their workplaces.

"Bang, bang -- you're dead!" is no longer child's play. It's harsh daily reality. But it doesn't have to be. It's complacency that kills.

Commentary on 10/24/2017