Few things hold the average American’s heart in a tighter grip than the First and Second Amendments. The Second Amendment, promising available access of guns to average civilians, is touted as a core tenet to a safe and stable society.
- There are more than 350 million guns in circulation in the United States — approximately 113 guns for every 100 people.
- 1.7 million children live with unlocked, loaded guns – 1 out of 3 homes with kids have guns.
- Among children, the majority (89%) of unintentional shooting deaths occur in the home. Most of these deaths occur when children are playing with a loaded gun in their parent’s absence.
- The vast majority of accidental firearm deaths among children are related to child access to firearms — either self-inflicted or at the hands of another child
Even other evidence aside, a hard look at these numbers demonstrate that we are far more carefree with our guns than we should be.
Mental illness is an underestimated concern when it comes to firearm safety. While our understanding of mental illness is finally beginning to grow, acceptance continues to stagnate in much of our society. A negative stigma surrounds mental illness on many levels, preventing those who suffer from getting the help they need.
When the conversation comes around to mental illness and guns, most people think of mass shootings, out-of-control maniacs, and violent men on anti-psychotic drugs. After all, it was James Holmes who likely suffered from a mood disorder when he shot up a theater in Aurora, Colorado, in a mass shooting that rocked the country.
But it’s actually a common misconception, and a disturbing one at that, that says that mentally ill = dangerous and violent. In truth, mental illness-related violent crimes make up less than 4 percent of the country’s violent crime rate, and only a small fraction of that is related to guns. The true concern when looking at the link between guns and mental illness is suicide rather than violent crime.
In 2014, over 42,000 deaths were from suicide. Of those, nearly half – over 21,000 – were from self-inflicted firearm injuries (Source: CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics). In fact, firearm fatality rates from self-harm-related injuries surpass that of those stemming from assault. Numerous studies have shown that having access to a firearm significantly increases risk of death by suicide. If we are going to talk about gun control and mental illness, we need to be looking at it from the perspective of the risk to the individual rather than the community.
One of the biggest arguments I’ve heard in favor of guns is the “good guy with the gun” line. Ideally, if a bad guy comes in with ill intentions, responsible gun owners would be armed and able to stop a tragedy as it happens. But as we often know, reality is far from ideal. Other factors must be considered.
Must as we like our hero stories, the truth is that civilians are not usually equipped to handle these kinds of situations. Without proper training, they can serve to exacerbate the problem rather than help it. A shooting involves chaos, confusion, high stress, at times even vision obscurity, such as in the case of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. None of these make for ideal conditions for exchanging gunfire with a shooter, particularly not without posing increased danger to bystanders.
Unfortunately, as one self-defense website notes, Americans are in love with guns – “But Americans are also more in love with the hardware than in training, laws, or safety.” Hard numbers are difficult to come by, however it is at least clear that a large portion of gun owners simply purchase their weapon and store it (and that unsafely, with no proper locks or safes), without any thought to classes or training. This is hardly a responsible setup for the “good guy with the gun” argument. In fact, one limited study demonstrated what happens when civilians attempt to use a gun in self-defense of themselves or others, but without proper training – and while the study itself does have limitations, the results clearly point to needing more training. Anecdotal evidence further reinforces this idea, as in this story where a woman was shot by her would-be savior. To further hammer the point home, more data shows that only a fraction of firearm-related deaths are in self-defense; an overwhelming number are pure violence, either self-inflicted or by assault.
Confusion in investigations
In addition to the added risk it poses, this mentality also serves to further hinder police investigations. In one Walmart shooting, the investigation was slowed down as officials reviewed security footage and had to eliminate shooters one by one, just to determine who was simply a “good guy with a gun” and who was the actual suspect. And in the end, it didn’t even stop the tragedy from happening – three people were still killed. In the heat of the moment, it creates added difficulty as emergency responders attempt to sort between the bad guy and the good civilian, as is noted in the case of this Dallas shooting.
None of this is to say that we can never have guns or that we should ban them completely. I’ll avoid the details for right now, just for sake of time, but suffice to say there is another side of the issue that we can’t ignore. However, it does go to show that we need to be giving this much more serious thought than we have been so far.