I wrote this blog post almost 5 years ago after the Sandy Hook mass shooting of school children. Remember that? Horror. Additional comments in red color, but the sad fact remains that America has the same senseless gun violence as it had then. Just in the last month, shooting in Las Vegas and shooting at a Texas church. All senseless. So cowardly.
US gun violence is a problem. Approximately 12,000 Americans are murdered each year with a firearm. This per capita homicide rate is 4x that of England and 6x that of Germany.
In the 14 days after the sad day in Newton, CT, there have been 242 reported fire arm homicides in the US. All Americans can probably agree that too many people are dying.
It’s a complex problem. Gun violence in the US has many root causes. We Americans get a bit excited when we talk about guns, gun control, and violence. Unfortunately, the discussion is often scattered. Too-quick to place blame, and too-quick to offer solutions. Often times, the conversation looks something like this word soup.
Unstructured conversation is just brain storming. When the conversation is this unstructured, it is difficult to make heads or tails. Some ideas seem good, but upon reflection you aren’t sure. The same type of confusion happens in companies all the time. Lots of good ideas are circulated, but they are often unstructured, and inadequately thought through. As a result, a lot of good ideas are actually ignored.
Trust. When discussing anything like this – charged with emotions and opinions – we all need to come from a place of trust. Trust that the other person is open-minded. Trust that we are all Americans looking for a good answer. Trust that we will come out of the discussion smarter. Trust is sorely lacking in the US. Let’s bring it back.
Break the problem down. Consultants like to “bucket” problems into root causes or at least categories. While there are probably dozens of institutional factors, at a high-level it looks like there are 3 major ones that deserve consideration:
- People: How responsible are the people who buy or obtain guns?
- Weapon: How dangerous are the weapons available to the public?
- Use: What is legal use, and how to prevent people from using them illegally?
1. People: Every responsible person should have the privilege of owning a rifle to hunt / skeet, or a handgun to protect themselves.
Challenge: Not everyone is as responsible, trained, mature, or thoughtful as you. As George Carlin not-so-delicately put it, “Just think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of them are even stupider!”
Do we believe that people are rationale all the time? No way. DUI. Shotgun weddings and divorces. We act on biases, bad information and according to our impulses all the time. If we were rationale, then the US would not have an obesity problem.
If you want to see how reckless and uninformed people can be with guns, go to YouTube and type in “gun fail”. Completely scary.
2. Weapon: There is a lot of talk about the type of guns, bullets, and magazines that are available to the public. In my mind, it comes down to what is civilian-use and military-use. The public has to decide that.
Challenge: We have to be careful of false equivalency and false choice. For example, an argument for limiting the sale of automatic weapons is not the same as saying that the government is going for confiscate all guns. We need more thoughtful and respectful dialogue; less vitriol.
3. Purchase / Use: The public needs to decide what is legal and what is not.
Challenge: There is a law that says people should have a background check prior to buying a gun. That makes common sense, but about 40% of guns are not purchased through licensed gun dealers. Apparently, there is a gun show loop-hole that allows for sale of guns between private parties without a background check in most states.
To me, this is the biggest problem. Owning a gun is a privilege and a powerful thing. It’s in everyone’s self interest to keep guns away from those who don’t deserve to have them.
Great link provided by reader. This is how Japan feels about guns here:
- Must attend a 1 day training seminar, written a test, 95% or better
- Shooting test, mental health exam, drug test
- Renews license every 3 years
- Can only buy guns from 3 places in each prefecture
- Must lock guns and amo in separate places, under lock and key
- Can only buy new amo, buy bringing the old amo shells back
Challenge: The US approach to gun control affects other countries. In a recent study, approximately a large number of the guns confiscated by the Mexican authorities that are used for criminal activity can be traced by the United States.
Excellent note from commenter: 1) the 87% number was for weapons submitted by the Mexican government that can be traced 2) a large number of guns were legally sold to the Mexican military, that then fell into the arsenal of criminals.
America is different. We are not the UK. The British decided to essentially ban private ownership of handguns after they had a mass shooting in 1987. Australia banned guns in 1996. That will not happen in the US. There are 300 million fire arms currently in the United States and the demand for guns continues to grow. The US is 4.4% of the world’s population, but we have 42% of the world’s guns.
Similar situation in China. None dead. To me, the biggest reality check was that a similar attack of school children happened in China on the exact same day – December 14. A mentally ill man stormed into a school and attacked children. He did not have a gun. He had a knife. Many children were hurt, some critically, but none died. The children of Sandy Hook elementary were not so lucky.
Studies have shown that crime is not the problem. You are just as likely to be robbed in New York as in London. The problem is that the crime is a lot more violent in the US. The odds of getting robbed are about the same. The odds of dying in NY from the robbery are 54x more likely that you are killed in the process. That is 5,400%.
There are studies that show a correlation between the number of guns and murders. It is correlation, not causality – but intuitively it makes some sense because we are all human. Emotions get the better of us. Words turn into punches. Punches turn into knives and guns. As George Carlin aptly described us 20 years ago, we can all be a little bit stupid.
800 US Mayors. There is a coalition of US mayors that are asking for the US President and Congress to come up with a plan. One of the most vocal proponents is Michael Bloomberg – who always struck me as a no-nonsense leader of NYC. Lots of Hollywood stars lend their voice to this promotional video. If you want to see how divided the country is on this topic, take a look at the number of up / down votes the video has.
Post-script: Harvard Business Review article on creating a $100 billion gun safety industry