It’s Risky Being Alive Today…

in the USA!

By David E. Kaplan

It was a weekend to weep – two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead. First an attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on the Saturday that left 22 dead, then nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on the Sunday.  

Death At A Store. Virgil for the victims of the El Paso shooting at a Walmart store on August 3, 2019 that killed 22 people and injured 24 others.

As one movie buff in Dayton poignantly lamented, “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”.

Clearly, that county’s position on “the right to bear arms”, trumps – pun intended –  the right of people to live.

While many folk in Israel carry firearms – mostly young adults in military uniform – mass shootings are an aberration not the ‘norm’ as it is today in the USA.

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Sign Of The Times. Someone holds up a sign during the vigil in Dayton,Ohio. John Minchillo/AP

What is it about American gun culture?

Yes, we know:

  • that gun ownership in the United States is constitutionally protected by the US Bill of Rights.
  • that firearms are widely used for self-defense, hunting, and recreational uses, such as target shooting.
  • that American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War and the militia/frontier ethos.

 Though guns have not been an essential part of daily survival in the USA for well over a century, generations of Americans continue to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance. While the statutory law of any country is complex, ask any American what is the “Second Amendment” and he or she will rattle off  this 1791 snippit of legalese – “the individual right to keep and bear arms.”

From frontiersmen like Davy Crockett through to characters of the “Wild West” like  Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, and Annie Oakley to villains and heroes of the 20th century glorified in movies from the Godfather to tough cops types like “make my day” Dirty Harry or Robocop is it any wonder that guns are so culturally ingrained in the American psyche.

To those outside America watching these mass murders on the news networks, it’s like a familiar script. The sad unfolding human tragedy has become so predictable from the instant of the murderous act to rolling out the security experts and psychiatrists, to the politicians who either advocate tougher gun control to those in the pocket of the all-powerful gun rights advocacy group, the National Rifle Association (NRA).

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Mass Memorial. Mourners gather during a prayer vigil following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, May 18, 2018. How and why was 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis – charged with capital murder in the shooting rampage – doing with a firearm? (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

How often have we heard – particularly when many children have perished at a massacre at a school – “maybe this time it is different.” It never is!

In 2018, the NRA membership reached 5.5 million, while its membership dues reached $170,391,374 – an increase of 33% from the previous year!

Aspirant US presidents frequently tout American “exceptionalism”.

Well, here are some examples of “exceptionalism” not to be proud of:

  • With over 350 million privately owned firearms, the United States substantially exceeds all other countries in both per capita ownership of guns and absolute number of guns
  • It is estimated that there are more guns than people in the country.
  • Approximately 30% of all privately-owned firearms in the world are in the hands of US residents.
  • The US rate of suicide by firearm is 8 times higher and the rate of homicide by firearm is 25 times higher than the rates in other economically developed countries
  • Mass shootings, although a major news item, generally accounts for 1% or less of all firearm violence, and suicides routinely take twice as many lives as homicides.
  • More US citizens have been killed by gunssince 1970 than all US servicemen and women killed in all foreign wars combined. We’re talking tens of thousands every year.
  • The number of mass shootings across the far in 2019 has outpaced the number of days this year, according to a gun violence research group. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.
  • The public health impact of firearms in the United States is staggering.

What was once labeled an epidemic is now better described as hyperendemic.

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End Gun Violence. A demonstration on March 24,2018 in LA organized by March For Our Lives, a movement dedicated to student-led activism around ending gun violence and the epidemic of mass shootings in schools today.

It’s Mental Illness, stupid!

Who’s being stupid? An increasingly common message from gun supporting politicians, is that people with mental illness are prone to violence in general and are responsible for mass shootings. This is demeaning, offensive and false.

According to studies (Duwe 2004Fox & DeLateur 2014Stone 2015Taylor 2016Vossekuil et al. 2002), mental illness is minor factor in the majority of cases of mass murders and shootings.

Studies tend to indicate not only is there zero to negligible correlation between mental illness and shootings, but that there are far superior predictors for gun violence.

Weighing in on the debate, researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) concluded that having a mental health diagnosis – whether it’s a mood disorder, PTSD, borderline personality disorder, or schizophrenia – doesn’t make you more likely to threaten somebody with a gun.

What does? Simply knowing you have access to a weapon.

Findings revealed that by far the most significant clue to a propensity for gun violence is simply knowing where you can lay your hands on a firearm. Those who answered in the affirmative to the question  “do you have access to a gun if you needed or wanted one?” were 18 times more likely to have used one to threaten violence.

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Capital Idea. Go tell It to the legislators on Capitol Hill.

The false linking of mental illnesses to gun violence is shown to have two effects. First, they promote stigma by conflating mental illness and violence — a bias that affects patients, providers, the public, and policy makers and secondly, diverts attention away from effectively dealing with the real problem – proper gun control, starting with background checks.

Don’t blame those with disabilities; the only ‘disabled’ here are the politicians!



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