The debate in Congress over reasonable gun control legislation is moving at a slow, but encouraging pace. There appears to be Congressional support for such legislation, certainly more than in prior years. In my opinion, that’s a good thing. Guns and cars have long been leading causes of non-medical deaths in the U.S. By 2015, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. While motor-vehicle deaths dropped 22 percent from 2005 to 2010, gun fatalities are rising again after a low point in 2000, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s believed that shooting deaths in 2015 will rise to almost 33,000, and automobiles deaths will decline to about 32,000. That’s based on the ten-year average trend.
Public opinion shifted in the right direction after the bloody massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It brought to the public’s attention that something must be done. Even though there had been several mass shootings over the years, with a significant increase recently, this one was different. The victims this time were mostly young children. Previously-made policy decisions have resulted in all sorts of firearms being available to the widest array of people under a very broad array of conditions. According to media reports, gun sales are soaring around the country. There was a terrific spike in sales in Alabama starting immediately after Sandy Hook.
The December 14th slaying of 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Conn., reignited a debate over gun violence. About 85 Americans are shot dead daily. Sadly, 53 of them are suicides. On another very sad note, one of those killed by firearms every day is 14 or younger. Of the 53 daily gun deaths, the CDC data show that 16 involve people between the ages of 15 and 24. Most of these are homicide victims. Gun deaths by homicide, suicide or accident peaked at 37,666 in 1993 before declining to a low of 28,393 in 2000, according to the data. By 2010, the total had risen to 31,328, an increase of 2,935.
At the same time, violent crime and murder rates have fallen in the U.S., according to Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Gun Policy and Research in Baltimore. Dr. Webster, who has studied gun violence for 20 years, noted that homicides may be up this year, though the murder rate from 2006 to 2011 fell 19 percent, to 4.7 for every 100,000 people. While recent gun sales haven’t led to an increase in crime, research indicates that over time, higher levels of gun ownership are associated with increased rates of homicide and suicide, according to Dr. Webster. He believes that the Sandy Hook killings were a “potential game changer” for gun-control laws. Dr. Webster made this observation:
We haven’t had a year like 2012 for mass shootings before, with each one being more disturbing than the last. It’s harder to chalk this up to random acts than to flaws in our gun laws.
The percentage of gun-owning households has fallen since 2004 to 32 percent in 2010, according to the General Social Survey by NORC at the University of Chicago. The survey indicates there are at least 1.8 firearms per household, or at least 70 million in households nationwide, according to Tom Smith, the survey’s principal investigator. Dr. Webster points out that it’s impossible to verify how many guns are owned legally or illegally. A survey eight years ago had the number of firearms around 300 million.
Traffic fatalities in 2011 were the lowest since 1949, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Although drivers in the U.S. logged fewer miles than in 2010, the fatality rate was the lowest on record, 1.1 deaths for each 100 million vehicle miles driven.
There were 53,524 motor-vehicle deaths in 1979, compared with a projected 33,975 this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. When guns are killing more folks than automobiles, considering the number of vehicles on our nation’s highways each day, it should send a strong message to Congress. They should be listening, but based on what I am hearing, the NRA may be in control of Congress. By the time this issue is received, we should know how firm that control really is.
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