OPINION: Looking at our gun problem through a different lens
I want to speak first in support of gun owners.
Most would never shoot up a school or a mall. Many would not even shoot to kill.
However, statistics tell us gun owners are the ones who are losing their lives to gun violence. They and their families and friends are the real victims of the violence perpetrated by widespread, inappropriate and excessive gun ownership.
As we saw in the recent court decision awarding $73 million dollars in damages to Sandy Hook families (the loss was 20 children and six school staff, and the shooter shot his own mother dead), guns are sold like cigarettes were. They are marketed to vulnerable buyers. The buyers targeted typically feel victimized and left behind. They are fearful. They are ripe targets for marketing by the gun industry. They thus become the real victims of the gun industry. And the data prove it.
Laws have been passed making the gunmakers almost immune from prosecution, which is reflected in how they advertise and sell. As a result, many own guns for all the wrong reasons. Guns wind up in the wrong hands. The equipment and technology is sold as military-grade and lethal, and it is. These are not your grandfather's shotgun. They are used in Ukraine, in war settings.
Of course, one of the selling points is that assault rifles protect the owner from an oppressive government. Those fears are fanned and inflamed in sales pitches.
State and federal legislative bodies have passed laws that tie the hands of reasonable people — for instance, our police — for maintaining a sane gun policy that responds to the carnage we see daily from guns falling into the wrong hands.
What do I mean by "the wrong hands"?
The wrong hands are impaired hands. They are angry hands, or jealous hands, or depressed hands, or the hands of someone who drinks to excess or abuses drugs. The wrong hands are those who mistake a neighbor for a crook, or the hands of someone who is terrified or upset. The wrong hands sometimes belong to thieves and crooks. Or the wrong hands sometimes belong to a child.
How bad is it? Look at the data. In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That figure includes gun murders and gun suicides. Though they tend to get less public attention than gun-related murders, suicides have long accounted for the majority of U.S. gun deaths. Those deaths are largely gun owners and their families.
Nearly eight in 10 (79%) U.S. murders in 2020 involved a firearm. A little over half (53%) of all suicides in 2020 involved a gun. The 45,222 total gun deaths in 2020 were by far the most on record, representing a 14% increase from the year before, a 25% increase from five years earlier and a 43% increase from a decade prior.
This is a problem that grows worse, not better.
Gun murders, in particular, have climbed sharply in recent years. Portland is currently wrestling with this reality. Nationally, the 19,384 gun murders that took place in 2020 were the most since at least 1968, exceeding the previous peak of 18,253 recorded by the CDC in 1993. The 2020 total represented a 34% increase from the year before, a 49% increase over five years and a 75% increase over 10 years.
The number of gun suicides has also risen in recent years — climbing 10% over five years and 25% over 10 years — and is near its highest point on record. The 24,292 gun suicides that took place in 2020 were the most in any year except 2018, when there were 24,432.
The gun death rate in the U.S. is much higher than in most other nations, particularly developed nations. The Small Arms Survey stated that U.S. civilians alone account for 393 million (about 46%) of the worldwide total of civilian-held firearms. This amounts to 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents, but only 32% of Americans say they personally own a firearm according to the 2021 National Firearms Survey. This means thatÂ more than 81.4 millionÂ Americans own 393 million guns.
Significantly, the American Journal of Public Health found thatÂ the odds of an assault victim being shot increased 4.5 times if they carried a gun, and the odds of them being killed increased 4.2 times.
On the other hand, the use of guns in self-defense by private citizens is extremely rare. VPC research has found a gun is far more likely to be used in a homicide or suicide than in a justifiable homicide.
Finally, more guns are stolen each year than are used in self-defense.
Lift Every Voice Oregon is circulating two petitions so that we can bring to a vote of the people whether assault rifles can be sold in Oregon, and how many bullets a gun can shoot before it needs to be re-loaded. Our measures are Initiative Petitions 17 and 18. We need 112,020 signatures for each by July to place these two measures on the November ballot to allow voters to decide.
Why are we doing this?
• Because gun owners obviously don't realize the risks of gun ownership. It is largely they who are dying.
• Responsible people need to dial back the notion that is delibretly framed as "my right!" rather than "something that is a clear risk."
• Because frightened children in our schools practice active shooter drills and wonder why that is.
It's long past time to respond to this grab for sales from a corrupt marketing campaign. Can you help? Visit Lift Every Voice Oregon — lifteveryvoiceoregon.com — is looking for your signature. Help refocus our state on important values like life, community, hope and sanity rather than a sales pitch that involves macho force, testosterone, fear and death.
We can do this. We need to do this. The voters await.
Eric Canon is a Forest Grove resident and petitioner for Lift Every Voice Oregon.
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