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Gun violence: anything to pretend the problem isn’t guns

by Eric Ferguson on December 20, 2012

UPDATE: pushback on mental illness as the real problem

Somehow, someway, the gun lobby, and the politicians who serve them or fear them or both, think there must be some way to pretend the reason for America’s frequent gun massacres isn’t guns. I get the Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-WV, is in the uncomfortable position of being a Democrat in a red state, so I’m not unsympathetic to the political motivation for offering a bill to require the National Academy of Sciences to study the effect on children of violent video games and movies. There’s a practical side too however, another sort of exposure to violence that’s bad for children, namely, being shot by crazy people with 30 shot clips that are completely legal. Think that bit of violence might be the problem?

Something I wish every NRA toady and every fact-denying conservative could get through their heads is that other countries have violent video games, but they don’t have gun massacres. Other countries have violent movies and TV shows, but they don’t have gun massacres. Other countries have dangerously mentally ill people, but they don’t have gun massacres. Much as Mike Huckabee blames God being taken out of the schools, there are other countries where they don’t make kids pray or post the ten commandments on the wall, and they don’t have gun massacres. Much Jim DeMint’s successor in crazy thinks we probably don’t need legislation, but just an end to moral decline, conservatives kvetch everywhere in the Western world about moral decline, but only America has gun massacres.

Everything blamed for gun massacres, with one exception, happens in other countries, yet they don’t have gun massacres. What’s the exception? What do we have they don’t? More damned guns than anyplace that isn’t literally a war one, and I’m using “literally” correctly. Do other countries let crazy and angry people walk around with semiautomatics with large magazines? No. That’s the difference. Why is this so hard to understand?

Kudos to the president and vice-president for getting moving on gun violence. They sound like they expect a short time frame, and indeed there’s no benefit to waiting.

Kudos also to one conservative who decided to put facts ahead of ideology. If you haven’t seen this Joe Scarborough clip, here you go. If you haven’t shared it, please do so.

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UPDATE: on Daily Kos and Facebook, I’ve been getting pushback on the claim other countries have mental illness too, mostly claims we treat mentally ill people much differently than anyone else. Given that care of the mentally ill overseas ranges from very good to nothing at all, I thought it would be obvious on reflection that this claim is nonsense, but apparently not. So this from Fareed Zakaria caught my attention:

So what explains this difference? If psychology is the main cause, we should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people. But we don’t. The United States could do better, but we take mental disorders seriously and invest more in this area than do many peer countries.

This bit is worth reading (really, I recommend the whole article) to push back on the idea that we’re just a more crime-prone society:

Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But again, the data clarify. For most crimes – theft, burglary, robbery, assault – the United States is within the range of other advanced countries. The category in which the U.S. rate is magnitudes higher is gun homicides.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries.

The data in social science are rarely this clear. They strongly suggest that we have so much more gun violence than other countries because we have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 50 percent of the guns.

There is clear evidence that tightening laws – even in highly individualistic countries with long traditions of gun ownership – can reduce gun violence. In Australia, after a 1996 ban on all automatic and semiautomatic weapons – a real ban, not like the one we enacted in 1994 with 600-plus exceptions – gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over the next decade. The rate of suicide by firearm plummeted 65 percent. (Almost 20,000 Americans die each year using guns to commit suicide – a method that is much more successful than other forms of suicide.)

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