The problem with gun violence


by Dan Lucas

For the last several months there’s been a great deal of discussion nationally and here in Oregon about gun violence. The discussion began again after the tragedies at Clackamas Town Center and in Newtown, Connecticut. Those discussions quickly led to calls for additional gun control legislation in Salem and in Washington D.C. Those efforts have largely petered out.

The reason those efforts have petered out is because the proposed solutions wouldn’t have prevented the recent tragedies. They were put forth by well-meaning but ineffective people, or by political opportunists who exploit tragedies. If we’re going to truly work on preventing tragedies like the shootings at Clackamas Town Center and Newtown, then there has to be rational discussion and actions taken based on factual studies, not emotional reactions or biased political agendas.

An example of the kind of bias that prevents serious discussion is the term “gun violence,” as in “Now is the time to do something about gun violence.” The term implies that we’re OK with other types of violence, just not gun violence. Don’t we want to prevent all violence, not just gun violence?

Don’t we also want to prevent the kind of violence that took three innocent lives at the Boston Marathon? Don’t we want to prevent the 156 sexual assaults and 8,428 physical assaults in our K-12 Oregon schools, in just one school year? Don’t we want to prevent domestic abuse, even when it doesn’t involve a gun? Don’t we want to do something about Oregon’s second worst rate of sexual violence in the nation?

Let’s move away from the emotionally-charged bias and political agendas, and look for real solutions. Solutions that do more than provide a temporary feel-good moment, but that don’t actually solve the problem. Let’s work on improving our mental health infrastructure and outreach, let’s have rational discussions based on unbiased factual studies, and let’s make Oregon safer for everyone.

Let’s also recognize that guns are not villains. An essential component of any rational discussion on reducing violence has to be the recognition of the positive values of guns, as well as their misuses. Guns, like cars, can be used for good or ill. A car can be used to take our kids to soccer practice or to be the getaway vehicle in a bank robbery.

As well as being used by police and security personnel to protect our cities, banks, elected officials, courts, etc., guns are used in hunting, competitive sports and self-protection. Florida State University researcher Dr. Gary Kleck has said that “the evidence indicates that guns are used by victims in self-protection more often than crimes are committed by offenders using guns. Victims used guns defensively two to two-and-a-half million times in 1993, for example, compared to about 850,000 crimes in which offenders possessed guns.” So the evidence shows that guns are used two to three times more often to defend a victim from crime than they are used by criminals to commit a crime.

A serious discussion needs to look at all the factors in major tragedies, and it needs to recognize all the tragedies prevented — like the mom in Georgia who successfully protected herself and her 9-year-old twins from an ex-con home intruder or the young woman in Oregon City who recently stopped an attacker. In both cases, the proper use of guns prevented tragedies.

Footnote: The LA Times reported on Tuesday that gun crime has plunged in U.S. since the mid-1990’s. “In less than two decades, the gun murder rate has been nearly cut in half. Other gun crimes fell even more sharply, paralleling a broader drop in violent crimes committed with or without guns.”