TNS LA TIMES OPINION

Americans won’t tolerate firearm deaths forever

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IT is really quite simple: Guns are designed for killing. The more guns there are, the more people get killed.

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That’s not just simple logic. It’s simple fact.

The United States has only 4.5% of the world’s population but has 41.5% of its civilian-owned guns. The US has by far the highest gun ownership rate on Earth — nearly 90 firearms for every 100 people.

And no other developed nation comes close to us in firearms fatalities. We’re at 10-plus per 100,000 people. One third are homicides, two thirds are suicides.

No, it’s not necessarily true that if people didn’t kill themselves with guns, they’d do it with poison or rope or razors.

“Firearms are very easy to use,” says Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program. “If you shoot yourself with the intent to kill, chances are 80% to 90% you will. Not many people mess that up. But use any other method and the chances of success go way down.”

The gun death rate in France is 3 per 100,000 people. In Italy and Germany it’s 1-plus. In Britain, India and Japan, it’s way under 1.

“One of the myths,” Wintemute says, “is that the US is an inherently violent country. And that’s just not true.”

People in 22 developed nations were asked whether they had been assaulted in the previous year, he says, and the US came out third from the bottom.

“But look at the same countries’ gun violence rates, and we’re all by ourselves on top,” he says. “It’s American exceptionalism.”

The big difference — and here come the manic screams — is gun control. Other industrialized nations impose it. We’re pretty lax.

“We are unique in our regulatory approach,” Wintemute says. “We allow pretty much anybody to buy any firearm…. Our approach is permissive. In most other countries, their primary approach is restrictive. You can’t buy a firearm unless you show a need for it.”

We have, of course, the 2nd Amendment. The Founders didn’t want to maintain a large standing army so they inserted this into the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” A good copy editor would have deleted that third comma.

Last time I looked, we had a pretty robust standing army.

And modern firearms are much more lethal than those the Founders owned. They were all single-shot, and it might take a full minute for a shooter to get off one round — after he’d rammed the powder, wadding and bullet down the barrel. Not really made for mass killings. Not like today’s semi-automatics capable of spewing out dozens of rounds in no time.

Fewer civilian guns — especially rapid-firing guns — would result in fewer gun deaths. That seems simple.

What’s not simple, of course, is how to accomplish this in a democracy where so many millions are obsessed with guns, even addicted to them.

Hey, I get it. I grew up with guns in rural Ojai on a citrus ranch, scaring off coyotes trying to poach our chickens and firing at crows feeding off the corn crop. We hunted quail in the Ventura River bottom and deer in the surrounding mountains. Later, I flushed pheasants in the Sacramento Valley and stalked beasts in the Sierra.

I’ve savored the smell of gun solvent and the feel of a polished wooden stock; the thrill of squeezing a trigger without flinching and hitting the target.

I’m not anti-gun. But I am anti-opposition to sensible gun control. I don’t get the paranoia of gun owners who fear the “slippery slope” of ultimate confiscation by the government or Nazi ghosts.

Fortunately, California has good gun laws, perhaps the toughest in the nation. We ban the sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds. We have 10-day waiting periods with solid background checks. We require gun-handling tests, among other restrictions.

But we’re vulnerable to other states on our border, where people can buy weapons willy-nilly at gun shows and cart them into California. Like Chicago, despite its tough gun controls, is vulnerable to downstate Illinois and Indiana. And Washington, D.C., is defenseless against Northern Virginia.

That’s why we need a nationwide ban on high-capacity magazines — so common in mass shootings — and universal background checks to try to weed out the criminals and crazies.

We also need the Republican-controlled Congress to resume federal funding of gun-violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bowing to the National Rifle Assn., GOP lawmakers cut off the money two decades ago, claiming there was a hidden gun control agenda. Well, maybe such research would result in an acceptable partial cure to the killing epidemic.

Wintemute is an emergency room physician who was inspired to research gun violence after treating countless shooting victims. He used to receive CDC grants. When they ceased, he spent $1.2 million of his own money to continue his research.

The nation needs answers. And we need courageous politicians. Because Americans won’t tolerate these ludicrous murders forever.

“This is not insoluble,” Wintemute says. “Americans don’t throw up their hands and walk away. They go find the answer. Americans are really good at that.”

One answer is not more armed civilians.

Gun owners need to be brainstorming acceptable controls, not ranting in denial. Or eventually they may live their worst nightmare: Confiscation.

©2015 THE LOS ANGELES TIMES / DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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