Thursday, May 24, 2018

Playing Pogo with our kids' lives - When it comes to mass shootings, it's the guns, stupid.

When it comes to mass shootings at our schools, I confess I do not have a label to describe the sickness let loose in our land. But perhaps we can converge on a cause if we practice some science and eliminate alternative explanations. This is exactly what Chicago Tribune’s columnist Rex Huppke does. He takes an evidence-based look at the unlikely causes of school shootings in Santa Fe school shooting, Ritalin and the NRA’s culture of convenient excuses. (The AZ Daily Star carried the column under a different title.)

Huppke starts with a culture of violence supported by video games.

Retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, the incoming president of the National Rifle Association, said on “Fox News Sunday”: “The problem that we’ve got is we’re trying like the dickens to treat the symptom without treating the disease, and the disease in this case isn’t the Second Amendment. The disease is youngsters who are steeped in a culture of violence. …

The “our culture is causing mass shootings” argument is compelling and can sound reasonable on a visceral level. But it’s based on emotion, not reality.

According to global marketing firm Newzoo, the five countries that spend the most money on video games are: China, the United States, Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Using data from 2016, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington found that the rate of violent gun deaths per 100,000 people in those countries is: 0.06 for China, 3.85 for the United States, 0.04 for Japan, 0.12 for Germany and 0.07 for the United Kingdom.

Another way to look at these numbers is that the the gun death rate in the US is 55 times greater than that in other developed countries. For every one gun death in China, Japan, Germany, and the UK, there are 55 such deaths in the US.

Violent video games are available everywhere, but America’s gun violence rate is staggeringly higher than those other top video-game-purchasing countries.

Culture, Schmulture, Ollie North.

How about other factors that might cause gun deaths in America, like losing our religious principles? Nope.

… A Pew Research Center study found that a little more than half of Americans say religion is very important in their lives. Does that indicate moral decay that would turn boys into monsters?

Look at the other countries referenced above. In China, only 3 percent say religion is very important. Japan is only 11 percent. The United Kingdom and Germany are both at 21 percent. In Canada, only 27 percent of people think religion is very important in their lives.

Our level of religiosity [50 percent] is high compared with those countries, but our gun violence problem is off the charts.

If anything, getting religion gets you shot.

Abortion? Same story.

… According to data from a study released this year by the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 49 in the United States was 13. The rate was the same in the United Kingdom. Sweden had a higher abortion rate at 18 per 1,000 women, but there were only 41 people shot to death there last year.

Violent movies? Those are shown in other countries that have minor to nonexistent gun violence problems.

These cultural factors can all be concerning in their own right, but they aren’t to blame for America’s gun violence epidemic. If they were, other countries would have the same problems.

There’s only one significant factor that separates America from places like England and Japan and Germany and Sweden: We have an illogical number of easily accessible guns.

Personally, I’d like to melt all the guns down, forge a giant steel statue of a hand making a rude gesture then place the statue directly outside the NRA’s headquarters. But I realize that’s wildly unrealistic and, truth be told, embarrassingly childish.

So let’s talk about stronger enforcement of existing gun laws, a return of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, limiting the size of gun magazines or a federal safe storage law that might help prevent cases like Santa Fe, where the teenage shooter was able to access his father’s guns.

And let’s listen to suggestions on making schools safer. When the lieutenant governor of Texas wasn’t reciting canned lines about cultural issues, he made a reasonable point about limiting the number of ways students can enter a school, allowing school officials a better chance to screen people.

On this last point, when I grew up, we learned to fear a nuclear holocaust triggered by a misstep on the part of one or both of the world’s nuclear powers: the US and the USSR. The current generation of school children in the US has been taught to fear getting shot by another student with access to high powered rifles. In my school days, the fear of getting bombed had a real external source: Russia. In today’s schools, the fear of getting shot is caused by an internal source – what we have done and are still doing to ourselves. We are trading protection of our beloved guns against the murder of our less-loved children.

Huppke concludes: “Without a doubt, we have met the enemy and he is us.”

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