Re-post: Murdertown, USA

Gun_IconI wrote this back in July, the recent murders at Umpqua Community College in Oregon prompt me to repost it. The frequency of these events just emphasize the need to go beyond the guns/no guns arguments, this article in Forbes does a better job of it than I do, but here are my thoughts…

Murdertown, USA

GunSpeaking of the sad horror visited on the bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston – I’m struck (as I have been for more than a decade of this in our modern multimedia age) at how the only response seems to be “get rid of guns” and “don’t get rid of guns”. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it now – we don’t have a gun problem, we have a murder problem in no way helped by the ease of access to firearms.

I did a quick, unscientific comparison using the data on the Wikipedia murder page – I had to add up the top eight Western European countries to get roughly the same population number – the U.S. wins with 14,827 murders to the paltry 2,954 Europeans can manage for the same number of citizens. Can this exclusively be because of gun laws? I don’t think so.

CivlWarIn the U.S., with the exception of the Civil War (see above to see how seriously we take the lessons of things like war) we haven’t had up-close, large-scale murder sprees in our streets or raining down from the skies, nor had to bear witness to the aftermath. We’re a big country, we can (and do) hide away the trauma of mass killing, not so in Europe’s case. They had to “deal” with all of it, the futility (WWI), the loss, the horror, the privation. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re less likely to turn to murder as dispute resolution. It’s the same reason soldiers don’t glorify war.

We’ll always have crazy people that kill, there’s no solution for that, but would dropping murder rates to European levels (roughly 11,873-ish fewer dead per year) be a worthwhile goal? I think so, but it ain’t gonna happen with people beginning and ending possible solutions arguing about guns.

Short of a war on our soil, is there any potential to lower the murder rate? I ain’t no Pollyanna, but we might start with education and see where that gets us. Americans used to smoke the hell out of cigarettes but consumption has fallen by more than half since 1965, due in large part to the Surgeon General’s report. Just because something’s bad for us isn’t a strong indicator we’ll change, but knowledge, combined with social pressure over time can move the needle. The complexity of the social change can’t be overstated, our fiction, our traits we find attractive in humans, our international conflict resolution, our definition of what a “win” is would all have to shift.

It’s been a long time since the Apollo missions, and there’s worse things we could put our collective energies towards than improving how we treat each other.