What’s Going On: Are we ready to admit we have a problem?
It was one of those facts that just seemed so outrageously untrue … I wondered if it was true.
I had the same kind of doubt and skepticism when I first heard that hippos kill more people in Africa than lions. They do … about 3,000 — 250 more.
So when discussing the most recent mass shootings, when someone who considers themselves well-read and a news skeptic stated “more people in the United States are killed by hands and feet than any other weapon” I thought of the hippos.
Really? Hands and feet are used to kill more people … than guns? There are that many strangulations, beatings, stompings and any other way you can kill someone … with your hands and feet?
It just didn’t seem possible. But then again, neither did 3,000 hippo fatalities.
Pressing for a source of this information, I was told it came from the FBI’s latest crime statistics. Well, that’s easy enough to verify … even easier than hippo fatalities.
This time, the hippos lost.
Here are some basic facts from the FBI website from 2017:
There were 15,139 murders in the United States in 2017;
Of those 15,139 murders, 10,992 were caused by a firearm, or 73 percent;
Hands, fists and feet accounted for 696 deaths, or 4.5 percent;
And for context, here’s how America’s murder rates compare to the rest of the world.
At 5.3 people per 100,000 residents, the United States has the 87th highest murder rate out of 230 countries worldwide.
The U.S. murder rate with guns (3.9) is four times higher than the entire murder rate in Japan, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Australia and Ireland.
The U.S. murder rate with guns is higher than the entire murder rate in war torn countries like Cambodia, Israel, Kuwait, Libya, Iran, Vietnam, Kosovo, Romania and Sierra Leone.
For further context, more than twice as many people were killed in U.S. highway accidents (37K) at a rate of 11.4 per 100,00 in 2017.
I mention the traffic fatalities for a couple reasons. First, it’s important to recognize while gun violence in America is exceptionally higher than elsewhere in the world, you are still nearly three times more likely to be killed by a car than a bullet.
However, what’s really important is to note how amazing it is the multiplier isn’t bigger There was a time not too long ago when the traffic fatality rate was much, much higher … like well over double the rate.
After slowly rising from the teens in the gas-rationed WWII era, fatality rates hovered around 25-26 deaths per 100,00 people between 1966-1973. Then after topping off at 25.5 in 1973, the rate plummeted 17 percent the next year to 21.3. After slight fluctuations the next five years, the rate has steadily decreased over time, dropping 28 of the last 39 years, with a low of 10.28 in 2014 … the lowest since 1918.
So why the sudden drop? Was it just coincidence? Happenstance? Traffic fairies?
Hardly. Back in 1966, when those traffic rates just kept on climbing, society finally had enough and did something. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association was formed and studies were conducted to determine what could be done to make highways safer and reduce the number of traffic deaths.
Everything changed because of those studies: cars were equipped with shatter-proof windshields, headrests, and this bizarre option called seat belts; highways were built and designed differently with things like guardrails and breakaway sign poles; and legislation was changed as speed limits were reduced, drunk driving penalties stiffened, and those seat belt thingies were no longer optional.
Let’s put the impact of that change into real numbers. Without those changes, had the fatality rate remained at the consistent 25.5 per 100,000 reached in 1966, there would have been an additional 46,000 people would have been killed on U.S. highways last year … or 126 … per day.
I don’t know how many people have to die in this country from guns before we admit there’s a problem. Now, maybe you don’t think the fact you are more likely to be killed by a gun in this country than anything in most Middle Eastern countries. However, I think most recognize something’s wrong, we just don’t necessarily agree to the cause or the solution.
I wasn’t around in 1966, but I’m guessing before those studies occurred, there was a lot of disagreement as to what was the leading causes of the high number of traffic deaths and how to solve the problem … because as with most problems, there isn’t a simple answer.
Gun deaths are the same. There isn’t going to be one cause or one solution. But much like with traffic fatalities … there’s a lot of unknowns. And yet, while a study into gun deaths seems like an obvious necessity, it isn’t.
In 1996, the U.S. Congress passed one of those most asinine laws that contained a provision called the Dickey Amendment which essentially banned the Center for Disease Control from using its funds to study gun violence.
So as gun deaths reach historically high rates never seen in the history of this country, we don’t even ask questions how we should fix the problem.
It looked like all that might change last year after the Parkland, Fla., shooting and the wave of activism that followed, Congress clarified that the CDC could in fact study the problem, reversing the 20-year ban. However, there was one catch: no money would be provided.
This year, with Democrats in control of the House, they pushed through legislation providing $50M for the study; Mitch McConnell though has refused to bring it up for discussion in the Senate.
Whether he relents and actually allows the Senate to talk about just a study into the problem seems unlikely. McConnell has the political battle armor needed to shield him from the resulting backlash of blocking this bill. As such, he’ll use it to the benefit of his GOP colleagues so they won’t be put in the uncomfortable position of defying gun advocates terrified of any kind of legislation that has the whiff of potential restrictions.
But this is an election year and the American public, regardless of party affiliation, is getting tired of being shot or watching loved ones die at the hands of a gunman. Its becoming too frequent for us to ignore any longer. Its time to admit we have a problem, and try to find a solution to it.
Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at email@example.com.