By editorial board • 

It’s about a sick society as much as sick people

A 1993 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded a handgun in the home triples the chances someone will be shot and killed there.

Horrified, Congress took immediate action. It cut funding for research into gun violence from a public health perspective.

Our political leaders simply refuse to address gun violence, no matter how many people die. Some try, but Americans’ obsession with firearms seems impervious to logic, thus even to the most modest of reforms.

Fortunately, that situation may be changing. The National Rifle Association has been financially weakened to the point it may be losing its stranglehold on American politics. Perhaps the group will trend back toward the stance it’s held for the majority of its nearly 150-year existence: that some gun control is necessary.

Even President Trump mused about supporting some kind of gun legislation, albeit briefly and framed as a tradeoff for action on immigration, another of America’s seemingly insurmountable wedge issues.

Maybe — and it’s a wafer-thin maybe — we can finally engage in some serious discourse on gun violence.

Such debate could begin with framing it as a public health crisis. That would spark the clinical analysis needed to probe beyond the pat rhetoric that seems to forever flow from mass shootings.

No other country experiences this phenomenon on remotely our level. Why is that?

Video games? Mental illness? No, those factors are at work in all countries everywhere. But lax gun laws are not.

The fact is, the United States now contains more firearms than citizens. It is either blessed or cursed, depending on your perspective — with 393 million guns in the hands of 326 million residents. Our nearest competitor is Canada, where 36 million share 2 million firearms. In terms of per capita, America more than doubles the runner up, Yemen.

All those “good guys” with guns don’t seem to be stopping many of the bad guys, even in tough-talking Texas. So some commonsense legislation would be entirely appropriate, and could be enacted almost immediately.

However, research should examine other contributing factors as well.

For instance, how did we become so angry? How did baseless, unhinged rants on social media come to foment a toxic stew of rage and racism?

It doesn’t help when the president continually refers to an influx of immigrants and refugees as an “invasion,” and laughs it off when a supporter suggests shooting them as a solution.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” the president said this week. Well, he might lead by actually embracing the advice of whoever wrote that for him.

However, while Trump eggs on our culture of hostility, he certainly didn’t create it. His presidency, in fact, may be the product of it.

Merely imposing the death penalty is a simple-minded response. None of these shooters expect to successfully flee the country, or even live out their lives behind bars. They’re as suicidal as they are homicidal.

The answers to what is truly a public health crisis are multifaceted.

Americans have always loved guns. In the last 20 years or so, they have increasingly seemed willing to turn them on one another.

This is not solely the result of sick individuals. It is the result of a sick society — one that needs a more precise diagnosis.


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