An American Addiction
The New York Times | April 25, 2007
By Bob Herbert
Two days after the massacre at Virginia Tech, a mentally disturbed man with a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun opened fire in a house in Queens, killing his mother, his mother's disabled companion and the disabled man's health care aide. The gunman then killed himself.
Sixteen months ago, in the basement of a private home in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, four aspiring rappers, aged 19 to 22, were summarily executed in a barrage of semiautomatic gunfire. Two teenagers were arrested five months later, and one was charged as the gunman.
I had coffee the other day with Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund, and she mentioned that since the murders of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, well over a million Americans have been killed by firearms in the United States. That's more than the combined U.S. combat deaths in all the wars in all of American history.
"We're losing eight children and teenagers a day to gun violence," she said. "As far as young people are concerned, we lose the equivalent of the massacre at Virginia Tech about every four days."
The first step in overcoming an addiction is to acknowledge it. Americans are addicted to violence, specifically gun violence. We profess to be appalled at every gruesome outbreak of mass murder (it's no big deal when just two, three or four people are killed at a time), but there's no evidence that we have the will to pull the guns out of circulation, or even to register the weapons and properly screen and train their owners.
On the day after Christmas in 2000, an employee of Edgewater Technology, a private company in Wakefield, Mass., showed up at work with an assault rifle and a .12-gauge shotgun. Around 11 a.m. he began methodically killing co-workers. He didn't stop until seven were dead.
An employee who had not been at work that day spoke movingly to a reporter from The Boston Globe about the men and women who lost their lives. "They were some of the sweetest, smartest people I've ever had the chance to work with," he said. "The cream of the crop."
The continuing carnage has roused at least one group of public officials to action: mayors. "We see the violence that is happening in America today," said Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. "Illegal guns are rampant. Go into almost any classroom in Boston — sixth and seventh grade, eighth grade, high school — and 50 percent of those kids know somebody who had a gun."
The mayor noted that since the beginning of the year, more than 100 people have already been killed in Philadelphia, and nearly 80 in Baltimore. Most of the victims were shot to death.
Last year Mayor Menino and Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, at a meeting they hosted at Gracie Mansion, organized a group of mayors committed to fighting against illegal firearms in the U.S. "It is time for national leadership in the war on gun violence," Mr. Bloomberg said at the time. "And if that leadership won't come from Congress or come from the White House, then it has to come from us."
The campaign has grown. There were 15 mayors at that first gathering. Now more than 200 mayors from cities in 46 states have signed on.
When asked why Mayor Bloomberg had become so militant about the gun issue, John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, mentioned the "human element." He said: "I think it's because he's watched eight police officers be shot. And because, like all mayors, he's the one who gets awakened, along with the police commissioner, at 3 in the morning and 4 in the morning, and has to rush to the hospital and break the news that can break somebody's heart."
Those who are interested in the safety and well-being of children should keep in mind that only motor vehicle accidents and cancer kill more children in the U.S. than firearms. A study released a few years ago by the Harvard School of Public Health compared firearm mortality rates among youngsters 5 to 14 years old in the five states with the highest rates of gun ownership with those in the five states with the lowest rates.
The results were chilling. Children in the states with the highest rates of gun ownership were 16 times as likely to die from an accidental gunshot wound, nearly seven times as likely to commit suicide with a gun, and more than three times as likely to be murdered with a firearm.
Only a lunatic could seriously believe that more guns in more homes is good for America's children.