Guns <i>do</i> kill people. Our national New Year's resolution must be to stop the madness.
It is shameful that gun control only becomes worthy of public debate following an unspeakable massacre such as Newtown — and even more shameful that these mass killings occur so often. What usually happens is that we spend a few weeks pretending to have a "conversation" about guns, then the horror begins to fade and we turn to other issues. Everything goes back to normal.
"Normal," however, is tragically unacceptable.
In 2010, guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans. Most of the deaths were suicides; a few were accidental. About a third of them — 11,078 — were homicides. That's almost twice the number of Americans who have been killed in a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In Britain, by comparison, the number of gun homicides in 2010 was 58. Here we'd consider that a rounding error.
What explains the difference?
Well, I spent a few years as the Washington Post's London bureau chief, and I can attest that Britain has the same social ills that we have — crime, unemployment, alienation, racial strife, mental illness. Britain also has a powerful, rural-based constituency determined to protect the right of hunters to spend weekends blasting away at shadows in the woods. Gun-loving Brits are no less passionate than gun-loving Americans.
But Britain recognizes the obvious distinction between guns legitimately used for sport — shotguns, hunting rifles, some target pistols — and those meant only to kill human beings. Most handguns are banned. All automatic and semi-automatic firearms, including the kind of assault weapons used at Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech and the other mass shootings in this country, are banned.
In Britain, individuals must have a "good reason" to obtain a license to own a firearm. Self-defense is generally not considered an adequate reason — nor should it be, since research suggests that guns actually make the owner more vulnerable.
In an often-cited paper published in 1993 by the New England Journal of Medicine, a research group headed by Arthur Kellermann examined homicide records in the Memphis, Seattle and Cleveland metropolitan areas and concluded that guns "actually pose a substantial threat to members of the household."