Guns are still an issue

On New Year’s Eve, a night when most of us were trying to remain standing (or trying to help others stand), Christopher Adam Monette, 25, was shot and killed during a house party fight in northeast Portland just before midnight.

On New Year’s Eve, a night when most of us were trying to remain standing (or trying to help others stand), Christopher Adam Monette, 25, was shot and killed during a house party fight in northeast Portland just before midnight.

Four hours later, at another house party in Tigard, Robert Sean Gillroy, 32, accidentally shot himself with a handgun from his home. He died as well.

And a couple of hours earlier, in a quiet Beaverton home, a bullet “presumably fired from a handgun during a New Year’s Day celebration,” came down through the ceiling and fell on a 6-year-old boy’s pillow, inches away from his head, according to The Oregonian.

Gun violence and gun control has lost much of its forefront status in the national discourse, despite high-profile news items such as the massacre at Virginia Tech last April and the murder of football star Sean Taylor last November. Gun control has been glossed over as an issue in much of the presidential race, and was not touched on at all in last Saturday’s four-hour debate in New Hampshire.

Gallup data for 2007 shows that 51 percent of Americans believe laws regarding the sale of firearms should be stricter. That is down from a high of 78 percent in 1990, and an average around 60 percent during the 1990s. Only 2 percent believe that crime and violence are the most important problems facing the nation.

Yet 44 percent of American households still contain a gun, according to the latest General Social Survey. And as the graves of Monette and Gillroy demonstrate, we’re still dying from them. The homicide rate in the U.S. has remained nearly stagnant at 5.7 per 100,000 since 1999, and while it hasn’t gone up between then and now, it hasn’t gone down either, and around two-thirds of homicides committed still involve firearms, according to the FBI.

There is a popular libertarian viewpoint that decries gun control using the examples of England and Australia, where violent crime skyrocketed after strict gun measures were put into place, or the examples of U.S. areas like Washington D.C. and parts of New Jersey, where violent crime rates are staggering despite strict gun control.

We’ve heard the argument so many times. When guns are banned, only the criminals will own guns, and they will be eager to use them against an unarmed populace. But the statistics require some deeper digging. In Australia, the murder rate climbed the year following the ban, then decreased steadily for the next seven years. And while the murder rate shot up for years following England’s handgun ban in 1997, it has also decreased since 2003, not to mention statistics for 2001 and 2003 were greatly influenced by two singular incidents of mass killings.

As for areas in the United States where gun control measures are in place, it doesn’t take a ton of brains to figure that banning guns in one small area will just cause criminals to take a short drive to a neighboring area that will legally sell them firearms.

The key thing to realize is that not all gun control laws are created equal; there is effective gun control and ineffective gun control. In Canada, gun control laws became increasingly tighter over the last half of the 20th century, and the homicide rate has been on an aggregate decline since 1976, sitting at a present rate of 1.85, per 100,000 people (one-third of the American homicide rate).

This is not to say that the statistics I’ve cited can’t be deceiving, only to highlight how terribly complex and non-linear the issue of cause and effect is. Gun availability is only one piece in a mosaic of factors contributing to our homicide rate, and changes that laws have made in one country will not necessarily have the same results in the United States.

Yet a few facts stick out. One, it has been shown time and time again that it is far more likely for a firearm in a household to result in the accidental death of an innocent than for a victim to successfully use the firearm for self-defense. Two, according to the surgeon general, the homicide increase in the 1980s and the decrease in the 1990s correlates with firearm usage. The rate of non-firearm-related homicide remained stagnant throughout those two decades. And three, according to the American Journal of Public Health, the aggregate homicide rate for the six states with the highest gun ownership is 2.9 times the rate of the four states with the lowest gun ownership.

These statistics confirm what may seem obvious: When there are more guns around, more people die, people like Monette and Gillroy.

Firearms are not nuclear weapons-there is no mutually assured destruction here. Maybe enacting the controls of other countries will not work for us, but neither will allowing the existing laws to stand as they are. Whatever we can do to get more firearms off the street and out of houses, the safer our country will be.