Or, Yes, Dorothy, We Do Have A Double Standard HereWell, the Bushmaster .223 caliber civilian assault rifle (i.e, a military spec rifle designed to deliver high rates of automatic fire in battlefield conditions, slightly modified to only fire semi-automatic but still capable of several rounds per second and often equipped with high capacity magazines) used to execute 20 elementary school students and six of their teachers made the news again this week, and this time much closer to (my) childhood home. As reported in the NY Times, 62 year old William Spengler set fire to his home in Webster, NY, as a way to set up an ambush and murder two firemen and wound a second two, who are currently recovering from serious gunshot wounds in Strong Memorial Hospital. According to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, Spengler chose the 223 Bushmaster. It seems these military style rifles are becoming the weapon of choice of those wanting to go out in a blaze of blood and infamy. In a goodbye note to humanity, Mr. Spengler said he wanted to go out of this world doing what he likes to do best, "killing people".
“He was equipped to go to war to kill innocent people,” the Webster police chief, Gerald L. Pickering, said of Mr. Spengler.
Elsewhere in the NY Times, we learn that those extremely violent video games that NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre complains about are actually used by gun manufacturers to market guns. Gee...I guess Wayne ought not to bite the hand that feeds him.
Finally, in the Albuquerque Journal today we learn from AP writers Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur that 561 children 12 years old or younger were shot dead in the USA from 2006 to 2010.
Not to pick on the Bushmaster too much but I've had enough. We need to control weapons of mass destruction, not to mention, control our dark side. No right is absolute, and although the Founders, as recorded in such places as the Federalist Papers, argued that "a well regulated militia" was inexorably tied into the people's individual right to bear arms, that doesn't mean they thought every farmer should have a twelve pounder double-shotted with grape and canister aimed at the front porch. Neither does it mean we should all be carrying around enough firepower to fight a land war in Afghanistan. One has to balance individual rights with the public safety. Yes, finding that balance is a real chore and requires trust, individual responsibility, and logic. The more freedom one has, the more responsibilities one shoulders for the public good.
But what about those gun death numbers? The elephant in the room is here: In those same five years that we killed 561 children with guns, or about 112 per year, we probably killed, on average, between 1400 and 2,000 children per year aged 14 and under with motor vehicles. Here's the most recent data I scraped up. That is a ratio of roughly between 14 and 20:1 Worldwide, the leading cause of death among children is car mishaps, not gun mishaps.
One might ask why both cars and guns are marketed so irresponsibly. For every awful gun ad I've seen in Guns and Ammo telling us that every home needs an assault rifle to protect us against a mythical Armegeddon, I can find you a few car ads that sell cars that will give us outlets for our aggression, that we can drive like maniacs ("professional driver on closed course, don't try this at home"), so we can get laid, or so we can revel in yet more meaningless horsepower. Citizens who will fight to the death to protect their right to keep and drive cars fight traffic cameras, speed limits, and cell phone laws. As cyclists, we see the results of that mentality and are four times more likely to die at the hands of a reckless, careless, or drunk motorist than by the hand of a gun-wielding criminal or lunatic.
The problem isn't guns, its us. We don't want any restrictions on our freedom to screw up, even if we take out others with us. Cars should be about transportation, and guns for sport shooting, hunting, and defense, both individual and national. Instead, guns and cars are tied into our silly and our dark sides, too. Its not just the individual's lacking self control, either. Its the manufacturers and advertisers who will take their money now and let us deal with the mortal consequences later.
We are not a few million horse riding and musket wielding farmers spread out thinly along the East Coast any more; when one of us screws up with our high tech contraptions, whether it be a Bushmaster in the hands of a lunatic or a Buick in the hands of a texting driver, we hurt others. Until we meet each other halfway with some sense of safety and civility, not to mention reasonable laws based on risk analysis rather than fear driven politics, we will continue to kill each other in higher than necessary or reasonable numbers. And please, unless you are a better driver than I am or are car-free, don't rant about the NRA until you rant about the National Motorists Association.
I'm left thinking that here in BombTown, we are more likely under normal circumstances to kill each other with a motorized cell phone than with a gun, although neither, famous last words, is a high likelihood event. Given that the community is concerned with active shooters, I suggest if we really want to save lives, we teach each other to be active safe drivers as well as worry about whether mass gun violence will arrive on The Hill.
Finally, of course, be careful and be civil out there, whether it be with your bike, your car, or your gun.