Consider this tongue-in-cheek proposal to curb our alarming plague of gun deaths: Why not permit the private ownership of only the kinds of muskets the founders were familiar with when they wrote the Second Amendment? This would still allow full access to firearms for those who want guns for hunting and self defense and have the additional benefit of adhering to the strictest possible interpretation of the Constitution.
Seriously, the founding fathers could certainly not have envisioned ordinary citizens bearing semi-automatic Bushmasters with clips capable of firing 100 rounds of ammunition. And not only could they have never imagined such super efficient killing machines, they would likewise never have dreamed their new nation would someday earn the distinction of having the highest murder rate of any industrialized country in the world.
As it turns out, the U.S. also has the highest total number of guns of any nation, a jaw dropping 393 million, which represents roughly half the number of domestically purchased guns found in the entire world, all owned by just 5% of the world's population. This means there are millions more weapons than needed to arm every American from fledgling first graders to aging grandmothers.
This has clearly not made us safer, in that the United States has a gun murder rate of about 20 times the average of other G-8 countries. Put another way, Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun than in any of these other developed nations.
Meanwhile, while U.S. crime rates have gone down, crimes committed with guns have increased, resulting in nearly 40,000 deaths and some 80,000 gun-related injuries a year (including suicides and attempted suicides).
In spite of this, we are continuing to be told by some that the solution is simply to address the mental health problems of deranged individuals, to reduce the time kids spend playing violent video games and to reinstate mandatory prayer and Bible reading in public schools. But all of these factors are at play in most other countries as well, but without the corresponding level of violence.
Of course all relevant issues need to be addressed, but certainly not excluding having universal background checks and other means of responsibly licensing and regulating gun ownership. But easy access to too many firearms loaded with far too much ammunition is surely a major reason for the kind of carnage an individual can create here in a very short period of time.
As to having more civilians carry loaded weapons in order to stop bad guys with guns, in U.S. mass-murder cases has even one ever been stopped by an armed civilian? A sheriff's deputy at Columbine High School back in 1999 did fire at one of the two killers while 11 of their 13 victims were still alive. But he missed four times.
In short, there are no easy answers, but we need to collaborate in doing whatever we can to stem our epidemic of gun violence.
Harvey Yoder lives in Harrisonburg.