I get the same question from Americans pretty frequently: aren’t you afraid to be in Paris, with all of the terrorist attacks? In truth: I’m not afraid to be in Paris in the least. To be in the US, though: that’s more complicated.
Thanks to my work, some relatives overseas, and a little volunteering, I travel out of the US pretty regularly. I do go some places that are a little dicey on occasion. (Dicey and other obscure English expressions explained at the end of the post.) However: I am far more cautious in the US than I am anywhere else.
The reason: we have far more gun deaths in the US than any other country, anywhere in the world. You might respond that we have more gun deaths in absolute terms, but only because we have more people than most countries. That’s not the case, though: in relative, per capita terms, we still have far more gun deaths than any country in the world. The graph to the left takes exactly this question into account–the larger population in the US–and models the number of gun deaths that you would see in other countries if you adjusted their numbers of gun deaths for the same population size as the US. Far more in the US… Could I get blown away by a terrorist in Paris? Sure. But, I’m way more likely to be shot in a random road rage incident while driving to work in the US.
Lately I’ve occasionally been wrapping up my blog posts by giving the number of gun deaths in the US in the past 72 hours, along with links to the news stories on 5 or so of the most recent ones. I’ve been doing this because I think that there’s some value in raising awareness of just how frequent firearm deaths are in this country. But, I’m going to stop. The reason: it’s just soooo depressing. It turns an activity that I do just for fun, just because I enjoy it—writing about whatever random crap happens to be in my head on this blog—and turns it into a confrontation with the sadness of every one of those families that lost someone to the curse of firearms in America. I just don’t have the stomach for it. I feel like a wimp for that, but: I really don’t have the stomach for it. It’s just overwhelming.
Let me give you some idea of the magnitude of our problem. According to statista.com, a web site that aggregates statistics on pretty much anything that you can count, the largest number of deaths of American soldiers in Iraq in a single year was 904 in 2007. The total number of civilian deaths in Iraq since the war started is somewhere in the range of 160,000 to 174,000. In contrast, in the US we’ve had about 12,000 firearm deaths in the US every year since the Iraq war started. That works out to more firearm deaths in the US than in Iraq.
After any especially horrific shooting in the US, you hear this explanation from some gun nut or another: he got the gun illegally–there’s nothing that could have been done about it. This is bullshit. The graph below shows the distribution of legally obtained, illegally obtained, and unknown-provenance firearms in mass shootings in the US over the 30-year period from 1982-2012. Most of them were obtained legally.
The most common Republican justification for why Americans ought to have easy access to firearms: in the US, it’s a civil liberty, enshrined in the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to our Constitution. I find this amusing and more than a little hypocritical, for the following reason: we have a lot of other civil liberties enshrined in our Constitution, too, and Republicans typically seem pretty willing to let them go. For example:
- Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion (First Amendment): …and yet Republican politicians pretty widely defended the county clerk who refused to give marriage licenses to gay couples, as Christianity (her version, at least) forbids it. (You have to wonder if they would have been so enthusiastic about defending the clerk if she had been a niqab-clad Wahhabi.)
- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated… (Fourth Amendment): …and yet many Republicans have been falling all over themselves to make it easier to monitor the communications of US citizens since 9/11. (Not all Republicans: after the Snowden revelations, there was some outcry amongst Republicans, too.)
- No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law… (Fifth Amendment): …and yet: Guantanamo, 15 years after 9/11, no trials, and Republican politicians fighting like crazy to keep them there.
- …In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial... (Sixth Amendment)…and yet: Guantanamo, again.
- …nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself… (Fifth Amendment, again) …and yet Republicans will support torture? Torture? (See here for my thoughts, as a military veteran, on torture–I don’t know of anyone in America more opposed to torture than military veterans…)
- And yet: they want to claim that the Second Amendment (firearms) is sacrosanct, unambiguous, and good. Assholes.
Scroll down past the graph for notes on English expressions used in this post.
To be dicey: From Merriam-Webster.com: involving a chance that something bad or unpleasant could happen. Also from Merriam-Webster.com: risky, unpredictable <a dicey proposition> <dicey weather>. From the post: I do go some places that are a little dicey on occasion.
To fall all over oneself to do something: to be very eager to do something. …and yet many Republicans have been falling all over themselves to make it easier to monitor the communications of US citizens since 9/11.
Clad (in): to be clad in something is to be dressed in or covered with it, where the covering is in some sense permanent, as in an iron-clad promise. From the post: You have to wonder if they would have been so enthusiastic about defending the clerk if she had been a niqab-clad Wahhabi.
To be/get blown away: one meaning is to be killed by a firearm or explosive–the sense in which I used it here. Could I get blown away by a terrorist in Paris? Sure. But, I’m way more likely to be shot in a random road rage incident while driving to work in the US. Another (and very common) meaning is to be surprised and overwhelmed by something. It could be in a good way, or a bad way. I was blown away by her unexpected kindness. (That’s good.) I was blown away by the savagery of the Nice attack on 14 juillet. (That’s bad.)
Road rage: an outburst of anger by a driver, related to something that some other driver has done. The Wikipedia definition: Road rage is aggressive or angry behavior by a driver of an automobile or other road vehicle which includes rude gestures, verbal insults, physical threats or dangerous driving methods targeted toward another driver in an effort to intimidate or release frustration. Road rage can lead to altercations, assaults and collisions that result in serious physical injuries or even death.
To wrap something up: multiple meanings; in this case, to finish something. Lately I’ve occasionally been wrapping up my blog posts by giving the number of gun deaths in the US in the past 72 hours, along with links to the news stories on 5 or so of the most recent ones.
To (not) have the stomach for something: it’s this meaning of the word “stomach” (definition from Merriam-Webster.com): the desire, courage, etc., that is needed to do or accept something difficult or unpleasant. Example: I just don’t have the stomach for it. I feel like a wimp for that, but: I really don’t have the stomach for it.