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Camillo Zacchia, PhD Headshot

If You Think 'Guns Don't Kill People' You Are Missing The Point

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The National Rifle Association in the United States and other gun owner lobby groups constantly proclaim that "Guns don't kill. People kill." True. But people with guns kill much more efficiently. I suppose that nuclear weapons don't kill, either.

I started writing this column many times. After each mass shooting spree I would try to complete it but was never quite able to do so. I would finally put it aside and say to myself, I'll wait for the next one. Sadly I never have to wait long.

A formula for violence

The formula for violence is not complicated. The first ingredient is an individual with the intent to do harm to himself or others. Motive for a shooting is easy to find: political ideology, personal vendettas, religious beliefs, delusions, name them. The common denominator in a mass shooting is that a person in an angry state has the means to inflict a perverse amount of lethal damage. And we make it a cinch to obtain such means.

And how many angry people are out there? Haven't we all met the occasional misanthrope -- the "If I had a gun, I'd shoot 'em all" types? How many people basically think, "It's me against the world?" If only one person in a thousand thought like this, there would be 350,000 such individuals in the U.S. and Canada. If we were to be extremely conservative and say only one person in 10,000 feels this way, we would still be surrounded by 35,000 of them!

Can we do a better job of identifying these individuals and do something about it? Hardly. Even when we know someone has a potential for violence we can never predict it with any useful accuracy. It's like earthquakes. We know they will happen. We know more or less where they are likely to happen. We can even have a rough idea of when they will happen -- within a certain span of years anyway. But whether we are talking about geologic fault lines or social alienation, we cannot predict when and where they will happen. We can only helplessly watch them unfold.

The NRA will always point out cases where a "bad guy with a gun" was stopped by a "good guy with a gun." So what?

Donald Trump argued that if some people in the Pulse nightclub had guns the killer would have been stopped before having killed so many. The NRA will always point out cases where a "bad guy with a gun" was stopped by a "good guy with a gun." So what?

How many people will die over the years when every angry drunk pulls a gun in a nightclub or a bar? How many others would die in traffic jams or family disputes? Would we feel safer if instead of a mass shooting we would substitute thousands of individual murders?

The only time we are safer owning a gun is if everyone else has one. Do we really want to live in a jungle-like world where we spend our days sharpening spears and putting on war paint?

If you think it is wise to do what Oscar Pistorius chose to do and keep a gun in your home, or in your car, or on you for personal protection, you are far more likely to kill a loved one by accident than any burglar. You will also have a lethal means of killing someone if you ever get angry or scared. And of course you will also have an efficient means of suicide should you have a bout with depression. And of course so will your children.

There are a few indisputable facts to consider:

... people occasionally get angry enough to lash out at someone or at a group.
... people sometimes get scared enough to fear for their lives.
... people sometimes make simple mistakes.
... people sometimes wish they were dead.

Under all of these circumstances, having a gun nearby will make any action lethal. It will turn a temporary state of mind into a permanent tragedy.

Google the following names, they deserve to be remembered: Ja'Mecca Smith, Manal Abdelaziz Jr., Renisha McBride, Yoshihiro Hattori, Trayvon Martin and Tyler Giuliano. Their deaths are all different tragedies but all involve guns and some form of fear, or anger, or accident, or simple negligence. These are emotions or events that we all experience. While tragedies can occur by other means, there are no comparisons to the lethality of guns.

What's wrong with this picture?

There were more than 33,000 gun deaths in the USA in 2013. Let's ponder that number for a moment. That's more than 11 times the deaths of 9-11!

After 9-11 we mobilized the world to act on terror. Since that day we can't get on an airplane with a tube of toothpaste. Yet after 11 equivalents of that terror attack, every single year we can still walk into a Walmart and buy an assault rifle.

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