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Gun violence now just part of the landscape

The anxiety and frustration is growing, and a tipping point has to be coming soon ... doesn’t it?

Week after week now, we hear of a shooting somewhere in the United States. It’s an epidemic of tragedy and horror that diminishes all of us and tears at the foundation of our humanity.

In recent days, two Northwest schools were the scene of brutal, senseless violence at the hands of yet another person with a gun. At Reynolds High School in Troutdale, a 14-year-old kid — Emilio Hoffman — was shot and killed by a 15-year-old on June 10. Just days before that, at Seattle Pacific University in Seattle on June 5, more apparently random violence claimed the life of Paul Lee, 19, a freshman at the university.

President Barack Obama captured the mood of many in the nation with his views on this latest rash of shootings. During an interview with a news website last week, Obama was asked what has frustrated him the most since he began serving as president. He didn’t hesitate.

“My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage,” Obama said. “We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens. And it happens now once a week, and it’s a one-day story.”

In a single paragraph, Obama put the magnitude of this situation on full display.

Where do we begin to get a grip on this?

As a society, we appear to have become all too accustomed to gun violence. In December 2012, when a 20-year-old went into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and murdered 20 young kids and six of their teachers, many believed the tipping point had come. But going on two years later, almost nothing has changed. Indeed, it has been widely reported that since the Sandy Hook killings, there have been 74 shootings in schools around the nation. If those statistics are to be believed, that works out to be an average of more than four every month.

Internet websites such as nymag.com and National Review have dissected and disputed those claims, arguing that national rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s. Yet, wherever the truth lies between those points of view, we can do more to protect our citizens. It’s unfortunate that even small, circuitous steps that wouldn’t infringe on the rights of Americans to own firearms — requiring background checks even at gun shows, for example, or limiting the capacity of ammo clips — have been knocked aside by the gun lobby and by politicians refusing to go against them in any way.

The reality is, there have been so many shootings, they have become like car wrecks: We glance at the headline, see where the incident was and how many died, and then turn to the sports section, as if these deaths are now just an accepted part of our cultural landscape.

Sadly, we have created truth out of the lyrical cynicism captured by country singer Steve Earle: “I didn’t even make the papers, because I only killed one man,” he sang in a 1990 song titled “Billy Austin.”

When we, as a society, decided that everyone would own a car and drive virtually everywhere, we accepted that there would be a certain number of fatalities and injuries from the inevitable collisions. But at least government officials and automakers continue to attempt to make cars safer with seat belts and air bags and collision-detection technology. We didn’t just give up and do nothing because the problem seemed overwhelming. But that is precisely what we are doing when it comes to guns.

As citizens, we must not accept that a number of random deaths are part of what goes along with having the right to bear arms. There has to be a middle ground.

Consider these statistics from the Small Arms Survey:

n On average, there are 88 firearms per 100 people in the United States. The country with the second-highest level of gun ownership in the world is Yemen, which has 55 guns per 100 people.

n The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.

Something has to change, or unimaginable statistics such as these will be our social epitaph.



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