Do All Lives Matter? (Part Three: Guns and Control)

"Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns—30,000." -- President Obama
President Obama said that during a speech he gave on January 5, 2016, when he announced a new executive order to tighten gun control. I have no doubt he believed what he said -- that he believed in what he was doing. First, because Obama's personality has always been unequivocal. During his eight years in office, I never saw him waffle on what he believed. One of Obama's defining characteristics was his fondness for standing ankle-deep in the hardened cement of his progressive ideas while demanding that others "compromise" by coming around to his way of thinking. Second, because Obama shed tears while he made his speech, and as much as I disagreed with him on ... well, almost everything, I DO believe he was sincerely moved by the issue of gun violence in America -- or at least his own righteous indignation in it.

I really don't fault him for that. I get righteously indignant about stuff I believe in too. And since I've been talking about matters of life and death for the past few weeks, underscored by my thesis that ALL LIVES MATTER, I can hardly get upset with the man for believing that lives cut short by gun violence matter as well. He's right about that. They DO matter. And now that Donald Trump is president, and has signed a bill to nix an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for "mentally-ill Americans" to purchase guns, some of you might be worried that all of Obama's strides toward making America a safer place to live are already being dismantled.

But my focus at Wake of Echoes has not been to just tell you what I think about stuff, but rather to point out how the media and politicians write, talk and report about stuff. And that's where the trouble lies.

Let's start with Obama's statement. That statistic of 30,000 deaths attributed to firearms is TRUE, by the way. No getting around that. In fact, the Center for Disease Control reported that 33,599 deaths in 2014* were attributed to firearms (a dead heat for motor vehicle traffic deaths that year). That's an awful number, my friends. And I know you agree, whether you believe in completely abolishing the second amendment or whether you are a card carrying member of the National Rifle Association.

But what exactly falls under the umbrella of "firearm deaths"? If you've read ahead on some of those blue links I've shared, you have already found out that two-thirds of all firearm deaths are suicides. Yes. MOST of those 30,000 mentioned by Obama took their own lives. (Somewhere around 43,000 Americans committed suicide in 2014, and roughly half of them used a firearm).

If you are thinking that Obama conveniently glossed over that information, you are kind of right and kind of wrong. He mentioned suicide in the very next sentence, though he didn't mention the two-thirds element of the statistic until much later in his speech. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about his motives.

Of course, if two-thirds of the firearm deaths were suicides, that means the other roughly 11,000 deaths were accidents or homicides, which aligns with the CDC report of 10,945 gun-related homicides in 2014. And just to make sure we have a healthy perspective, here are some other death statistics for 2014:

Bicyclists killed by cars: 720
Drownings: 3,404
Pedestrians killed by cars: 4,884
Alcohol: 7,901
Total number of homicides: 15,809
Unintentional falls: 31,959
Unintentional poisoning: 42,032
Terrorism on U.S. soil**: 12

So how does the media use the above information? Well, they don't focus on most of it. For example, when addressing Trump's reversal of Obama's executive order on mentally-ill Americans purchasing guns, this USA Today article paints a typical picture of Republicans versus Democrats: gun lovers versus those who really care about you and your children! What they don't highlight (unlike this more evenly written CNN article) is that even the very liberal ACLU protested Obama's executive order, saying it stigmatized people with mental illness and included people with too wide a range of diagnoses, including anxiety and eating disorders. In their myopic bid to make gun control the only issue you should really be worried about, they write articles like this one by Eve Bower at CNN, who condescends to show us a chart explaining how silly we are to worry about terrorism when guns are so much more dangerous than any member of ISIS.

So here's my question, Ms. Bower: why didn't your chart compare firearm deaths to motor vehicle deaths? Or the unintentional poisoning deaths? Oh, that's right. Those lives don't matter, because they are not part of your agenda. (Am I wrong? Did I miss President Obama's impassioned speech about poison control? Or his tearful announcement of an executive order on highway safety? Anyone?)

How about celebrities? I can find all kinds of tweets and press releases from Beyonce, Cher and Britney Spears demanding we DO SOMETHING about gun control, but I couldn't find a single report of a celebrity demanding we do something about all the people (many of them children) who die every year from unintentional poisoning.

How about those television dramas that have suddenly decided to soapbox on the issue of gun control? I saw two such episodes during the past few months. First, on ABC's Designated Survivor, where the "Independent" president gets a gun control bill passed by recruiting a "smart" Republican to join him in "common sense" legislation, all to thwart the heartless, manipulative gun rights advocate who is only motivated by politics and power, unlike our soft-spoken, big-hearted hero.

But the second one was my favorite! It was on the CW's Arrow, where the law-breaking vigilante/city mayor Oliver Queen passes a "common sense" city-wide gun registry. Yes! The guy who works outside the law, often killing criminals with his bow and arrow, accompanied by armed vigilante friends (some of whom use guns) has decided that guns in the hands of ordinary citizens is just a bad idea, (in fact, whenever they show an average citizen with a gun in his hands, they go to great effort to make him look stupid, unhinged or at least very anxious) so he passes a LAW to register them. Just like on Designated Survivor, the writers of Arrow tried to pretend to depict both sides of the argument, but there was a lot of condescending eye-rolling and of-course-we-don't-want-to-take-away-your-Second-Amendment-rights-but-this-is-really-just-the-best-thing-for-all-of-us-and-if-you-are-reasonable-you'll-agree kind of dialogue. (I honestly think the irony of a vigilante passing gun laws was lost on the Arrow writers, but let's face it: this show jumped the shark some time ago.)

But that's just television, right? What harm can that do?

Well, I am writing about what kind of harm that might do right now in my sequel to STEALING LIBERTY, so stay tuned!

But a lot of what Obama said in his speech made sense. Actually, I agree with you. Some of what he said did sound like good "common sense," didn't it? Like this:

"Just as with more research, we’ve reduced traffic fatalities enormously over the last 30 years." -- Obama  

Except ... we now know that's not true, don't we? In fact, many of the "facts" Obama shared during his campaign for tougher gun laws turned out to be a little less than true -- or truly on the side of tougher gun laws only if you discount other, unspoken bits of truth.

So now that I've spent a ridiculous amount of time looking up all that data and fact checking the fact checkers and binge watching stupid TV shows, how can YOU use these facts in response to people with the wrong point of view on gun control?

You can't. I mean you CAN, of course, but it's not going to work. Because using those numbers to back up your belief that stricter gun control measures are good or bad is not going to convince anyone.

I'm right, right? If you are a gun-rights advocate, does the fact that 33,000 people died from firearms while only twelve died in a terrorist attack make you change your mind about gun control? NO.

Or, if you are a gun-control advocate, does the fact that 42,000 people were accidentally poisoned make you turn your attention from the gun lobby and focus on stricter access to poisonous materials? NO.

Why? Well, for one thing, human beings are stubborn and our beliefs are held tightly in place by many different threads that are knotted in our brains, affected by experience, anecdotes, philosophy and psychology, among other things.  But there's another reason. And that's because when we argue about gun control we are always arguing about different things. I'll try and break it down for you:

If you want tougher gun control laws: You think guns are better left in the hands of professionals
trained to handle them, like police officers. You think it's ridiculous that any idiot can buy a gun. You believe saving even one more life would be worth the added frustration of registering guns, longer waiting periods, registries, or restrictions on magazine capacity. You think the gun lobby is too powerful and that they are putting their own agenda ($$$) ahead of the lives of innocent children. Is that about right?

But here's what you need to know about people who believe strongly in their second amendment rights: They are worried about their children too. They believe it is their responsibility to protect their children personally -- not to leave it to someone else. (Remember: personal responsibility is a HUGE element of conservative philosophy.) They believe that a gun registry is an easy pathway toward government overreach, which will some day result in confiscation. They believe being armed with the same kinds of weapons used by the military and police is the only way to ensure that America stays free from tyranny that would cost way more innocent lives than those taken by that evil man who took a gun into a school or movie theater. And as much as they hate those horrible shootings, they also believe that all the gun restrictions in the world will not stop them, but will only affect law-abiding citizens and their ability to confront criminals.

Now, on the flip side:
If you are a strong advocate of second amendment rights: You probably own a gun. You have probably been trained to use it and you feel comfortable handling it safely. You know what the second amendment says and you believe it is your right to not only defend your family with your firearm, but to keep it in readiness to defend freedom itself if an oppressive regime ever threatens this great land.

But here's what you need to know about the people who hate guns: Many of them have never handled one, and have no desire to. They only hear about guns on the news when they are being used to kill people, or when they are being portrayed foolishly on TV and in the movies. CNN tells them about gun violence. So does The New York Times. And Google. When they hear that more people die in car accidents or from poisoning, they think: Yeah, but we NEED cars. We NEED pharmaceuticals. They don't think we NEED guns. They keep hearing these statistics that tell them how many thousands of people have died from guns and they want to take action. They want to DO SOMETHING about it. And since they've been living their lives just fine without exercising their Second Amendment rights, they think the rest of us could pretty much do without them too.

Yes, but the only reason they have "been living their lives just fine without exercising their second amendment rights" is BECAUSE some of us do exercise them! says the gun rights advocate.

I agree with you.

Yes, but something has to be done to reduce the number of gun-related homicides! says the gun control advocate.

I agree with you too. I would love to see a reduction in homicides. I would love to hear that fewer people are taking their lives -- by using guns, pills, razor blades or by hanging themselves. Those numbers are far too high, and it breaks my heart too.

But here's something you need to understand (and it goes back to the big differences between liberal values and conservative values): Liberals believe that most societal problems can be solved with legislation. But conservatives, as I said, believe in personal responsibility. That's why we never change anyone's mind when we start carpet bombing him with statistics: because we are not addressing the underlying philosophy of the gun debate.

Let me be specific. Because I have a solution to drastically reduce gun violence that is in keeping with my conservative belief in personal responsibility. (Warning: if you are liberal, you are not going to like it). Here it is: A return to family values. That's right. Waiting until marriage to have kids. Staying married. Raising your kids together.

But, but, but ... you can't LEGISLATE THAT! 

Exactly. It comes down to personal responsibility, not legislation. That means you can only influence it, you can't control it (or pretend to control it). But the pesky truth is still out there, defying political correctness, begging someone to just speak it: Children who have mom and dad raising them together, without alcohol or drug abuse in the house, no matter their race or level of income, are way, WAY less likely to engage in gun violence. But, as you said, we can't legislate morality ... or even suggest that traditional family values have any value whatsoever. And look where we are.

I know I have barely scratched the surface of this issue. I also know I haven't changed your mind about anything today. That's okay. That was never my intention. These argument will rage on, and people will continue to fact check each other and quote statistics that contradict, or twist them to show a certain viewpoint, and the LIVES that are lost will continue to be used to score political points. I can't change any of that. But I can challenge you to listen to the way politicians, members of the media and even TV writers use words to influence the way you think. And I can challenge you to embrace the truth -- even when it's uncomfortable -- and to teach your children to act and think responsibly as they make decisions in their lives and judgments about what's happening in the world around us. It really is our only hope.

[* I am using 2014 numbers because that's as up-to-date as the CDC's website is as of today. Yes, that data is three years old, people. And some of you want this same government in charge of your healthcare?]

[** I had to extrapolate this number from the 2014 articles listed at the bottom of that CNN article about guns versus terrorism. I doubt it is accurate, nor does it take into account victims of terror in other countries, but I'm fairly sure the numbers are low compared to other categories. For now, anyway, an idea that is lost on the writers of such articles.]



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