Threat of terrorism small compared to gun violence

Threat of terrorism small compared to gun violence

September 18th, 2013 in Opinion Times

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, right, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, second from right, present a wreath at the Navy Memorial in Washington to remember the victims of Monday's deadly shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

As Americans shook their heads this week while news unfolded about another senseless mass shooting, the chief medical officer for MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Dr. Janis Orlowski, took the words right out of many people's hearts and minds:

"There's something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work on to try and eradicate," she said in response to a question about helping the victims of a former Navy reservist and military contractor who shot his way into the U.S. Navy Yard in Washington D.C. The mentally ill man killed 12 people and injured eight more before he himself was fatally shot.

Orlowski said she just spoke from the heart.

"I may see this every day," she continued. "But there is something wrong here when we have these multiple shootings, these multiple injuries, there's something wrong. ...We have to work together to get rid of this. ...I'd like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots. It's a challenge to all of us. This is not America. This is not Washington, D.C. This is not good."

No, it's not. And the gun violence is increasing. We've had 12 mass shootings in 64 years. The first half dozen took 50 years to accumulate. But the last half dozen have occurred in the past six years. And the last three have occurred in 2012 and 2013. Mass shootings have become so frequent that they are almost an expected part of our news coverage.

It's tragic. And it's all too normal now.

The National Rifle Association has noted that each new mass shooting brings a run on gun and ammo stores, as people imagine some new assault on Second Amendment rights. Tennessee handgun carry permit applications doubled in the first half of this year, growing from 40,503 in the first six months of 2012 to 86,334 handgun permit applications in the same period of 2013. Chattanooga shootings also are rising.

So American's transition back to the Wild West continues.

President Barack Obama on Monday wearily lamented "yet another mass shooting," this time in the nation's capital where the debate that raged earlier this year over tightening firearms laws is stalled by opposition from gun-rights advocates. The President called the Navy Yard victims "patriots" who "know the dangers of serving abroad, but today they faced unimaginable violence that they wouldn't have expected here at home."

The New York Times recently questioned the imbalance of our priorities in spending and our effort to combat terrorism abroad when we seem to have our own form of terrorism right here. Since 2005, international terrorism has taken an average of 23 American lives annually, according to columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. On the other hand, 30,000 people die in America each year from firearms injuries, including suicides, murders and accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. American children are 13 times as likely to be killed by guns as in other industrialized countries.

"Doesn't it seem odd that we're willing to spend trillions of dollars, and intercept metadata from just about every phone call in the country, to deal with a threat that, for now, kills but a few Americans annually - while we're too paralyzed to introduce a rudimentary step like universal background checks to reduce gun violence that kills tens of thousands?" Kristof asks.

Odd and true. The National Rifle Association has successfully fought off sensible background-check legislation, even though polls show broad support for them. And just a week ago, voters in Colorado recalled two legislators who had supported tougher gun measures.

The NRA is fanning the flames of fear, all the while, making more money from gun and ammo makers' donations, to fight bills that might protect us from the next crazy person.