Ken Plum: Shots heard ’round the world
Newtown, Conn., joined a list topped by Blacksburg, Va., of the scenes of the most tragic mass murders in our history. This list contributes to the United States having 80 percent of all firearm deaths among the 23 populous, high-income countries in the world.
Over a million people have been killed with guns in the United States since 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. In one year, 31,593 people died from gun violence and 66,769 people survived gun injuries. These statistics are from the Brady Campaign that has even more shocking numbers with documentation at its website, www.bradycampaign.org. According to data compiled by the United Nations and reported in daily newspapers, the United States has by far the highest per capita rate of fire-arm related murders of all developed countries. The United States has four times as many gun-related homicides per capita as do Turkey and Switzerland which are tied for third. Americans are 20 times more likely to be killed by a gun than is someone from another developed country.
Guns and cars have long been among the leading causes of non-medical deaths in the United States. According to a report by Bloomberg, firearm fatalities will probably exceed traffic fatalities for the first time in 2015. The number of traffic deaths dropped 22 percent from 2005 to 2010 as a result of safer vehicles, seat-belt usage required and enforced, and tougher laws on the driving of motor vehicles. Comparing the laws related to cars and guns, Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis, found with gun laws, “we’ve made policy decisions that have had the widest array of firearms available to the widest array people under the widest array of conditions.” At the same time car deaths have been declining, the number of gun deaths has been increasing since 2000. About 85 Americans are shot dead daily-53 of them suicides, and at least one person shot is 14 years old or younger.
As we are often reminded, guns do not kill people but clearly people who kill others are most likely to do so with a gun. There are five times as many deaths from gun assaults as from knife assaults. The shots heard from these guns clearly cry out for an adequate public policy response. The Congress should reinstate the ban on assault weapons that previously was in place. Congress should fund the gun buy-back program proposed by Congressman Gerald Connolly and others, and local governments need to be incentive to start such programs. In Virginia, we need to reverse the trend of weakening the laws we already have on gun control. I voted against repeal of the one handgun per month law last session and other bills that weakened our laws. I will support a bill to close the gun show loophole and require background checks for all gun purchases. I will also support full funding of the mental health services proposed after the Virginia Tech shootings. I will not support guns in our schools. As Virginians for Responsible Gun Laws concluded, “The solution to protecting our children is not to place them in the middle of shootouts between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ The goal of this policy discussion should be to prevent the first shot from ever being fired.”
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.