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America Is Sick. And It’s Not Just The Swine Flu

by David Badash on April 27, 2009

in Legal Issues

Post image for America Is Sick. And It’s Not Just The Swine Flu

Gun Violence Constitutes A National Public Health Emergency

The big news this weekend was Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s Sunday press conference during which she declared a “public health emergency” in response to a possible swine flu epidemic. In Mexico, 103 people have died. In the U.S., 20 people have contracted the virus, none are in critical condition. The great concern is the possibility of the risk of quick transmission.

Sunday morning, before the swine flu story hit the networks, I was reading the news and was struck by several separate stories of children being shot by guns. I read three that morning and another later that afternoon. Gun violence has been on my mind for a while now, so I did some digging. It turns out, 32 Americans die every day from gun violence. Eight of them are children. In the ten years since Columbine, 300,000 Americans have died from gun violence. And it’s getting worse: we’ve had several mass shootings this year, including 57 killed in the space of a month.

According to Daniel Vice of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, “In a typical weekend in the United States, more people are shot and killed than in an average year in Australia; the same is true in Britain, and other countries that have tougher gun laws.” Even accounting for differences in total populations, there is no comparison.

America needs the Matthew Shepard Act. America needs stricter gun laws. America needs to stop cowtowing to the NRA, the Religious Right, and homophobic conservatives.

On Friday, in his New York Times column, Bob Herbert wrote,

“There is no way to overstate the horror of gun violence in America. Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 Americans are murdered every year, and more than 12,000 of them, on average, are shot to death. This is an insanely violent society, and the worst of that violence is made insanely easy by the widespread availability of guns.

When the music producer Phil Spector decided, for whatever reason, to kill the actress, Lana Clarkson, all he had to do was reach for his gun — one of the 283 million privately owned firearms that are out there. When John Muhammad and his teenage accomplice, Lee Malvo, went on a killing spree that took 10 lives in the Washington area, the absolute least of their worries was how to get a semiautomatic rifle that fit their deadly mission.

We’re confiscating shampoo from carry-on luggage at airports while at the same time handing out high-powered weaponry to criminals and psychotics at gun shows.”

That’s right. Think about it. We’re confiscating bottles of shampoo and making you take off your shoes at the airport, we’re declaring (and rightly so) a “public health emergency” in response to a possible swine flu epidemic that has yet to take one life in this country (no one is saying it won’t), yet from the same weekend that the Secretary of Homeland Security announces a national public health emergency, here are some headlines:

Three shot at NYC Barbecue, 13 year old critical: “A gunman shot wildly into a crowd at an outdoor barbecue in Harlem early this morning, hitting three people and leaving a 13-year-old boy in critical condition, police said.”

3 Virginia men hurt in shooting at Hampton University: “A former Hampton University student armed with three guns followed a pizza delivery man into the student’s former dorm early Sunday, shot the delivery man and a dorm monitor, then turned the gun on himself, university officials said.”

Georgia professor sought in shooting death of wife, two others: “A University of Georgia professor who police suspect in the fatal shootings of his ex-wife and two men outside a theatre near campus on Saturday disappeared in his Jeep after dropping his children off with a neighbor, authorities said.”

Suspects Sought in Shooting of Oakland Children: “Oakland (CA) police say two girls, ages 1 and 4, and a 14-year-old boy were wounded when shooting erupted between two groups of young men around 2:15 p.m. Saturday”

12-year-old girl, man wounded in Marquette Park shooting: ” A 12-year-old girl and 19-year-old man were shot Sunday night in the (Chicago) Southwest Side’s Marquette Park neighborhood.”

Victim Shot Dead on South Side: “A 31 year-old man is dead after being shot Sunday afternoon while visiting a friend on the Far South Side.”

Sheriff: Man killed 2 deputies after being stunned: “Two deputies killed by a soldier they were trying arrest for beating his wife exchanged multiple rounds with the man who began shooting while on the ground after he was shocked with a stun gun, authorities said Sunday, a day after the men were killed.”

Can we honestly say that gun violence has not reached levels of a national public health emergency also? We’re declaring a national public health emergency for the possibility of an epidemic, an epidemic for which we have on hand, millions of readily-accessible and distributable TamiFlu vaccines. If there were a disease that was killing 32 Americans every day, 8 of them children, wouldn’t we also be declaring a national public health emergency for that?

More from Herbert:

“The toll on children and teenagers is particularly heartbreaking. According to the Brady Campaign, more than 3,000 kids are shot to death in a typical year. More than 1,900 are murdered, more than 800 commit suicide, about 170 are killed accidentally and 20 or so are killed by the police.

Another 17,000 are shot but survive.”

The sad fact is that we’ve become so complacent, “blasé”, as Bob Herbert put it, that these daily deaths are nothing but daily statistics.  Gun violence is the symptom of a sickness. Acceptance of it is the illness that is clouded by right-wing Second Amendment touting teaparty terrorists who happily support an escalating murder rate in the false name of protecting their own civil rights, while denying true civil rights, the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, to those 32 Americans who die every day. Those 32 Americans who are gunned down each day no longer have the opportunity to exercise their civil rights, those rights that proud NRA gun-toting, secessionist-threatening, teaparty sign-waving, tax-cutting crazy, Obama-hating, homophobic Conservative “patriots” pretend matter to them.

Despite what gay rights activist  Jonathan Rauch says, guns are not the answer. From his piece, “The Right Kind of Gun Rights“:

“Although gay life in America is safer today than it once was, anti-gay violence remains all too common. The FBI reports more than 7,000 anti-gay hate crimes in 2005 alone, and since 2003 at least 58 people have been murdered because of their sexual orientation. Perhaps because gay-bashings often begin in intimate settings, the home is the single most prevalent venue for anti-gay attacks. In public, of course, gay-bashers make sure that no cops are around. For that matter, sometimes the police are part of the problem, responding to gay-bashings with indifference, hostility, sometimes abuse. ”

Nine years ago, one of the first columns I wrote for National Journal told the story of Tom G. Palmer. One night some years ago in San Jose, he found himself confronting a gang of toughs, as many as 20 of them, intent on gay-bashing him. Taunted as a “faggot,” threatened with death, Palmer (and a friend) ran for their lives, only to find the gang in hot pursuit. So Palmer stopped, reached into his backpack, and produced a gun. The gang backed off.

If no gun? “There’s no question in my mind,” Palmer told me in 1999, “that my friend and I would have been at least very seriously beaten, and maybe killed.”

That may or may not be. But tell that to the friends of openly gay, 15 year-old Lawrence King. Via The New York Times:

“On the morning of Feb. 12, Lawrence was in the school’s computer lab with 24 other students, said Mr. Keith, the police spokesman. Brandon walked into the room with a gun and shot Lawrence in the head, the police said, then ran from the building. Police officers caught him a few blocks away.

Unconscious when he arrived at the hospital, Lawrence was declared brain dead the next day but kept on a ventilator to preserve his organs for donation, said the Ventura County medical examiner, Armando Chavez. He was taken off life support on Feb. 14.”

It’s time to stop the sickness that is acceptance of gun violence. The Right can scream all they want about Second Amendment rights. Or how, if everyone had a gun we wouldn’t need The Matthew Shepard Act. Who knows. Maybe 15 year-old Larry King could have easily whipped out a gun and convinced his attacker he meant business…

Pass the Hate Crimes Bill. Get the Second Amendment back in line. Go to the Framers’ intent. Get the god-damn guns off the streets. The more time we take, the more people die. When will we make it stop?

(image: Philippe Kurlapski)

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Jaron April 27, 2009 at 5:17 pm

This didn't even appear to me until you tweeted it and thank you for doing that cause i saw nothing on the local news and on CNN or MSNBC it was pushed to being nothing but a quick blurb in the scroll. This is a very serious issue but all we can talk about is pig sickness. The National Dialogue on Shootings and violence has stopped (as proof of Oprah canceling her Columbine Show) because we as one woman put it "Just want to move on." Well i'm sorry but tell that to the families who have to deal with a missing loved one on a day to day basis. Great Piece David.

David Badash April 27, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Thank you! The increase in mass shootings is alarming, the strength of the gun lobby is escalating, and I learned today that, by example, gun permits in Georgia rose 79% in 2008 over 2007. We don't need to move on, we need to back up and take a hard look at this.

I appreciate your thoughts and your support. Thank you.

Daniel Vice April 28, 2009 at 5:07 pm

Great piece, thanks!
Daniel Vice, Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

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