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If others won’t say it, I will: We do not need all these guns in our society — and there are very strong reasons to get rid of almost all of them.

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Let’s face it: Many armed Americans are deathly — and irrationally — afraid of others. And so they have become a menace to the rest of us. 

According to a 2021 Gallup Poll, as many as 88 percent of gun owners are apparently terrified of being harmed, since they say the guns are for self-defense.

Yet very, very few gun owners end up defending themselves and their families from the sort of random crime they fear. According to The Trace, fewer than 3 percent of gun owners ever use a weapon in self-defense, and apparently some of those involve misrepresentation of what actually happened in order to paint the shooter in a good light. 

Of course, the media — especially, but certainly not only, the likes of Fox — have played a large role in convincing an element of our society that they are in constant mortal danger. It’s totally false, but if all you do all day is consume random horror stories, your grip on reality becomes distorted. That is one reason for the current insanity, and we in the media need to acknowledge that and fight against it. 

And of course the GOP probably would not hold any significant power in this country if they did not psychologically terrorize their base. 

It seems that most people who “threaten” gun owners are not actually threats at all. And it is those innocent people who are dying. 

Recent days brought fresh examples:

Teenager Ralph Yarl, 16 — seen in photos playing his saxophone in school — who was picking up his twin younger brothers in Kansas City, MO, accidentally went to the wrong house. When he rang the doorbell, the homeowner, an 84-year-old man, came to the door and fired on him twice, shooting him in the head and in the arm, leaving him with a traumatic brain injury.

In an incident in upstate New York, a young man mistakenly pulled into the driveway of someone he did not know. Three other people were in the car with him. He immediately realized his mistake and was just leaving when a 65-year-old man emerged from his home and fired on the car, killing a 20-year-old woman, Kaylin Gillis, who was in the passenger seat.

Just to round out the most recent toll, we had a shooting in North Carolina. Some children were playing in the street when their basketball rolled into a man’s yard. When they tried to retrieve the ball, a 24-year-old man went into his house, got his gun and came out firing indiscriminately at various people, wounding some only slightly, but a father and his six-year-old daughter were seriously injured. The shooter ran away and is being sought. And two teenage cheerleaders were shot when one accidentally tried to open the door of the wrong car in a Texas parking lot. 

With such horrific assaults, our entire society is endangered — as is our mental wellbeing.

The other day, I was speaking with a doctor — Black, as that seems to matter to gun owners, many of whom apparently have a statistically unrealistic fear of Black people coming to harm them — and she said to me, “I can’t believe that the only solution is to train our kids like they’re going to die — which causes anxiety and depression.” She mentioned the incalculable toll on upcoming generations, who are basically told to prepare for gun violence at any time. 

The racial component is undeniable, although gun violence affects all races as both perpetrators and victims. In the Kansas City incident, the shooter was white, and the victim was Black. In upstate New York, both the shooter and the victims were white. In the Texas parking lot, the shooter was Hispanic, the victims, white. In North Carolina, the shooter was Black, the victims, white. 

Meanwhile, one of our editors at WhoWhatWhy said he loves to swim but goes to the neighborhood pool with what he knows is a statistically irrational concern that it might be the next “cool” target. He wanted to write about the psychology of his fear of an unlikely event with catastrophic consequences, but is concerned that it might “inspire” someone to target a pool.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of guns are in the hands of a small group — just three percent of American adults collectively own half of all guns in America.  About 10 million Americans own 30 or more guns apiece. 

We all feel this mounting dread, yet the Republican Party keeps making it easier for people to buy deadly weaponry, and the Democratic Party and many gun reform advocates still propose only marginally ameliorative measures, like more effective registration and so forth. 

I say it is too little. Way too little.

Everyone already knows all the reasons “nothing will be done.” Congress, as currently constituted, will not pass meaningful legislation. We need a better Congress. Courts are more interested in protecting the dubiously cited Second Amendment than in protecting kids. We need better judges and better law. 

But we have to get beyond naysaying. 

It’s time to acknowledge that the whole idea of a society brimming with guns — any kind of gun — is insane. It’s time to acknowledge that the fear that drives those with guns has put the rest of us in fear. 

It makes no sense. 

Of course, the category of those “defending themselves” is very different from the other category: previously unremarkable individuals who turn into mass shooters. 

Despite the constant refrain from gun owners that we need to fix “mental health” — or “human nature” — rather than the proliferation of guns in our society, anyone rational can see that the main problem is the widespread availability of the weapons themselves. 

For years, an element of the gun-owning community has been belligerently defensive without ever acknowledging this problem. They certainly have not proposed any real, viable solution. 

So I would say that the rest of us need to stop mollifying them. Forget all that nonsense about the Second Amendment. Even conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger said the argument that it referred to individual gun ownership (and not the clearly stated “well-regulated militia” being necessary to “the security of a free State”) was a misrepresentation of the Constitution, law, and history. 

If others won’t say it, I will: We do not need 400 million guns in our society — and there are very strong reasons to get rid of almost all of them. None will actually defend us against our military or other militaries. Guns in the hands of untrained, unvetted, potentially irresponsible users do much more harm than good. Period. 

So let’s start talking about getting rid of the firearms that terrify our children and sane people everywhere. Obviously it won’t be easy, and a small number of Second Amendment hard-liners will resist violently. But the rest will grumble and threaten and then, in the end, they will comply. And we’ll go back to being a country pretty much like the vast majority of the world’s other countries — a less “exceptional” place where our children aren’t terrified all the time. After all, we are the only country in the world with more civilian-owned guns than citizens

Obviously, law enforcement, the US military, and members of those “well-regulated” militias would be exempted.

If a near-total ban on all weapons is unthinkable, we could borrow a page from the Australians — who took fast and dramatic action after a mass shooting 27 years ago. They banned all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, while citizens surrendered thousands of unlicensed firearms under an amnesty. Australia has had zero mass shootings since 1996. 

Our country has about 13 times the population of Australia, but roughly 200 times as many gun deaths. We do have our own evidence of what works: During the 10-year US federal assault weapons ban, mass shooting fatalities were 70 percent less likely to occur compared to the periods before and after the ban.

We could start with something like this: Civilians have three months to surrender (for generous buyback with full amnesty) every assault weapon (AR-15, AK-47, Kalashnikov, etc.) in their possession. After that, anyone convicted of possession receives a mandatory sentence of 20 years in federal prison. 

But ultimately, the problem is bigger than assault weapons. People are constantly killed by rifles, shotguns, and handguns. So we cannot pussyfoot around any longer. We need to look at guns, period. 

Yup, gun advocates, the dominos might indeed wind up falling just as you predicted — and you’d be right. You called it — you just didn’t do a thing about it. You had your chance, and you failed to take any kind of responsibility or propose anything meaningful. Now it’s too late. Deal with it. 

To those who say there is no viable political pathway to this, I say: Throughout history, other seemingly impossible but vitally important causes have been achieved, when public resolve was strong enough and sufficient pressure brought to bear. 

The most recent Gallup poll found that 63 percent of Americans are in favor of stricter gun control —  maybe not comprehensive action, but they do want to see something done to seriously turn the situation around. 

Meanwhile, the vast majority of guns are in the hands of a small group — just three percent of American adults collectively own half of all guns in America.  About 10 million Americans own 30 or more guns apiece. Maybe the less extreme — those with one or two weapons — will come to their senses and realize it’s themselves and their children we’re doing this for, too. And maybe we’ll stop letting one organization — the nasty, nasty, long-since-corrupted NRA — terrorize this country. 

To those gun owners who constantly bray about their “freedom” — what about the immense value of the freedom of the vast majority of us (and especially children) to not live in daily fear of getting shot? The MAGAs and gun lovers seem to think their freedoms are the only ones that count. As the Kaiser Family Foundation found in a recent survey

One in five (21%) say they have personally been threatened with a gun, a similar share (19%) say a family member was killed by a gun (including death by suicide), and nearly as many (17%) have personally witnessed someone being shot. Smaller shares have personally shot a gun in self-defense (4%) or been injured in a shooting (4%). In total, about half (54%) of all U.S. adults say they or a family member have ever had one of these experiences.

Millions — many millions — of Americans have lost a family member, friend, or colleague to gun violence. So it’s not only the dead or maimed, but all those close to victims and shooters alike, whose lives have been torn in one way or another. 

The bottom line? We cannot afford to simply accept the status quo. We have to act. 

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  • Russ Baker

    Russ Baker is Editor-in-Chief of WhoWhatWhy. He is an award-winning investigative journalist who specializes in exploring power dynamics behind major events.

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