In our last article, we discussed gun culture and history, trying to understand how the gun became such a powerful symbol of America. Today, we will look beyond the numbers behind gun violence, to identify specific opportunities to lower gun violence. Rather than going after the most popular symbols of gun violence, we only want to focus on proposals that can measurably lower gun related deaths. Extreme gun rights groups have tried to make changes or expansion in gun control laws difficult or impossible to implement. However, gun owners are just like any other group, with a small core of highly vocal members and a larger number of more moderate members. Even non-gun owning Americans have a strong respect for gun rights, or at least concerns over a government that is too strong. Reasonable supporters of both gun rights and gun control need to get together to jointly form a new view on guns in America. Just as the Republican party is being forced to re-think it’s policies, this is the time for us to rethink how guns fit into America’s culture, and how the tools of Change Management will help us get there.
The strongest gun advocates have often been personally touched by gun violence. Not surprisingly, they are deeply offended by the vitriolic rhetoric, and lack of compassion, from gun extremists. However, not all gun rights supporters are extremists. The “silent majority” of gun owners are fairly moderate, and becoming more so over the years. Gun owners may have first used a gun in the military. Others started (or continued) their interests in guns in the police force, as prison guards, as sheriffs and deputies or as other public protectors. These men, and they are almost entirely men, believe they need guns to protect their family. For many gun rights advocates, the role of the “protector” is part of their personality. The vast majority of gun owners could not imagine going on a killing spree, or hurting children with weapons, and believe that as gun owners they play a role in preventing this from happening. When killers are found, gun owners advocate the most severe and immediate punishment. When gun owners are in any way associated with killer who use guns, they are deeply offended and want to strike back at gun-control advocates and the media. They feel that the media and gun control groups paint them as friends of the villains, merely because they want to continue to protect their families.
We each need to understand the other side’s motivations. And we need common ground. If we seek common ground, we will find unexpected allies. For example, a survey from Pew Research shows that households without guns are more supportive of gun controls than households with guns. Which isn’t surprising. If we look a little closer, we see that individual members of households with guns, have different opinions. The gun owner has the strongest gun rights opinions, but other members of the household have more moderate opinions. Asked if gun control will lead to the government taking away guns: gun owners strongly believe this (51%), non-gun owing households believe it less (45%) and other members of a gun-owning household believe it least of all (41%). The best allies for gun control may well be the other members of the gun-owning household! The public discussion is filled with partial facts, fear, and policy proposals that lack specific, measurable goals. We need to be guided (not ruled, but guided) by real data, and we need to understand why gun control is so strongly opposed.
GOALS: It’s time to focus on specific and measurable changes. To do that, we need facts about gun violence today and goals for reducing gun violence tomorrow.
- Guns: There are 300,000,000 guns (100,000,000 are handguns) in America. Gallop research tells us that more than 40% of households own one or more guns, and the gun owner is predominantly a man. Rural areas have high gun ownership than cities. With 80% of Americans living in cities, gun ownership seems to be dropping. Crime in America has dropped by more than 50% since the 1990s (major crimes are down as much as 95% in New York City), but “protection of the home” is still the most frequently cited reason for owning a gun. Despite lower crime, gun owners have been on a buying spree for years.
Assault rifles have are often part of the debate on gun violence, but rifles are rarely a cause of death in America. The notorious AR-15 has been used in Columbine style mass killings, but in 2012, only 323 people were killed by a rifle of any kind, compared to 6,220 killed by handguns. Handguns are 60 times more likely to be used in a homicide than a rifle (including every AR-15). There are good reasons to ban assault weapons, but is this a top priority? With so many guns in circulation, and no gun-control proposals to take away existing weapons, merely banning future weapon sales will take decades to have any impact on the current level of violence.
Handguns role in gun violence deserves a closer look. They are more portable, and can be taken to more locations than rifles. By being more available, handguns are available when tempers flare and when violence erupts. Handguns are like lighter fluid. They don’t start the fire, but they make it easier for the fire to start, and they make the fire burn hotter. Because handguns are so portable, they seem to spend more time “at hand” rather than locked away. Portability makes the very weapon that is supposed to protect you and your family, your greatest threat. All guns, but especially handguns, INCREASE the chance that you will kill a member of your own family. As we can see in the next section.
- Gun Storage: One of the most useful services that the NRA offers, is safety training. The NRA advises gun owners to always lock up ammunition and guns, and to not load a gun until it is ready to be used. Failing to follow these rules leads to death and murder. Consider the “blade runner,” Oscar Pistorius. It happened in South Africa, but the story is universal. Oscar was afraid of being assaulted or kidnapped, and kept his guns loaded, a machine gun in his bedroom, and a handgun by his bed. He woke up “sensing” there was an intruder in his house. In the dark, he investigates and shoots an “intruder,” who he finds is actually his girlfriend. If there was more time between waking and shooting, he might have acted differently. Yet in story after story, the shooter believes that quick access to a gun is imperative, and outweighs the dangers of using loaded weapons in the dark or making life-and-death decision when you’re not fully awake. Also consider the much less publicized case of Rondell Smith, who bought a gun after an attempted break-in at home. No one was hurt in the break in, but two weeks after he bought a gun, his two-year-old son shot himself and died.
If all guns in America were safely stored and locked, according to NRA training, gun violence would be dramatically reduced. Small children would not kill themselves. Older children, perhaps those who were given a gun but are too young to use it unsupervised, might still be alive. Even the growing number of teens who use a parent’s gun to commit suicide, might be alive. In 2010, 6,740 young adults were killed because they got access to a gun or were killed by a member of the family. A significant number of these deaths would not have happened if the owners of these guns, kept them unloaded, and locked away.
- Bullets: In 2010, US citizens bought more than 12 billion bullets, up from the “normal” 9-10 billion, to stockpile ammunition in case gun-control laws are passed. The global production of bullets is estimated at 9 billion bullets annually; the growth in sales has depleted world supplies of ammunition. What is America doing with all this ammunition? America has one million police, sheriffs, deputies, prison guards and other government security officials. There are another million private security guards. Let’s assume that every security worker needs 1,000 bullets per year (2 billion total) for practice. Another 2 billion bullets went into stockpiles. There are also one million Native American’s living in or around reservations, who participate in some traditional hunting. Let’s give each of them 1,000 bullets per year. That leaves 7,000,000,000 bullets. The number of bullets used to shoot human being is minuscule, around 250,000 annually. Too few to count in an ocean of ammunition.
That means that the vast majority of bullets are used for, recreation: hunting, target practice, shooting competitions, historical recreations, demonstrations, etc. Gun owners may earnestly buy a gun for protection, but the overwhelming USE (i.e. actually firing the gun) is recreation. There’s nothing wrong with recreation, but the argument changes when we’re weighing the lives of American’s against constitution rights or against entertainment alternatives. It’s also important because different types of ammunition are used for different purposes. Hunters use hollow-point bullets because they do far more damage, quickly killing the animal. However, hollow bullets are considered “inhumane” under the Hague Conventions, and banned in war. Outside of hunting, gun enthusiasts extol the hollow-point for its “stopping power” when used for self-defense. The types of bullets we use, are a major factor in gun injuries becoming gun deaths. We need to reduce the number of bullets in circulation, and we also need to decide we should allow “recreational” ammunition should be used against human beings.
- Homicide: The gun discussion is focused on homicide, specifically killing sprees… in schools, shopping malls, and public places. These events are horrifying, but are they common? 2012, 29 students were shot at Harper High School in Chicago individual gun shootings, and eight died. This was not a spree. It was a series of individual killings over the course of a year, and these individual deaths were largely ignored by the media. Six times as many children died in in the last 100 days, as died at Sandy Hook. Since 1982 there have been 62 mass killings, claiming just over 500 lives. Compared to the 300,000 gun-related homicides and 3,000,000 gun shootings during this time, mass killings are lost in the numbers. Every year there are 9,000 gun-related homicides. Every year 1,500 to 2,000 American women killed by domestic violence. Every year, 500 to 1,000 Americans… more than 20 years of killing sprees… die in “unintentional” shootings.
- Suicide: More American gun-related deaths are from suicide than homicide, but suicide has largely been ignored in the current discussion. Of 35,000 suicides annually, 20,000 are by firearms. Men predominantly use guns to commit suicide, and are far more successful than women in killing themselves. Suicide is normally practiced by the very old, but in America suicides by 75 to 84 year olds has dropped from 31.1 (for every 100,000) in 1950, to just 15.7 in 2010. At the same time, suicide rates for teens and young Americans have doubled or tripled. Life has improved for the elderly, reducing the attraction of suicide. But why is being young so terrible that so many want to end their lives? And the lives of others?
Spree killings might be better described as elaborate suicides. The postal worker who kills co-workers and then himself. The boyfriend or husband who kills his partner (it is almost always the man who does the killing) and then commits suicide, perhaps also killing parents, children, relatives or friends. Deaths at multiple locations may not be immediately connected, and these events may not be identified as spree killings. Consistent background checks could keep weapons out of the hands of mentally disturbed individuals, reduce homicides and suicides. A gun purchase can last a lifetime, but we may not be mentally healthy for all of our lives. A moment of depression, the loss of a loved one, a divorce, or even a bad mix of medications can lead to suicide, homicide or another Sandy Hook. We may be mentally healthy when we buy a gun, but what about our mental health over the coming years or decades? In order to drive a car you need to periodically renew your license, have your eyes checked, prove you can still drive a car. Gun-related killings are now outpacing driving related deaths. Shouldn’t gun owners be as capable of operating a gun as they are of operating a car?
- Gun Injuries: The numbers that we have talked about so far are stunning, but they are only part of the picture. In addition to the more than 30,000 Americans killed by guns, another 75,000 are injured, but survive. A small “improvement” in gun design or the lethality of ammunition, and thousands of injuries turn into deaths. Alternatively, some of these injuries are failed suicides, accidents due to poor gun management, and domestic violence. These injuries may be the last clue we have about a pending homicide or suicide. Under pressure from the NRA and gun rights lobbyists, funding for research on how to identify and prevent future gun killings has been blocked. If we start funding this research again, we may be able to save the lives of thousands of Americans.
The numbers are staggering… 100,000 American’s shot every year, and 30,000 killed. Now that we know these numbers, and we more about what they mean, we will develop recommendations to address gun violence. In a period of massive change, most of us lack the basic change management skills the 21st century demands. By using the process in this series… learning the history of the issue, understanding stakeholder motivation, analyzing the hard data, and developing measurable goals… we can address some of the most intractable problems in our country, and in our corporations.