Thursday, January 7, 2016

Follow the blood money

Suppose everyone is right.

Suppose President Obama is correct, that far too many guns in the United States are far too easy to get, and some of the people use them to commit crimes, or harm others, to kill themselves and/or kill large numbers of people, or fight turf wars in city neighborhoods.

Suppose the National Rifle Association is correct too, that owning a gun is a right, guaranteed to citizens under the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Let's assume that right is inviolable, that the amendment is crystal clear on this.

Suppose, as gun rights advocates say, that no laws will ever keep guns away from people who want to do harm. Suppose instead that existing laws can accomplish this, but our cities and states and federal governments — our representatives, in our name — don't enforce them.

Suppose President Obama's tears were real this week, when he announced executive action to close loopholes in how guns may be sold through legal channels without background checks, direct more resources to mental health and apply new technology to gun safety.
I think they were real, by the way. Obama is genuinely angry and tired of so many horrific gun deaths that have happened while in office — the deaths especially of first graders — little six-year-olds, nary a care, killed en masse. You should shed a tear too. But I'm not so dumb not to recognize an opportunity to spend political capital.
Suppose … well, suppose we are right where we are now, each in our corner of the multi-cornered moral universe.

So if everyone is right, each divided in righteousness —

What do we make of the fact that 32,000 people in America are killed each year by guns, and 80,000 are injured? Not just the horrible and gripping mass deaths that hold the nation's attention too many times each year, but the daily horrors, a shooting death here and a shooting death there, writ small, that take place each day across our country?

More than 100,000 people, killed and injured by guns.

We blink, and move on.

Take a look anyway:

In 2012,
  • About 12,000 Americans were killed by homicide, and some 58,000 injured;
  • Some 20,000 people died in suicide by gun, and 4,000 were injured in the attempt;
  • About 1,000 died accidentally by gun, and 15,000 were injured;
  • About 1,000 died in police-related shootings, another 1,000 were injured.
More than 100,000 people, killed and injured by guns.

I could compare that rate to gun deaths and injuries in other Western industrialized countries, but you and I know the U.S. figures far outstrip all of theirs by sadly ridiculous measure.

Mother Jones Magazine (you say libtard mouthpiece, I say street-credible crusader) this year crunched the data and pegged the total annual cost of gun violence in the United States at $229 billion. That includes $8.6 billion in direct costs — medical treatment for the injured, funeral costs, etc. — and $49 billion in the victims' lost wages and productivity.

The direct costs from one murder comes to $441,000, Mother Jones reported — in the cost of police investigation, ambulance transport, hospital care for other victims, mental health counseling, court costs and imprisonment. Taxpayers cover 87 percent of those costs, mostly for imprisonment.

Spread those costs of gun violence across the country, and it comes to $700 per person.

Even if those figures are off by a magnitude, they are still staggering — rampaging-disease staggering.

Yet now, as ever, when the issue of guns arises, as President Obama raised it this week, we go immediately to our corners. We run to the nearest mic and camera, to the nearest TV set, and proceed to feed from our troughs of validation. Maybe we do so more earnestly than ever, given it's an election year, we're talking about guns, and President Obama's enemies are well practiced in whatever-he-says-we're-against-no-matter-what.

Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, once on record for supporting "reasonable limitations" on guns, said into the nearest mic that President Obama was trying to dismantle the Second Amendment.

No pausing to consider complexities, to offer nuance. Just jumping to the simple extreme: Obama wants to quash the Second Amendment.

Rubio is among legislators who earn high ratings from the NRA — which is an odd thing in itself, a badge of political capital from a lobbying group, for a representative of the people — which advocates the absolute interpretation of the Second Amendment, to the point of orchestrating the suppression of research into gun violence, and fomenting fear of job and funding loss among researchers who might try. 

Following the shootings in San Bernardino, as follows most such high-profile shootings, gun sales go up, reportedly because buyers fear the loss of the Second Amendment, or the world's going to hell and we need to go down shooting. The politics of fear is not built on nuance.

The NRA steadily advocates that more arms will equal peace, and that armed guards in schools will be safer.

Yet no one to say, from our opposite corners in our righteousness, that together
  • perhaps we should work on this problem
  • maybe we should see it as an epidemic of disease in our communities
  • maybe the Second Amendment doesn't entirely mean what we practice, that the well-regulated militia part throws gun rights into a new light, for a new consideration, and the proliferation of guns is not the intent
  • 32,000 deaths each year by guns, at a cost of $229 billion (almost as much as paid in Medicaid) is egregious and outrageous, a bloodstain on our country?
We blink instead, and move on.

Why? I think we don't hurt enough. You. Me. We don't hurt, God — or luck — bless us.

We go about our days without noticing much more burden than we've taken on over time — mortgages, groceries, college loans, home loans, car loans, gas, taxes. We take them on, beasts of burden, and don't register the costly pain of gun deaths around us.

Unless gun violence affects us directly; but even then we are so efficiently spread across the country that our small voice of outrage and heartbreak and reform loses to the voice of status quo.

It's the same for the care of our Veterans. More and more, we know fewer and fewer people who serve our country in our defense. Someone else goes to battle; someone else pays for the wounded, somewhere. It's the same for public education: My kids are out of school, not my problem.

What could we do with the money we all pay toward gun violence?  Suppose the old saw is true — that guns don't kill people, people do. But guns enable holders of grudges to settle the score once and for all, of those enraged to mushroom their anger with violent finality, of the angry to extend their anger, of the confused to end their demons. Otherwise, they're grudges that need counseling and hugs and forgiveness, rages that need time and space to dissipate, angers to ease, and confusion to be treated.

Those billions spent in gun violence: Could they go instead to help the people for whom guns become the instant and horrific answer?

Gun violence as a public health issue is gaining traction, and it makes sense to me.

What if we made gun violence a pocketbook issue? What if we could show what this country could do with the money spent on gun violence?

I just thought of Theodore Judah, the engineer who dreamed of a railroad to cross the country. He first went to the financial titans of San Francisco seeking investment, framing the railroad as good for the country, for the welfare of all. The titans yawned.

Next he approached merchants in Sacramento, chiefly Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker. This time, though, Judah made it plain: Gentlemen, you will make unimaginable profits from your meager investment. They bit, and the rest is history.

What if we could show how much we could save with the reduction in gun violence? Follow our blood money?

Otherwise, what are we to make of more than 100,000 people killed or injured by guns in this country each year?

Is it our cost of living?

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