When Ronald Reagan began deregulating American media in 1981, the worldwide web was ten years from being invented. When he did away with regulations to prevent monopolies, and gave corporations the ability to own multiple media outlets in the same cities, he also sent a signal that those who owned TV stations were no longer “public trustees”, holding licenses with which came civic responsibilities. The Fairness Doctrine was eliminated. Television, including the once-sacrosanct nightly news, became big business. What does this have to do with gun control? Perhaps everything.
For the past twenty years, the crime rate in the United States has declined dramatically. As the chart below shows, the U.S. is safer than it has been in over fifty years, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Despite the irrefutable fact that crime has been on a steady decline, gun purchases tell a completely different story. In the new millennium, gun-ownership has undergone a dramatic transformation. As late as 1999, the primary reason for gun ownership was hunting. Today, it is self-defense. Fear drives gun ownership. By 2013, anywhere from Pew Research’s of 48%, to Gallup’s 60%, of gun purchasers cited “self-defense” as their primary reason for obtaining firearms.
So, wherein lies the disconnect between the empirical evidence that the nation is “safe” and the perception that there is a greater need for armed self-defense, now more than ever?
Understandably, what constitutes “safe” is relative. Every day, 93 American citizens die from gun-deaths on average. Another four-hundred to sixteen-hundred firearms are stolen from private owners. While that may not make you feel particularly “safe”, there has been a consistent decrease in violent crime for decades, despite what you may hear on whatever platform you obtain your “news”.
When mass shootings are more heinous than usual, like the Las Vegas Massacre, the wheels of the global media machine kick into gear, opening floodgates of coverage and driving a tsunami of images, words, and sounds. After one of these tragedies, the immediate responses appear almost scripted. Outrage from pundits on the Left. The Right claim that “politicizing” a tragedy is disrespectful, while defending the constitutional right to own firearms. Meanwhile, in a country of 320M citizens, and 300M firearms, there is no consensus that an epidemic exists, much less on addressing the problem. Perhaps the most telling statistic is the fact that Americans fearing Congress might actually listen to the 61% of Americans, who do not believe assault weapons are protected by the Constitution, go on a shopping spree, like they did on the same day of the Las Vegas Massacre sending gun manufacturers stocks soaring.
Perhaps being safest in fifty years is a bit of a red herring if 93 Americans die from gun-related injuries on a daily basis. No argument, though it is important to acknowledge that out of the 33,000 gun deaths in the United States in 2016, nearly two-thirds were suicides. This is not meant to elicit a sigh of relief. Perhaps a serious discussion on dealing with mental health issues is in order. Not to mention the positive impact dealing with these issues would also have other gun deaths.
The statistics demonstrate that owning a firearm increases the likelihood you, or someone in your household, will be injured or killed by the weapon. For women, this is especially chilling. Domestic violence victims have a five-times higher likelihood of being killed if their abuser has access to a gun.
Not to mention, the heartbreaking frequency of accidental deaths. On an annual basis, around 1300 children die in homes where guns are present. That’s a little more than three kids a day. Finally, there is the big picture on the subject. The Violence Policy Center issued the Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use study in May 2017, with the following introduction:
In 2014, across the nation there were only 224 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program as detailed in its Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). That same year, there were 7,670 criminal gun homicides tallied in the SHR. In 2014, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 34 criminal homicides. And this ratio, of course, does not take into account the tens of thousands of lives ended in gun suicides or unintentional shootings that year.
Despite all the evidence, despite the accidental deaths,and the suicides that might be prevented, gun ownership is climbing, and mass shootings are becoming more violent. What could be at the root of such cogitative dissonance? Could it be the fact that media is now a business, and FEAR SELLS?
The commander-in-chief has fueled the fear fire, perpetuating the myth that the United States is a much more dangerous and scary place than it was in the good old days. He beseeches his followers to not trust facts reported by extremely responsible and professional journalists, only if the news is critical of him, of course.
Unfortunately, the digital revolution is actually an evolution, at least as far as the media landscape is concerned. We are still in the Wild West, where law and order has yet to be established. It is virtually impossible to separate fact, fiction or opinion, for many well-meaning, scared people. And so, they tend to focus on voices reinforcing what they already believe, like the United States is more dangerous than it has ever been; and that only one man knows how to make America great again. In the meanwhile, more people will needlessly die. More people will go on rampages, because it is so easy. More politicians will receive donations from the NRA for their willingness to ignore facts and take complicit roles in the myth of fear. And rational people will continue wondering what it will take for the leaders of our (still) great country to actually lead.
Political Journalist - Washington DC