Gun news is `white noise' in land of the NRA

October 05, 2006|By DAN RODRICKS

There was plenty of gun news outside Amish country this week.

In Baltimore, just a few hours before the horror in Nickel Mines, a 40-year-old man allegedly killed a neighbor with a shotgun blast while the neighbor was wiping the morning dew from his pickup truck windshield. According to court papers, the gunman's wife sought a restraining order against him in June, saying that he had threatened her multiple times and that he might have access to a firearm.

Later Monday, while the world's teary eyes were fixed on Nickel Mines, someone shot a 16-year-old boy near his home in East Baltimore. His mother rubbed the boy's hand as he lay on the sidewalk. She told our reporter that her son was a high school sophomore who played football and had a charming smile. The boy died on an operating table at Johns Hopkins Hospital early Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, police arrested a 36-year-old man for his attempt to take a Raven Arms MP25 semiautomatic handgun through a security checkpoint at our airport.

At the federal courthouse here, a grand jury indicted six South Asian men for trying to smuggle sniper rifles, submachine guns and grenade launchers to the Tamil Tigers insurgents in Sri Lanka. (Though I don't know why we'd want to stop someone from taking those deadly weapons out of the country.)

I could go on, but I won't. I don't need to.

News about gun deaths has become white noise in America.

And that's probably one of the reasons why homicidal-suicidal men - assuming they have rational thoughts - need to inflict their violence in the nation's schoolyards. It ensures that their last acts on Earth horrify to the nth degree and rise above the white noise.

You know where this is going - to that subject that too few Americans want to talk about anymore: the ready availability of a huge number of firearms and how they make possible the thousands upon thousands of homicides, suicides and woundings that occur in the land of the free and the home of the nut every year.

The gun-control advocates suffer from fatigue and a drumbeat of criticism that they rely on emotion instead of logic. The gun-obsessed claim to be the voice of reason in the debate, and they crow smugly that they've won the day. Meanwhile, what's the count?

Something like 27,000 homicides and suicides a year, according to one of the few remaining organizations that actually try to lobby Congress for more controls on firearms.

The Violence Policy Center, culling information from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says there were 10,100 homicides by gun in 2005 and 16,905 suicides by gun in 2003 (the most recent statistics available.)

There were 69,825 nonfatal shootings in 2005, according to Kristen Rand, legislative director of the center. A Duke University study two years ago put the annual cost of gun violence in America at about $1 billion. There was a time when an extravagantly horrible act like the one in Nickel Mines would set off those who believe the nation's obsession with firearms has gone too far. We would hear or read impassioned calls for more controls - and more policing and prosecution under existing laws - within hours of such a shooting.

But there hasn't been much of that this week.

And had there been, the calls for sanity would be quickly and predictably shouted down by the gun lobby and the gun-obsessed, who hold up the Second Amendment as if it were a permission slip to buy, sell or own any kind of gun, in any circumstance, despite the insane level of violence that occurs here.

In many respects, this battle is over. It suffered a few setbacks here and there but, by and large, the National Rifle Association won. The ATF estimates that there are 220 million guns in the United States - far more than could possibly be needed in a nation of 300 million.

The reaction to the mere raising of this issue in this column will be predictable:

You can't blame Nickel Mines on guns.

Guns don't kill, people kill.

If the Amish teacher had kept a TEC-9 in her desk drawer, this wouldn't have happened . . .

Hey, it's OK. You don't even have to bother call or write. As you can see, I know what you're going to say. And, please, spare me additional copies of Paul Harvey's trenchant essay on how the Columbine massacre was due to the fact that we teach evolutionary science and hand out condoms to teenagers.

The president wants a summit on school shootings? Great. That will last about a minute. Let's face it: Most in Congress and state legislatures have grown too timid to even talk about this anymore. Meanwhile, the number of guns in our culture grows, facilitating suicides and homicides and, on some days, both at the same time. (Pennsylvania was first in the nation in murder-suicides in the first six months of 2005, according to a national study by the Violence Policy Center.)

Injecting the issue of the easy availability of guns - and the way in which guns facilitate violence, emboldening weenie-men and crackpots - seems almost trite now. We express horror at horrors, and grief for the victims, and nothing really changes.

Having more guns means we accept a higher level of violence. That's just a fact of life in the land of the free.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

Hear Dan Rodricks on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on WBAL Radio's The Buzz, with Chip Franklin, and read his blog at www.baltimoresun. com/rodricks

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