Making sense of gun violence

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By MARK HOLSTON

The recent volley of letters addressing the gun issue reminded me of the old Hindu parable about the blind men and the elephant. In this tale, six blind men encounter an elephant, and each draws his impression of the beast based on what they can feel. The person who clutches one of the elephant’s tusks has a dramatically different impression than his friend who wraps his arms around one of the animal’s thick legs or another man who strokes its curly trunk. In their own way, each is correct, but each lacks the range of information needed to really understand what the elephant is.

Some will read this and conclude that I, like all the others, can’t see the whole elephant. They may be correct. But, as a journalist, I try to be guided by facts, however elusive.

One writer, who invoked the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, suggesting that his brainwashing techniques are evident in our society, asked “How about recognizing and taking responsibility for decades of liberal, permissive, coddling, entitled society that brought us to this?” Another, along the same lines, stated that “secular humanism,” not easy access to arms, is behind the scourge of gun-related carnage. Other writers, including the managing editor, surmised that our plague of gun violence is due to the country turning its back on God and not obeying the Ten Commandments. Even abortions were suggested by one writer as a pretext for violent acts.

Those are interesting points, and worthy of some consideration, but if they were accurate, why would the example of liberal Western European democracies prove just the opposite? European nations are the personification of “secular humanism” — far less religious than the U.S., exposed to the same violent movies and video games, overrun with immigrants and drugs, and subjected to “liberal, permissive, coddling” influences.

How does their body count compare to ours? Statistics can be hard to pin down, but a recent study co-authored by the World Health Organization and the American Journal of Medicine documented that the gun homicide rate in the U.S. is over 25 times greater than in other “high income” countries (South Korea, Japan, Canada and most of Europe). For every two who die at the hands of a gun-wielding murderer in the United Kingdom, 36 will die here. The rate in Japan is so low it is barely measurable.

To suggest that the primary reason for this violence is anything other than the easy access to arms is, it would seem, delusional. We are stuck with a uniquely American curse — one that some, tragically, see as a perverted kind of blessing. The gun culture has become a sick and self-consuming addiction. The answer is always more guns in the hands of more people.

Many of our elected representatives are unduly influenced by the NRA and other groups of that ilk. Many believe that the Second Amendment is a God-given right. Even the most-feeble attempts to keep guns out of the hands of people who should never have them are met with ferocious resistance by those who are convinced — illogically — that their freedoms would be threatened by such initiatives.

I will do what I can to support the campaign of the brave Florida students who have stepped up in a truly courageous manner, but it’s difficult to be hopeful that any meaningful change will come about. If it comes, change will take generations. The debate has been poisoned by fear-mongering and paranoia. We are our own worst enemy. Among industrialized nations of the world, this will continue to be an America-only tragedy.

Mark Holston is a resident of Kalispell.

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