Human actions that threaten our lives
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Every day’s newspaper contains accounts of people who have died as a result of other people’s actions. Three that seem to appear most frequently have resulted from Islamic terrorism, shootings, and motor vehicle accidents.
Islamic terrorism is high on our fear list. Although it causes tens of thousands of deaths around the world every year (of which roughly half have been in Iraq), with the exception of Sept. 11, 2001, very few have occurred in the U.S. This can be credited to the massive security measures we have mobilized to prevent a recurrence.
Now let’s compare this with the number of Americans losing their lives in motor vehicle accidents and from shootings, and the level of effort we are expending to try to reduce those shocking numbers.
An average of 40,000 Americans die every year as a result of motor vehicle accidents, nearly one third of which are caused by drunken drivers. Nearly 30,000 Americans die from gunshot wounds each year, about half of which are self- inflicted.
Federal legislation initiating intensive security activities and enhanced surveillance by a multitude of federal agencies, including the TSA, FBI, CIA and Top Secret America (an enormous information-gathering and screening empire), have so far been successful in preventing a post-9/11 terrorist attack. But these activities are costing us tens of billions of dollars every year.
By comparison, our efforts to reduce the tens of thousands of people killed by motor vehicles and by guns are pitifully inadequate.
An automobile or truck in the hands of someone inexperienced, tired, distracted or just plain careless (often at excessive speeds) is a lethal weapon, and should be treated as such by the law. Most egregious is driving while impaired by the use of alcohol or drugs. Anyone who drives under any of these conditions has made a conscious decision to power a lethal weapon without regard for the threat it presents to the lives of others.
The leniency of our laws pertaining to traffic deaths is a disgrace, especially those related to drunken driving. Most other modern nations impose far more severe penalties for drunken driving, including a day of hard labor or driver’s license suspension for a specified time for a first offense, to lifetime license revocation for a second or third offense. All it takes for conviction is merely the aroma of alcohol in the driver’s breath – no breathalyzer test required.
Perhaps the reason our legal system is so casual about this totally avoidable cause of automobile deaths, which frequently claim innocent victims, including children, is that legislators and judges don’t want stiff penalties to interfere with their “right” to have a couple of belts before hitting the road.
And finally we come to the most controversial issue of all, firearms. More than 1 million Americans have died from gunshot wounds since Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in 1968.
Every year, 15,000 people are killed by being shot (usually intentionally) by someone else, and many more thousands are seriously wounded. The U.S. leads the world in the number of gun homicides per 100,000 people, except for countries plagued with internal conflicts.
The rate in the U.S. is 11 times the rate in Canada, and about 80 times the rates in Britain and in Australia. It is probably not just a coincidence that the U.S. also has the highest rate of gun ownership, 88 guns per 100 people.
The National Rifle Association’s solution to the tragic number of gun homicides in the U.S. is to further increase the number of guns, including assault and semiautomatic weapons, so nearly everyone can have one, ready to use. If this is our response to gun violence, the entire country will become a replay of the old Wild West, and the thousands of innocent people slaughtered will only increase.
It seems that neither the American public nor our politicians really care how many Americans are killed by the intentional (or reckless) actions of others, unless it’s by an Islamist terror attack. That’s the only threat we take seriously enough to do something about.
P.S.: I do agree with the NRA on one thing: their often repeated statement that “It’s not guns that kill people.” They are right about that. It is not the guns, it’s the bullets.
“As I See It” appears on the first and third Thursdays of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Law enforcement were trying to de-escalate a suicidal situation when the alert went out.