Sundin column: How many more will have to die?
As I See It
On Valentine’s Day, our country was once again shocked by a mass shooting in a school, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This was the fifth major attack on a school, with death tolls ranging from 12 to 25. In the past 35 years there have been 32 mass shootings in which anywhere from eight to 58 people have been killed, with a total of nearly 500 deaths.
The statistics are even more appalling if you use the accepted definition of a “mass shooting” as one in which four or more people are killed or wounded. During the first 52 days of 2018 there have been 34 mass shootings of which more than half were in schools. In 2017 there were 346 mass shootings — nearly one a day!
Over the past 20 years the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle has become the weapon of choice for mass murderers. Coupled with this, the recent introduction of the bump stock, which converts the AR-15 into an automatic weapon, has dramatically increased the number of people killed in each attack.
What can and should be done to put an end to this mayhem? First we need to reject the tired pathetic NRA claim that the solution is more thorough background checks on prospective gun purchasers. This would be impractically expensive, would never be totally effective and would not screen current gun owners.
Arming teachers to fend off killers armed with semi-automatic or automatic weapons is an equally ridiculous idea and ignores the large number of mass murders that are not school-related.
The only way to stop the slaughter that is threatening our society is to outlaw all weapons designed to rapidly kill as many people as possible. Both the U.K. and Australia have found this to be effective after experiencing their first (and what has become their last) mass murders. Throughout the world there is a direct correlation between the number of guns per capita in a country and the number of gun-inflicted homicides, regardless of what “fake news” the NRA tries to peddle.
There are an estimated 265 million guns in the U.S., of which half are owned by 3 percent of gun owners. This includes eight million semi-automatic rifles. A buy-back program to eliminate these weapons from our society is the only way to stop the slaughter. The NRA and the gun manufacturers who currently have a strangle hold on Congress will fight this to the death, but I believe that a majority of gun owners, whether they are NRA members or not, favor getting rid of mass-murder weapons.
There is also no reason why guns should not be registered just like automobiles (another potentially lethal weapon). This brings up another issue in which too many people are needlessly being killed. In the U.S., drunk driving is responsible for 31 percent of all automobile deaths, compared with less than 10 percent in European countries which have much stricter laws. In Sweden, where drunk driving accounts for only 3 percent of traffic deaths, the penalties are a day of hard labor for the first offense, a six-month license suspension for a second offense and a lifetime revocation for the third offense. In the U.S., penalties even for repeat offenders are often little more than a slap on the wrist.
Then we come to our health-care system, which exceeds the rest of the world only in its cost. In all issues related to health — infant mortality, preventable deaths due to treatable conditions and life expectancy after age 50 — the U.S. is far down the list. On infant mortality, the U.S. is in 37th place, behind Costa Rica and Dominica and all other industrialized countries. We are also the worst among 19 industrialized nations in preventing death from treatable conditions and last among 12 industrialized nations in life expectancy after age 50.
These statistics are attributable to the fact that the U.S. is the only developed country that does not have a universal health-care system, ranking us the worst in equity of access to health care. The result is hundreds of thousands of premature deaths annually. This is far more than the few hundred killed by semi-automatic weapons or the few thousand killed by drunk drivers each year.
How many more of us will have to die before our country catches up with the rest of the world in gun control, reducing drunk driving deaths and universal health care?
“As I See It” appears on the first Thursday of the month. Hal Sundin lives in Glenwood Springs and is a retired environmental and structural engineer. Contact him at email@example.com.