No easy answers, no cheap fix

As we struggle with the tragically short lives viciously ended in Newtown last week, emotions and anger are running high.  So it should be when unspeakable acts like that occur.  As grief and shock subside, the inevitable calls to do something will reach a fever pitch.  But what can we realistically do to make sure the lives of young people are not once again tragically cut short in the future?

It’s very difficult to have an honest discussion on gun control in the wake of a spree killing because the people who believe restricting access or banning certain firearms or magazines or ammunition aren’t interested in an honest debate.  This was well illustrated by now-apparently-banned-by-Kevin-for-being-such-a-serial-schmuck commenter Carl yesterday:

And the right’s gun nut’s “end game” is to let as many children die needlessly as is necessary – protecting 2nd amendment rights trumps human life for them.

Jim feels gun laws are pointless and that dead children are just collateral damage to protecting second amendment rights.

Yep, the gun industry, backed by the most powerful lobby in Washington, has done an excellent job of insuring (sic) that gun nuts have unfettered access to killing machines that contributed to the needless deaths of 2 (sic) children and 8 adults.

Of course not. That’s just the canard weak-minded extremists use to scare up opposition to sensible gun laws.

Canard?  Isn’t that a rusty coat hanger used in those back-alley abortion clinics from which women are just one more conservative on the Supreme Court away?

So it goes.  Anyone who asks why re-instituting the same assault weapon ban that was previously enacted at the federal level (with no statistically noticeable effect on crime) and still currently in effect in Connecticut would be any more effective now gets shouted down as abetting child murder.  I know it’s crazy, extremist talk but if we’re going to devote time and resources to reducing violence at schools shouldn’t we at least consider whether the laws being rushed through Congress will actually do anything other than provide a self-congratulatory, back-slapping, bill-signing photo opportunity?

If your answer to that is “No” then skip on down to the comment section and let me know how I’m a gun nut extremist more committed to preserving murder machines for slaughtering children than seeing the wisdom of easy answers to complex problems.

The question I have is, how committed are we to stopping innocent lives from being tragically cut short?  It’s very easy for people who have no familiarity with or use for guns to come up with “common sense” laws restricting firearms.  But how far are we, as a country, willing to go to ensure young innocent lives don’t get tragically cut short?

We’re going to deal in facts, not perception or feelings.  It’s difficult to find specific sources of data for child mortality, cause of death, crime, etc. in one integrated set.  Perhaps something for me to do during my funemployment.  I’m going to pull from multiple sources but that’s always dicey from a statistical accuracy point of view.  I’ll cite all sources.  If anything seems glaringly out of place, let me know and I’ll revisit.

For the record, data is not politically correct and also quite racist.  Don’t shoot the messenger.

According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2009 a total of 21,621 children age 1 – 19 died in the US.  The leading cause of death (7,962) was accidents.  Second was homicide with 2,600 victims.  Suicide (1,928), cancer (1,890) and congenital defects (1,059) are next in frequency.

In 2009, 12% of the children age 19 and under who perished were victims of homicide.  Of that 12%, 1,919 (74%) were between the ages of 15-19; that equates to 8.9 deaths per 100,000 people age 15-19.  Of that 1,919, 1,647 were male (14.9/100,000); 638 were white males (7.5/100,000) – the third leading cause of death behind accidents (2,782; 32/100,000) and suicide (1,113; 13/100,000) – and 977 (53.4/100,000) were black males – the leading cause of death ahead of accidents (405; 22.1/100,000).

Teen boys are the biggest victims of homicide among children.  Not completely unexpected.  What is shocking is the fact black males between 15-19 are murdered at 7 times the rate of their white peers.  That’s clearly not a popular nor politically correct topic for discussion.  Guns are just as readily available to white teens if not more so since a lot of black teens live in large cities with restrictive gun laws in place.  Culture is taboo when it comes to violence, it’s the weapon that’s to blame.  But if we really care about saving the lives of young people maybe we need to get past cultural sensitivities and have an honest discussion on how we can stop black kids from killing each other.  This is a huge tragedy.

Whatever the reasons there were 2,600 children murdered in 2009.  The Center for Disease Control reports 1,844 firearm homicides of children ages 1- 19 in 2009.  According to FBI crime data on all homicides, in 2009 67% of all homicides were committed with a firearm.  Handguns were used in 70.5% of those murders, rifles were used in 3.8% of gun homicides.

This is where mixing data sources gets messy.  Multiply those 1,844 deaths by 3.8% and that equals 70 children murdered with a rifle in 2009.  Not assault weapons, but rifles of any kind.  Out of 12,490 preventable (accident, homicide, suicide) child deaths in 2009 a ban on assault weapons or high capacity magazines would have a theoretical ceiling of 70 lives saved, with a more realistic number probably being between 10 – 20.

But isn’t theoretically saving those lives worth common sense laws restricting rifles with detachable, high-capacity magazines?

I don’t know.  How many children die because new, life-saving drugs take decades to be approved by the FDA?  How many children are killed each year because of fuel economy standards that require auto manufacturers to produce smaller, lighter, less-safe-in-a-crash vehicles?  How many die participating in sporting events?  How many turned to gang violence because they grew up in a one-parent household and were stuck in a crummy school?

How many children drowned in backyard swimming pools?  Why does anyone need a pool in their backyard?  There are plenty of places swim.  Places with trained lifeguards whose sole responsibility is to prevent people from drowning.  We’d save more innocent children by filling in every backyard pool than banning assault weapons.

It’s not fashionable to think like that in the wake of a senseless act of mass murder though.  Much easier to focus on one aspect of a crime about which we still know very little other than the killer used a weapon that many people have been clamoring to ban for the last four decades.  But if the intention is to ensure as many children as possible grow up and live to a ripe old age then shouldn’t we start by identifying what causes the most preventable deaths and start there?

Which is a nice segue to another dangerous inanimate thing people have been eager to ban for years – alcohol.  The World Health Organization reported that alcohol causes more deaths (2.5 million) than AIDS, tuberculosis, and violence each year. According to the CDC, 75,000 people in the US die each year because of alcohol abuse – 4,500 of them under the age of 21.  Every year we see 50% more people under 21 die from alcohol-related causes than gun homicide.

Let that sink in – more Americans die each year because of alcohol abuse than homicide.

Isn’t it time we had a serious discussion about banning alcohol?  Clearly, no one needs alcohol.  Beyond the 75,000 American lives it claims outright each year, it is a contributing factor in many domestic disputes, cases of child abuse, instances of random violence, and sexual assaults.  Whatever small pleasure responsible drinkers may enjoy, alcohol’s easy availability (you can buy it in grocery stores) and ubiquitous marketing have created a lethal alcohol culture.

Are you going to sit there and tell me you’re willing to see innocent children crushed to death by drunk drivers just so you can have a little temporary relief from stress?  Go lift weights instead.  Don’t say it’s the drunk driver’s fault – without easy access to beer and wine and booze thousands more innocent children would still be alive today.

Prohibition’s sure to work this time.  Or maybe we should just ban children from riding in automobiles.

So what, you say, we’re just supposed to throw up our hands and accept it when some coward goes on a suicide spree killing?  Not at all.  What I’m saying is we need to look beyond easy answers.  Lord knows Washington specializes in ineffective, superficial solutions they believe will solve complex problems.  Is it too much to expect for our government to do something that actually works?

Mental health has to be a part of any discussion.  Looking past the fact that many of these spree killers have underlying psychological issues, roughly 2,000 children take their own life each year.  That’s incredibly sad.  Sometimes we might scoff, what kind of problems does a child really have?  Wait till they’ve got a mortgage and a wife and kids and a bad back and a car that needs repairs, then they’ll know what problems are.

Except kids’ brains are still developing, they experience stress in different ways than adults, their bodies are flush with hormones and strange new feelings, they don’t have an adult’s wisdom, and because of peer pressure admitting they’re having psychological issues is even more difficult than it is for an adult.  That stigma is there and it just compounds the problems they’ve already got.  Adults have less trouble reaching out to friends or relatives or a professional because we’ve lived long enough to learn that it helps to talk and that there’s no shame in asking for help.

Yet there were still more Americans who committed suicide in 2009 than were murdered.  I did not know that before today.  You sure wouldn’t know it from watching the news.  It’s pretty hard to believe.

Once again, there isn’t an easy answer.  If there were then children wouldn’t commit suicide or shoot up classrooms.

I know I’m probably just spinning my wheels here.  Nothing I can say, no amount of data, no obtuse moral equivalence is going to change the minds of people who believe guns are the root of all our evils.  To them, I’m just a gun nut who’s not willing to compromise even if it means 20 kids get gunned down in a school.  No one who opposes new restrictions on firearms could possibly care about stopping children from being murdered.

Well, I do.  More than I care about scoring cheap political points or sticking a thumb in the eye of some lobbying group I despise.  As I’ve cautioned before, our elected officials do their shoddiest work when responding hastily to some horrible crime.  More gun laws won’t deter someone who’s decided to shoot up a school.  But they will give our politicians cover to pat themselves on the back and ignore the other factors until the next lunatic strikes.

Then, more of the same easy answers.  Don’t our children deserve better?

Well worth it to ensure constitutional rights are preserved
Man Arrested After Bringing 2x4 Labeled "High Powered Rifle" Into Sandy Hook Elementary