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In all honesty, there are many things that sadden me; we live in a world with huge inequalities, terrible poverty, fear and violence. In my own small corner of that world the thought of my children being hurt, emotionally or physically, fills me with a knot of fear and misery that makes it hard to breathe.
I am an emotional person, given to tears at films, books, even adverts. I cannot bear distress, I cannot understand vindictiveness, I cannot fathom what would lead someone to deliberately cause suffering.
I hear stories of loss and of pain, and I share the sadness. I watch the news and I am unable to comprehend that people are capable of causing so much sorrow. And, I watch in horror when that suffering is inflicted on a child (this has always been the case, but I find I am far more affected and more profoundly saddened now that I am a parent).
But, what saddens me most is avoidable, unnecessary pain.
Last Thursday a four year in Detroit shot, and killed, her four year old cousin after finding a gun in her grandparents house. This is just the latest in a stream of news stories since we moved the US involving children shooting other children; of children having access to unsecured guns. One tragedy after another.
Back in December last year, I wrote a post following the mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. I admitted in that post that I did not feel that it was my place to comment on American gun laws, or politics. I am not American, and I do not fully understand the intricacies of the US political or legal systems, much less US gun laws. However, as a mother I wrote:
…I cannot accept the ease with which guns are available, I cannot accept that this is a ‘right’, I cannot accept that this right is more important than children’s lives.
At the time, the news was full of harrowing statistics. But the one that stuck with me was this; ‘a child is 13 times more likely to die of gunshot wounds in the US than in any other developed country’. I have, of course, done a lot of reading before writing this post; to clarify/confirm statistics like the one above. The presentation of the statistics on gun ownership and gun related deaths varies from one publication to another, as you would expect and as is the way with statistics – you must always read and interpret them with care.
There are a few numbers that have recurred though.
It is estimated that 30-35% of Americans own a gun(s). The per capita estimate is 88 guns per 100 persons, putting the US at the top of the scale, worldwide. (1&2)
In 2008 67% of murders in the US involved a firearm. (2)
Based on a CDC (Centre for Disease Control) study back in 1997 studying data from the US and 25 other wealthy, developed nations, the gun related death rate for children under 15 in the US was nearly 12 times higher than all the other countries combined. (2)
Based on data gathered between 2003 and 2007 (3):
Children aged 5-14 are 11 times more likely to be killed accidentally by firearms in the US than in other developed countries
Children aged 5-14 are 13 times more likely to be killed intentionally by firearms in the US than in other developed countries
As if these statistics weren’t enough, there are the harrowing stories, like the one of the two four year olds above.
The five year old who shot his two year old sister with his own gun (yes, you read that correctly, his own gun – in one of the articles I have linked below you will find reference to the company that sells My First Rifle; it comes in a variety of colours including pink and blue). (4)
The nine year old playing outside who was shot by a 13 year old who mishandled an unsecured weapon. (5)
The two year old who killed himself with his fathers handgun. (5)
The bare statistics anger me. The stories behind these statistics sadden me beyond measure. The devastation brought into people’s lives, events that they will never fully recover from. Loss, grief, pain – all so unnecessary, so pointless, so unjustifiable.
There is nothing that makes these stories acceptable.
I often hear the phrase ‘but guns don’t kill people, people do’ and this is correct – but a gun in the hands of a child?
I still feel that any comment I make on gun ownership in the US must be heavily caveated: I am not American, I have not grown up here, I cannot pretend to understand such strong cultural and historical influences – I am British, this issue is not something I have had to grapple with before. But, right now, I live here and my family, my children, are surrounded by guns. This makes me uncomfortable at best, fearful at worst.
However, anger and disbelief at US Gun Control laws aside, mostly I am saddened by this reflection on society – what have we become, that we would put our own (questionable) right to bear arms ahead of all the statistics that demonstrate that this right doesn’t protect us? In fact, quite the opposite.
It harms us, it harms our children. It devalues our society. It brings great sadness to those involved; it should bring sadness to all of us.
(1) Just Facts – Gun Control
(2) Daily Kos – Statistics, Guns and Wishful Thinking
(3) Minn Post – The health risk of having a gun in the home
(4) Washington Times Communities – Do children really need pink and blue guns
(5) Mother Jones – At least 194 children have been shot to death since Newtown
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I’ve linked this post up with #PoCoLo at Verily Victoria Vocalises.