An editorial from The Charleston Gazette
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After rival motorcycle gangs slaughtered each other at a Texas biker hangout, a CNN commentary asked: “Is this who and what we have become as a nation? … Is American culture now so drenched in weaponry — and so wearily accustomed to violence — that a bloody massacre barely registers as news? … How on earth did we get to this place?”
America got to this place because cowardly politicians bow before right-to-bear-arms zealots, letting almost anyone go armed to kill.
Actually, owning a pistol makes you more likely to kill your spouse, makes you more likely to commit suicide, and makes it more likely that your little children or their friends will die in gun tragedies. Those are facts drawn from American social research.
Harvard University public health professor David Hemenway surveyed 150 sociology and criminology experts nationwide and reported these findings in the Los Angeles Times:
■ “A gun in the home increases the risk that a woman living in the home will be a victim of homicide (72 percent agree, 11 percentdisagree).”
■ “A gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64 percent) rather than a safer place (5 percent).”
■ “Guns are not used in self-defense far more often than they are used in crime (74 percent vs. 8 percent).”
■ “Finally, there is consensus that strong gun laws reduce homicide (71 percent vs. 12 percent).”
Here are some additional facts from recent news reports: U.S. gun ownership is at a record low. The latest General Social Survey finds that one-third of homes have guns today, compared to half around 1980. Part of this change reflects a steady decrease in Americans who hunt. Rural families own guns at double the rate of city folk. America’s constant rise in gun purchases evidently means that a few owners are buying more and more guns.
Forty percent of U.S. guns are acquired in private sales or at gun shows, where no federal background checks screen out criminals, addicts, psychotics, wife-bashers and others who shouldn’t be armed. A prison survey found that 96 percent of inmates serving gun sentences got their weapons through this shady “gray market.”
Mass-murders have spurred six states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New York and Rhode Island — plus the District of Columbia to require background checks on private sales. Several other states impose various partial safeguards.
Public Policy Polling found that most West Virginians — 67 percent of men and 79 percent of women — similarly want background checks for all guns sold in the Mountain State.
Only about 3 percent of people carry pistols, yet lately they wield more political clout than the other 97 percent. It turns out many West Virginia officeholders and office seekers have been cowing to the wrong crowd. They have mistaken gun manufacturers, which always want to expand their sales, for constituents.
A notable exception is Sen. Joe Manchin, who tried valiantly to get more sensible background checks passed in Congress. He should keep trying. He read the people right. Also, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed a foolish and dangerous bill that would have spread even more concealed weapons with fewer background checks around the state. He also put safety and sound public policy ahead of gun sales.
West Virginia and the nation need more courageous action like that. This is life and death stuff here.