Friday, July 20, 2012

Accountability in our sights?

When I get in my car, I am doing (statistically) the most dangerous thing I will do all day. Most Americans have a car. Even if freeways are clear, it's rare to take a drive without seeing someone drive in a dangerous way. And when mistakes happen at 70 MPH, they can happen with grisly results.

Perhaps, because of just how much we drive as a country, we have become numb to horrific accidents. A fiery pileup on the interstate is fodder for traffic reports and the local news chopper. We hear about the wreck, we change our driving route and go about our days.

We don't dwell on it. We accept that if we want to drive, there are risks. There are drunk drivers. There are conditions we cannot control. We accept the dangers of driving as a necessary evil and we accept some regulation and enforcement of safe driving practices. In other words: we are accountable. There are dangers, we know them, we may try to prevent them, but we know the consequences of the car culture we have created and deal with the accordingly.

We have not done so with guns.

There are apparently 270 million guns owned by civilians in the United States (enough for 90 out of every 100 citizens). In 2009, we had more than 254 million registered passenger vehicles in the United States.

We have more guns than cars, but we don't bat an eye when there's a car accident. When a terrible act of gun violence occurs, though, Twitter lights up with words like "shocked." Think about this.

We hear so often from the gun lobby that "guns don't kill people - people kill people." I have to say, that is undeniably true. What seems to be missing is the concept of what we enable the people to be armed with.

To use an example I hope no one ever has to experience, imagine you are attacked by someone. If the assailant has a knife and you run, you are doing a fairly good job of protecting your life. Stabbing deaths are rarely the result of a single strike. If you are farther away from me than arm's length and you have a knife, I can feel pretty good about my prospects.

The same cannot be said with guns.

I've never heard a group like the NRA take this into account when discussing an incident. Even if 99.9 percent of the guns in this country are in safe hands, it leaves nearly 300,000 guns in the hands of people who will either mishandle them or be used for ill purposes. Multiply that by the average capacity of a clip of ammunition.

And yet we are a nation shocked by a mass shooting? What exactly do we expect?

Banning guns will not stop the violence. People will find ways to get them. But we should ask ourselves: what are the consequences of a society where guns are more prevalent than cars? We can argue about what the 2nd Amendment means all we want, but a true discussion has to include a level of accountability that we have yet to achieve.

If people want their guns, what are they willing to accept as a result? And what does it mean for how we behave?

It's not unrealistic to be accountable on these matters. Last I checked, we all wear seat belts these days. It all comes down to what we want society to look like.

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