Excerpt from Chapter 11: Meaning

What's Wrong with this Picture? — April 2010

I've been aware of the increasing gun violence in the U.S. for a long time, but it has a greater impact when it strikes close to home. Last week a young boy brought a gun to the middle school that one of my granddaughters attends. Up to seven other boys "handled" the gun during the day before it was discovered.

This happened in a supposedly "nice" neighborhood, with supposedly "good" schools, illustrating how it can happen anywhere. And while there were no deaths from this incident, it led me to check more closely on some of the statistics I had read in the past about the level of gun violence in this country.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC): In 2006, the number of U.S. firearm homicides was 12,791.

While I'm not interested in a debate over the political issue of "gun control," we do need to recognize the inordinately high rate of deaths from the violent culture that exists here in the U.S. To put it in perspective, we only need to compare it with the rate of deaths from the wars we are currently involved in.

We understandably and legitimately focus a lot of attention on the number of U.S. military fatalities in fighting the "war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of April 12, 2010, the total U.S. fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan combined were 5,396.

However, we have another "war" going on right here at home. And it's even more dramatic when you compare the deaths from gun violence at home with the deaths from the two wars:
      —Deaths from U.S. firearm homicides (for just one year, 2006) were 12,471.
      —Deaths of U.S. military serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan combined
          (for just one year, 2006) were 920 (
      —Deaths of U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan combined
          during all the years of both wars were 5,396.

So the casualties at home for one year were:
      —almost 14 times higher than the war casualties for the one year, 2006.
      —more than twice the number killed during all our years in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It simply doesn't make sense to allow a culture where so many more people die here at home than die in the wars we fight abroad.

The rate of firearm homicides in the U.S. is even more disturbing when you consider it in relation to other countries. Our 12,791 firearm homicides are far greater than other countries. They are:
      —6 times that of Canada
      —13 times that of Germany
      —15 times that of Austria
      —26 times that of Australia and Spain
      —31 times that of England and Wales

Lest you think this high rate of gun violence in the U.S. is recent, the 2006 rates were only slightly less a decade earlier. In 1996, the number of firearm homicides in the U.S. was 9,390.

Here's how this compared with other countries:
      —2 in New Zealand
      —15 in Japan
      —30 in England and Wales
      —106 in Canada
      —213 in Germany

We U.S. citizens are justifiably proud of our country's promise of "life, libery and the pursuit of happiness"—as well as our many achievements through the years. We lead many of the world's lists of "best" in various categories. But we do not want to continue to lead this list of gun violence rates around the world.

The number of deaths from gun violence in the U.S. is not a "new" problem. Cumulatively, we've had many years of senseless deaths. In fact, since 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated, over a million people have been killed with guns in the United States.

All these statistics are so overwhelming that it seems beyond our ability to do anything about the issue. But it's important that we recognize that what it takes to address it can not be limited to looking to the government or laws. We need a major shift in the "common character" of our people—all of us. Each of us needs to do our part in working toward a "kinder, gentler" way of dealing with our fellow citizens.

This kind of major cultural change can't be accomplished easily or quickly, but the facts presented above can help motivate us to recognize that there's something terribly wrong with this picture—and to work toward diminishing our violent culture here in the U.S.

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