March 16 for Asian Americans: We know that as the day a single man went out in Atlanta and bought a handgun with just a cursory background check and no waiting period. He proceeded to use that gun to immediately shoot nine people, eight fatally, with the primary reason for targeting being a deep-seated hatred toward Asian women.
The same day in Phoenix, Ariz., five people were shot, four fatally. The next day, in Stockton, Calif., five people were shot in a drive-by shooting. And the next day in two separate shootings in Gresham, Ore., and New Orleans, La., eight people were shot. A week after the Atlanta shootings, in Boulder, Colo., 11 people were shot, 10 fatally. Through the end of March, there have been a total of 126 separate mass-shooting events of four or more victims, with a total of 148 deaths and 485 injured.
I would venture that most of us have only heard of a handful of these events. On March 14, 15 people were shot in Chicago, but only two fatalities. Not enough deaths to pass the ever higher and higher sensationalism threshold for national news coverage.
The 2018 Small Arms Survey conducted by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, estimated 393 million civilian-owned guns in the U.S., or 1.2 guns for every American man, woman and child.
The U.S. holds 46 percent of the total number of guns owned by civilians. Perhaps even more disturbing is that American civilians own more guns than the world’s military and police forces combined, which hold only 146 million guns total. Our own U.S. military and police forces are estimated to possess just over 5.5 million small arms combined.
I think back to the 1980s movie “Wall Street” and the famous line, “How many yachts can you water-ski behind? How much is enough?” The question here perhaps to pose to Charlton Heston and the NRA, “How many guns can we pry from your hands?”
Here, the answer is actually no more than two. And yet, the NRA and the gun manufacturers tell us the answer to increasing gun violence is more guns. If everyone has a gun, we will all be safe.
Again, referencing back to the ’80s, that strategy is chillingly reminiscent of the Cold War tactic of Mutually Assured Destruction. The result of that strategy was a ballooning deficit in the U.S. with escalating deficit spending and the ultimate bankrupting of the Soviet Union.
Yes, we won the Cold War but only because the Soviets couldn’t spend as much as we did. The only winners were the defense contractors that raked in the money to build our nuclear arsenal and the bombers and submarines to deliver them.
And now, we see the same effect on gun sales. Individuals are now engaging in an arms race to make sure they have a better gun than the person that is going to come after them and their family. The National Shooting Sports Foundation touts guns as a means for self-defense.
I fail to see how promoting guns for self-defense fits in with a mission of promoting guns for sport.
Now, with the year that the Asian community has experienced and the threat of harassment and escalation to violence, most tragically in the mass shooting in Atlanta, many are buying into the marketing of gun manufacturers to arm themselves.
We must resist this false narrative that guns protect. The reality is that a gun in the home is more likely to end with tragic consequences. The Department of Justice estimates that 60 percent of all gun deaths are suicides. While it is the mass shootings, and the mass-fatality ones, more specifically, that draw the attention, guns are much more dangerous in the house where they are kept.
Although thankfully rare, even more tragic are the narratives of children finding a gun and shooting a sibling or themselves. Pro-gun advocates will decry these incidents as rare and sensational, but the equal response is that the narrative of a gun actually being successfully used in self-defense is equally rare.
One might say the horse has already left the barn in that there are already so many guns out there. But that assumes there is just that one horse. In the case of gun sales, there are many more sales waiting to happen, and we can do something about that.
In the case of the Atlanta shooting, the gun was purchased the day of the shooting under what are some of the most lax gun sale regulations in the country. Something as simple as a mandatory waiting period could very well mean there would be eight more people still alive today.
Expanding background checks and requiring responsible retail practices from gun sellers. Requiring gun owners to take responsibility for their firearms to secure them properly. These are just a few fundamental, common-sense laws that should be easy to pass. Gun rights advocates always talk about how they are law-abiding citizens. If that’s the case, they should have no fear of taking responsibility for their rights.
David Inoue is executive director of the JACL. He is based in the organization’s Washington, D.C., office.