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Opinion | We’re exceptional at killing kids with guns

Gun violence recently surpassed vehicle crashes as the No.1 killer of children aged 1 through 17.

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We have nearly 400 million privately owned firearms in the United States. We have about 333 million people in the United States. That’s more than 120 guns per 100 people in the population.

That population includes a 12-year-old who in December shot and killed himself while playing with a gun at a friend’s house. It includes a 6-year-old who took a gun from home to school and shot his teacher. It includes babies, like our granddaughter Isla Ray, born a mere 5 months ago. And my friend and grandma I adopted, Sara, who lives in Las Vegas and just turned 98.

Of course, our population includes those mass shooters who kill people at shopping malls and grocery stores, gay nightclubs and, of course, schools, all over the country. Our population includes the children and adults killed in those mass shootings. And those who kill seemingly at random or on purpose on Birmingham’s and other city’s streets, and it includes their victims, too.

That 333 million includes the lonely man or woman in a Birmingham apartment, just out of a messy divorce and who is now financially unstable, those who take their own life because, dammit, a gun is just so easy. Easy to get. Easy to use. Easy death. Easy.

With a gun, death is easy. It’s easy to kill. It’s easy to end one’s own life.

Easy-peasy. And good lord, Americans sure do love easy.

How easy? A few years ago, I bought a pistol at a local gun shop. I filled out the forms so the gun stores could get a background check. But I walked out of that store, within an hour, with my pistol and ammunition. Easy-peasy. 

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Owning a device intended to kill shouldn’t be that easy to get. Should it?

Yes, guns are tools. In the right hands, less of a worry. In the wrong hands, they are a danger to all 333 million Americans out there. The “wrong hands” doesn’t mean a criminal’s hands. It means that 12-year-old who shot himself playing with a gun. It means that 6-year-old who shot his teacher with the gun he found at home and stuffed in his backpack, supposedly with his how-to-read book and his LEGOs.

That “wrong hands” is any person who hasn’t gone through proper gun-handling training and provided the paperwork to prove it. But it doesn’t.

I walked into that Hoover gun store, bought a pistol and ammunition, and was home within an hour. Yes, easy-peasy.

Then we complain about gun violence, like everybody who commits a crime with a gun is suffering from a “mental illness.” Of course, the facts show that the United States has no more or fewer mentally ill citizens than any other country. 

But see, if we deflect to mental illness, we never really have to face the real issue: We have a gun problem in the United States. Until we get a handle on the proper way to regulate guns – and there’s nothing in the Constitution that prohibits reasonable regulation of gun ownership – we’ll see our gun problem continue to worsen.

Is that what we want? Well, the gun nuts want it. They say the Constitution mentions those well-regulated militias, of which, they say, all citizens are members. 

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Those militia members who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2020, were certainly not well-regulated. Indeed, many militia members absolutely have the “wrong hands.” Lots of them washed out of the U.S. military, so being a member of a “militia” makes them feel included, part of a “family,” like they’re really still Marines or on the Delta Team after all.

You know, like the “gangs” they all bitch about. Beastie Boys? Hell, yeah! Proud Boys? Uh, hard no!

Our sacred U.S. Constitution. You know, the “God-inspired,” “untouchable” document that made black Americas only three-fifths of a person?

Ratified first in 1787 and in effect beginning in 1789. The most common firearms then were muskets and flintlock pistols. They held a single round at a time and only the most-skilled shooter could get off three shots in a minute of firing.

Today, we have guns that can fire 90 shots in 10 seconds. That’s what the Las Vegas concert shooter did. Or the shooter at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando: 24 rounds in nine seconds.

We know, with technology advancing, that round-count will only increase, too.

But if nothing else convinces us to take a serious look at the gun problem in America, consider this: Gun violence only recently surpassed vehicle crashes as the No.1 killer of children aged 1 through 17. 

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Or even more starkly, gun violence is the No. 1 killer of kids in the United States. For the next 11 peer countries, in all but one of these First-World nations, gun violence isn’t even in the top 5 for child deaths. Canada, the exception, is No. 5, and that has to be from the influence of its southern neighbor, the United States.

Car wrecks, drug addiction, cancer – they all cause fewer deaths than gun violence.

Take a look at your child or your young niece or nephew or your new granddaughter and tell me that doesn’t scare you. What in the world are we doing? 

Many believe we are an exceptional nation. Well, we are, indeed, where killing our kids with guns is concerned. No other peer nation is nearly as exceptional.

Let’s celebrate!

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column each week for the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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