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The grim idolatry of guns in the United States

Last July 4, Independence Day in the United States, a man opened fire with his rifle and left six dead and 25 wounded near Chicago, Illinois. There were three more dead and 7 wounded in a shooting in Gary, Indiana, and further shooting in Philadelphia.

Greg Erlandson·12 de septiembre de 2022·Tiempo de lectura: 3 minutos
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Original Text of the article in Spanish here

As of mid-June 2022, there have already been more than 260 mass shootings (defined as four or more fatalities or injuries) in the United States. But three recent massacres—at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which left 10 dead; at a school in Uvalde, Texas, 21 killed including 19 fourth graders; and at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where four died—have shaken the nation.

A satirical website called The Onion points to many of the mass shootings with the same headline, ‘ “No way to prevent this,” says the only nation where this happens regularly.’

The Americans’ obsession with guns and their willingness to use them against each other and themselves is increasingly seen as a public health crisis, but there is little political will to address the issue. There are now believed to be more guns than people in the United States. An estimated 42% of U.S. households own guns; and those that do are likely to own more than one.

Gun sales soar

What is it with Americans and guns? Some blame it on our Wild West myths, cowboys and gunfighters. Some blame Hollywood or video games. Some blame it on a society that no longer trusts its police, fears its government and fears its fellow citizens. Gun sales skyrocketed during the pandemic. Gun sales skyrocket after massacres. Gun sales soar in good times and bad, but especially in bad times.

Guns are security talismans. One of the many ironies of America’s gun culture is that the solution to shootings is often more guns. Lawmakers in Ohio and other states are now proposing that teachers carry guns while teaching.

The best-selling rifle in the United States is the semi-automatic rifle often called the AR-15. It is an imitation of a military rifle, and kills in an ugly way, blowing targets away instead of leaving a clean entry and exit wound. Some of the 10-year-olds shot in Uvalde had to be identified by their shoes or clothing because their bodies were unidentifiable.

More children die than police officers

The real horror of America’s idolization of guns, however, is not the mass shootings. It is the fact that there are more than 40,000 gun deaths each year, and more than 50% of all gun deaths are suicides. Guns don’t just kill bad guys or strangers. Guns kill their owners.

In a recent speech, President Joseph Biden stated that, in the last 20 years, ‘more school children have been killed by guns than serving police officers and active duty military combined.’ There were 42,507 deaths of children ages 5 to 18. Deaths of police and military: 29,110.

The U.S. bishops have consistently advocated stricter gun laws, since at least 1975. In a letter to Congress on June 3, following the three recent massacres, the bishops said they supported a total ban on assault weapons and limiting civilian access to high-capacity guns and ammunition magazines. They also cited their support for universal background checks for all gun purchases.

Impact of violence

‘Gun violence is a pro-life issue, when you start looking at the statistics and the impact that gun violence has on lives and the destructive impact it has on society,’ said Sister Mercy Mary Haddad, president of the Catholic Health Association.

But with Congress in a political stalemate and Republicans blocking possible legislation to limit access to guns, many Americans sympathize with the outrage of Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas, at the news of the Uvalde massacre:

‘Don’t tell me that guns aren’t the problem, it’s the people. I’m sick of hearing it,’ Bishop Flores tweeted on May 25. ‘Darkness first takes our children who then kill our children, using guns that are easier to obtain than aspirin. We sacralize the instruments of death and then are surprised that death uses them.’

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