What do you think a mother would say is the greater threat to her child: Russia or guns?
I couldn’t help but ask myself that question on Friday when I heard the testimony of General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the Senate Armed Services Committee. When Dunford was asked what was the greatest threat to the United States, he responded by ranking them in this order: Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS.
Now, Dunford is undoubtedly correct when it comes to the global threats facing us, and those are the threats it’s his job to assess. But from a day-to-day perspective, our greatest threat, and I’d submit the more pressing one, is our fellow Americans. We kill far more of each other on a daily basis than any foreign actor has come close to doing in recent years.
Here are some numbers for you to consider:
1. Gun Violence: Every day 30-plus Americans are murdered with guns. We are talking over 10,000 Americans killed each year by gun violence. And every single day, including today, five children or teens are murdered by someone using guns; that is 11 times more often than children are killed by gun violence in other “high income” nations.
In fact, far more Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone (33,636) than all the Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorists in the last 14 years, and that’s including 9/11. (2,977 Americans were killed on 9/11 and only 48 have been killed since by terrorism on U.S. soil.)
2. Other Gun-Related Deaths: Apart from gun violence, another 20,000 Americans use guns to commit suicide each year. (Suicides involving firearms are fatal 85 percent of the time in contrast to about a 3 percent fatality rate when using pills.) When you combine the above numbers with the 560 people accidentally killed by guns on an annual basis, that comes out to more than 32,000 Americans who die each year by firearms. These numbers really brought it home for me: Between 2000 and 2010, 335,609 people died from guns in our country; that’s more than the entire population of St. Louis, Missouri. (318,000.)
3. Driving Under the Influence: Each day nearly 30 people are killed in auto accidents that involved an alcohol-impaired driver. In 2013 alone, 200 children 14 and younger were killed in crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers.
4. Domestic violence: Each day, three women are killed by their husband, boyfriend, or a person with whom they had been in a relationship. In fact, a study found that alarmingly, at least one-third of all women murdered in the United States in recent years were killed by their current or past male partners.
These killers of Americans are all distinct. There’s no one remedy that will reduce the deaths in all these cases. But there is one killer that truly jumps out as the greatest existential threat to Americans: Deaths involving guns.
Now I know that many on the right are preparing to regurgitate their tired talking point that this is a push to grab their guns. They are wrong. I fully support that the Second Amendment guarantees them the personal right to own firearms as recognized in the seminal 2008 Supreme Court case of District of Columbia v. Heller. (Amazing how many on the right applaud the Supreme Court when it renders decisions they like such as Heller but literally want to abolish the Supreme Court as we know it after the recent gay marriage ruling)
But how can we sit idly by as so many of our fellow Americans are killed by guns? It is as if we have collectively decided that these deaths are acceptable loses. Even after mass shootings nothing seems to change, generally due to political considerations.
And we see politics at play again over the heartbreaking shooting death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco last week by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a man who was not in the country legally. Many on the right, like Donald Trump, refuse to talk about the gun aspect of this crime and solely want focus on Sanchez’s immigration status because it plays to their political base. (I doubt Trump would ever mention that 70 percent of the guns recovered by the ATF in the Mexican drug war between 2007 and 2011 originated in the United States. Talk about exporting dangerous things to another country.)
So while we are confirming a new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to protect us from global threats, isn’t it time to create a federal level “Department to prevent gun deaths” to protect us from this domestic threat?
The federal government’s current gun-related tasks would be unified and integrated into this new department in an effort to increase effectiveness, much the same way we saw the Department of Homeland Security bring together the responsibilities of 22 different agencies under its auspices.
For starters this new agency can ensure that the federal law barring federally licensed gun dealers from selling firearms to people convicted of crimes or with mental illnesses is fully functioning. As we learned just last week, the Charleston shooter Dylann Roof should not have been able to legally purchase a gun as he did because of his criminal record. However, a background check flaw allowed that to happen.
This new agency can also be charged with investigating gun trafficking across state lines, formulating comprehensive programs to reduce suicides by guns, and cracking down on federally licensed gun dealers that consistently sell guns used in crimes. Astoundingly, 1 percent of gun dealers account for nearly 60 percent of the guns used in crimes.
We have numerous federal agencies dedicated to keeping us safe from global threats. Isn’t time we had a federal agency dedicated to protecting us from the clear and present danger posed right here in our nation by guns?