OCHAZUKE: Serious Talk for a Serious Problem

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By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS

(Published Aug. 10, 2019)

Normally, my contributions to Ochazuke tend to venture into topics that range from light-hearted to the downright wacky. I’ve tackled such hardcore topics as my favorite breakfast cereals, whether I should dye my grey hair, and whatever that glop is at the bottom of KFC’s “famous” chicken bowls.

The last couple of weekends, however, have brought events that have saturated my thoughts and emotions. I am saddened, angry, demoralized, confused and ultimately, mobilized.

As touchy a subject as this can be, I really felt as though this needed to be said, in plain English, without sugar-coating. It commands a mature amount of consideration, carefully weighing as much input as possible, from all sides.

I started a conversation on Facebook, which, anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the social media site knows, can swiftly devolve into name-calling, unfiltered vitriol and broken friendships.

This one was different. Perhaps it speaks to the caliber of friends I keep, or maybe we’re all so overcome by the horror of what has been happening that we recognize the need for constructive discourse.

So here we go. There are too many guns in this country, and they are too easy to get. It’s time to correct that.

More than 250 mass shootings and more than 8,700 people dead in the United States of America from gun violence in 2019 … and it’s only August.

Let those numbers sink in for a moment. That averages out to eight mass shootings per week and nearly four people killed every day via the use of a gun. This makes zero sense.

We must confront the need for meaningful gun control. No more bullshit – no more token waiting periods, slightly wider background checks, none of that crap. We have shown time and again that we as a nation cannot handle the responsibility of private firearm ownership. There is no other way to spin it, so don’t try.

Certainly there are many aspects to consider – no complex problem is corrected with a simple solution. But this solution begins with gun control – to spell it out, a reduction in how many guns we produce, and sharply limiting their availability.

There are more guns than people in the USA – by a 2018 Small Arms Survey, more than 120 guns per 100 people. That’s by far the most in the world, more than twice number per capita of the nearest country, Yemen, at just over 52 guns per 100 people.

In recent days some have said we need more guns; Fox News’ Sean Hannity said this week that there should be guns and armed guards “on every floor of every school.” That’s insane.

Many will point to the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Forget it. Those are colonial, agrarian concepts completely out of context in a world of semi-automatic firearms in an urban society. The framers had absolutely no intention of enabling the wholesale slaughter of people out doing their weekly shopping … or those having a drink in a bar … or toddlers in their classroom or at a community festival.

Over the last few decades, the National Rifle Association has been at the forefront of reshaping the Second Amendment, from a concept to protect people to rules to protect the guns.

I have seen first-hand the pride with which gun owners flaunt their firearms in “open carry” parts of the country. Every spring, I see them at the Walmart in Kingman, Arizona, reveling in their rights as gun owners.

Perhaps there are also some rights concerning not being shot at Walmart because your skin is brown. Maybe we should carry that openly.

Let’s not discount the efforts of responsible gun owners. The availability of such firepower is the problem. It’s the combination of someone with intent plus a readily accessible killing machine that is leading to tragedy on a regular basis.

For the most part, the Republican Party has consistently shown it is perfectly willing to accept mass murder in exchange for unfettered access to guns, mostly for white people. Time for that crap to end. I do not own a gun, and I have no intention of ever doing so. The idea that anyone “needs” a gun “just in case” is a scare tactic that makes a whole lot of money for a select few.

Our president said last Sunday, “Hate has no place in our country.” Coming from his mouth, that is truly the tablecloth calling the china white. He has personally and repeatedly goaded on an entire demographic, many of whom he knows already have a propensity toward hate and violence. Donald Trump sends them the message that it is okay to hate and kill anyone you see as different. There is plenty of proof for that last statement.

I am very close to someone who is an M.D. and has for the last 25 years or so been one of this nation’s most knowledgeable experts on injury prevention as related to gun violence. I was reminded of some key facts for this particular debate.

Though there is a heated national conversation right now about assault-style weapons and mass shootings – as there damn well should be – the majority of firearm deaths in the USA are from suicide. In 2016, just over a third of nearly 23,000 gun-related deaths were homicides, and of those, 71 were the result of mass shootings, based on Centers for Disease Control figures.

Most gun deaths and injuries in the USA are the result of urban violence and the use of handguns, not rifles nor semi-automatic weapons. FBI statistics from 2017 show small arms accounted for 64 percent of gun murders.

There are plenty of arguments against limiting the availability of arms, mostly falling into a couple of categories – the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” defense.

We have enough guns to kill every man, woman and child in the country, never using the same weapon twice … and we make more every day. All of this makes no sense, and I challenge anyone to provide a reasonable explanation. The Second Amendment? You’re dead wrong. Read the Federalist Papers, specifically No. 29 from Alexander Hamilton and James Madison’s detailed guidelines for a “well-regulated militia.” That doesn’t mean individual survivalists nor gun collectors, it is the beginnings of the National Guard.

Nowhere in those papers, nor in the U.S. Constitution, is there any protection for private ownership of guns in the home. Want to be a patriot? Join the Guard or the military and serve your community. I have several friends and family members who have done just that, and they have earned our respect. For all the others … it’s time for a change, an approach we haven’t tried in earnest. A long-overdue and fundamental change that works in practically every other developed nation on the planet. So many innocent lives depend on it.

I have a dear friend who is a terrific guy, and has indeed served his country. He’s a former Marine, highly decorated, and someone whose input I value greatly. He brought up a few common counterpoints that deserve an honest look.

He brought up how thousands die in car accidents, yet we don’t ban cars.

For starters (pun intended), automobiles are a highly regulated product. You know, well-regulated. In most states, yearly or biannual inspections are required. Cars are not designed with the specific purpose of killing people. When fatalities occur, it is due to accident, with few exceptions. If someone is injured through the use of an automobile, the manufacturer is often held responsible. You must also renew your license to operate one every year. And don’t forget the key fundamental difference that driving is a privilege, not a right.

He made note of how hijacked planes were used as deadly weapons on Sept. 11, 2001, yet we still fly them daily.

Been to the airport lately? In response to planes being used as weapons, we now have a little something called the TSA to prevent their lethal  misuse. That is a serious and decisive response.

Also mentioned – even before the horrific attacks this Thursday in Orange County – was how knives, deadly for sure, are in every store.

I suppose just about anything can be used as a weapon, but the knife argument is truly an apples-to-oranges comparison. Knives have nowhere near the lethal potential of guns … when you think about it, that’s exactly why guns were invented – they are more efficient killing machines. Good luck taking down that charging elk with your switchblade. In El Paso, the assailant would not have been able to kill 22 people running away from him, at a distance – in a minute or so – with a knife in his hand.

Honestly, though, can we really ban guns, make many of them illegal to own and confiscate them en masse? Probably not that easily. However, we have seen very recently how such an approach can indeed work.

My buddy Paul in New Zealand pointed out how successful tighter gun laws in that country have been, following the shocking mosque shootings there last March. Action by their government took weeks, not years, and was sweeping in its scope.

A key difference, a very importance difference, is that many guns there were surrendered *voluntarily.* At this point, it’s extremely difficult to imagine Americans giving up anything that resembles personal freedom, even if the logic is clear that such action is overwhelmingly for the public good.

Guns are practically the only product sold in the USA that we know kills people, yet we do little or nothing to regulate that product. There’s a class of jet planes that might have a defect. They’re currently grounded. Lettuce that is suspected of causing illness immediately disappears from supermarket shelves. Cars with even the slightest issue are recalled. Even tobacco, with hundreds of years of history and profit in the U.S., has been severely restricted. Thousands die each year from gun violence in the USA – actually, more than 1,000 EACH MONTH thus far in 2019 – but for some reason, business as usual continues, unabated and undisturbed.

As soon as we admit and accept the facts of our incredible dysfunction in regard to guns, we can begin to find meaningful solutions. The conversations my friends and I have been having over the last week are surely proof that something can indeed be done, that this is not an unsolvable problem. I am encouraged and hopeful, for all our sake.

But we must face the facts – not Donald Trump’s demagoguery and the gun lobby’s misleading messages of fear, but real information backed by real evidence. I suspect the lawmakers who oppose such an approach will have a quick change of heart when the candlelight vigils come home, and are held for their friends and neighbors, their families and their own children.

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Ochazuke is a staff-written column. Mikey Hirano Culross is The Rafu’s sports and entertainment editor. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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