Opinion: Guns are America’s dumbest problem

We know how to reduce gun deaths — have less guns — and our hesitance to act distracts from genuinely challenging policy issues.


The prominent Hunting section of Scheels in Iowa City displays their firearms on Feb. 7, 2016. Hundreds of guns sit on the second floor of the All Sports store in the Coral Ridge Mall located in Corallville, Iowa. (The Daily Iowan/Mary Mathis)

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

I love being an American. We invented the electric guitar, college football, and deep fried Oreos. We went to the Moon, put Mr. Rogers on TV, and have the best women’s soccer team.

But we also have really dumb problems in America. Someone is still paying the Nickelback to perform music, 26 percent of us think the Sun revolves around the Earth, and thousands of us die every year from gun violence.

And please don’t get me wrong. I’m not making light of the individuals whose lives have been stolen, or the shattered worlds of their loved ones, or the terror that grips countless school children, concert goers, and Walmart shoppers.

My point is that the gun problem is dumb. It’s dumb because we know how to fix it: fewer guns. It’s pretty simple, really. In states with fewer guns, there’s less death by guns. That’s true for deaths by suicide as well as accidental and intentional killings. In places where it’s harder to come by a gun, legally or otherwise, it’s harder for someone to die from a bullet.

Massachusetts’ red-flag laws and licensing program make the state with the second least guns and the least gun deaths per capita, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and CBS News. By contrast, states such as Arkansas have very lax firearm regulations and their high ownership rate comes with a high gun death rate.

I find it maddening to scream about a problem (gun deaths) where we already have the answer (have less guns), when there’s a genuinely complex emergency at hand.”

I know I’m not going to convince those who already disagree with me. I’m not going to sway those under the persuasion that prayer is a public-policy solution, or that the Christian Jehovah has endowed humans with the right to own a firearm.

I don’t want to write that article, and no one wants to read it. So instead of spending my 600 words regurgitating what we already know — background checks are good, red-flag laws are better, gun bans and buybacks are best — I’d rather reflect on how the firearm debate is different from everything else.

The conversation around guns isn’t like other policy areas about which there are reasonable arguments to be made. I’m definitely left of center, but I can hear out a philosophically coherent argument for privatizing schools, or fire departments, or whatever. 

It’s not the same with guns.There are clear-cut measures that have been proven to mitigate deaths from guns. It’s just a matter of making the political choice to save lives.

(Aside: Most gun-safety laws aren’t designed to do much against a mass shooting. These laws are reduce gun deaths in the most common scenarios: suicides and domestic violence. And of course, there is never going to be zero deaths from firearms. The point is to drastically cut the number of needlessly dead human beings.)

So, what’s my point? I said I wouldn’t spend my time actually debating the gun issue, and I’m more than two-thirds through my freedom-hating screed. Well, it’s like I said at the top: I love being an American. We have plenty of asinine problems, but we are brilliant problem solvers when we set our hearts and minds to a great challenge.

That great challenge isn’t guns, it’s climate change. I find it maddening to scream about a problem (gun deaths) where we already have the answer (have less guns), when there’s a genuinely complex emergency at hand.

To effectively solve the climate crisis, we are going to undertake expansive and intricate initiatives.

We’re going to build new careers across industries. We’re going to make everything more reliable, cleaner and safer, from our electric grids to the air we breathe. We’re going to work together to come up with the most efficient and responsible ways to revolutionize the energy, transportation and agricultural sectors. We’re going to make America great again and be the unquestioned world leader in the fight against our greatest existential threat.

We don’t have all the answers right now — not by a long shot — but we’re America, and we aren’t going to perish from the earth just yet.

So let’s just get the gun thing out of the way, so we can tackle a true challenge.

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