July 16, 2022

Paradoxical America: The Company we Keep.

by Hal Gershowitz

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It is an intriguing paradox. America, by any measure, stands tall among the world’s most advanced countries in many areas of achievement. The founders would be proud that the experiment they launched 245 years ago quickly catapulted their new nation to the forefront among the world’s great achievers.

Most, but not all, of the founders were well educated. George Washington was the only founder-President who did not attend college. Ben Franklin, perhaps the wisest of founders, only had two years of formal education which ended when he was ten. Public education was not an early American priority because the cost was too great. It wasn’t until 1918 that education, at least through primary school, was compulsory throughout the United States.

But today, we run with an impressive crowd regarding higher learning. Today, America leads the world as host to the world’s greatest learning centers, with nearly one-third of the world’s top 100 universities calling America home. The United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Canada, France, Netherlands, and China comprise what might be termed the All-Star Team for high achievement in education.

And speaking of high achievement, look at the crowd we run with among Nobel Laureates. Once again, we lead the pack. And who else is on our Brainiac team; the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, Sweden, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands. Once again, very impressive company we keep.

And who leads the crowd that contributes the most to the field of life sciences. Yep, it’s us running with colleagues from China, Germany, Japan, Canada, France, Switzerland, South Korea, and Australia.

We also run with an impressive crowd of literati when it comes to the leading producers of books. Our pals in this category are the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, Spain, Italy, and South Korea.

And we Americans also are the most charitable nation in the world, and the company we keep is a pretty impressive bunch, including New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

But then again, not all achievements are praiseworthy.

There is another crowd we run with that must be noted as well. That would be the company we keep among the most gun-murderous nations in the world. We also make the top ten list in that unfortunate club, along with our contemporaries from Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Guatemala, Jamaica, Brazil, Columbia, and Panama.

How is it that a nation, a People, that have repeatedly acquitted themselves so well among a pantheon of great achieving countries also stands shoulder to shoulder among the nations that have distinguished themselves for endemic gun violence? How does that make any sense at all? Those are, of course, rhetorical questions. It is the path we have chosen by making guns of every variety liberally available to all who wish to pack heat. We guarantee that right, with pitifully few restrictions. That guarantee is a constitutional hold over from another era and for another purpose. It was meant to serve us well, but it ceased doing that long ago. The John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, in its April 28, 2022 “Year in Review,” provides a hard look at the toll we tolerate in America.

Firearms are the leading cause of death in America for children and teens ages 1-19, with 4,357 boys and girls falling victim to gun violence in 2020. That same year an average of eight children ages twelve and under were killed every week in America. More kids age 19 and under were killed by firearms than motor vehicle accidents in 2020.

The press, especially social media, paints a distorted picture of gun violence as an urban issue. Gun death rates, including suicide, are highest in rural areas compared to large, medium, and small metropolitan areas. But if we look at gun homicides, rural areas trail urban areas, but only slightly. For example, gun homicide rates are similar between rural and urban counties in the United States.

In descending order, the ten states with the worst record for gun deaths in America are Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, Alabama, Alaska, New Mexico, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Conversely, the ten states with the lowest incidence of gun deaths are; Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Connecticut, California, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Nebraska. Interestingly, the states with the lowest and highest rates of gun deaths can be distinguished by the laws they have on the books. For example, the five states with the lowest overall gun death rates have strict licensing requirements and extreme-risk-protection-order programs. Four of the five states with the highest gun-death rates have permitless carry laws, and all five of the states with the highest gun death rates have stand-your-ground laws.     

Finally, and sadly, it is the young who are victimized the most by gun-related homicide. Those between the ages of 15 and 34 comprise the cohort who mostly fall victim to gun homicide in America.

To be sure, America is not the only country with a long tradition of gun ownership. Guns have long been popular in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and Norway. However, when those countries experienced an outbreak of gun-related homicide, they each took aggressive action to tighten gun laws, and dramatic decreases in gun-related homicide followed.

In Britain, a gunman killed 16 people in 1987. The Brits then banned semiautomatic weapons like those the gunman had used. Then, after a 1996 school shooting, they restricted handgun ownership while allowing licensed gun ownership suitable for recreational hunting. Britain now has one of the lowest gun-related death rates in the developed world.

In Australia, a 1996 massacre resulted in swift action that imposed mandatory gun buybacks of an estimated one million firearms. Mass shootings diminished from one every 18 months to only one in the last 26 years.

Canada significantly tightened gun laws after a mass shooting in 1989, as did Germany in 2002, New Zealand in 2019, and Norway last year.

Liberal gun ownership is pretty much raison d’etre to many in America. Few would seriously contemplate disarming America. However, our reluctance to seriously consider restricting the purchase of even semiautomatic military-style weapons to age-appropriate, reasonably mature adults is all but irrational, and we are sure to continue to pay a high price for our political intransigence.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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5 responses to “Paradoxical America: The Company we Keep.”

  1. Susan Duman says:

    I love the way you thought through what you wanted to emphasize today.
    We are who we are.

  2. Charlie Frankel says:

    Thank you Hal for shedding light on the fact that, for the most part, the states (and cities) with the least gun laws have higher crime. The right cries that the left is “woke” and can’t govern and that crime is higher in “woke” states and cities and their solution is to tell folks to vote Republican and vote for “law and order”. I appreciate your columns that highlight our nation’s gun problem. So what is the solution?

    Also, I’d love for you to write a column about the coordinated efforts by the right (which are finally paying off for them) to undo everything that was federally mandated and send everything back to each individual state to decide. Ted Cruz just stated that gay marriage should be decided at the state level. “States Rights” has been their position for 150 years.

    Finally, another topic for you to consider is that while you praise our educational systems in this column, what about these facts: “Nationwide, on average, 79% of U.S. adults are literate in 2022. 21% of adults in the US are illiterate in 2022. 54% of adults have a literacy below 6th grade level. Low levels of literacy costs the US up to 2.2 trillion per year.” I would not be proud of those results. We must do better. We can’t have a functioning democracy unless people can stay informed and make their own decisions (rather than believe what they hear on the radio or see on TV – especially since the fairness doctrine was lifted (which is another topic for you to consider)).

  3. Stuart Goldfine says:

    Hal, look at the population of those states with the most gun deaths. They are our least populated states. Why is Chicago, a city, having so many gun deaths, when the city has the toughest gun laws. NY and CA has to have a lot of gun deaths, so you must check out the percentage of people in Mississippi, Alabama ,etc being murdered vs. those in Illinois, CA, PA, NY, NJ. I bet the city of Chicago has more murders than any of the states you mentioned earlier.

    Have you seen any mass murders from any of your 10 forementioned states? None. They have occurred in Florida, Connecticut, Texas, California, Nevada, and PA.

    The solutions are better education in the urban cities and the problem of broken families with no head of household. Worse, is the poor educational system in America and the social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and many more. These are platforms for disseminating falsehoods, pure nonsense, and hatred.

    Where is Newton Minow? (think about that man) I am not sure if I got his name correct.

    • Prover Stephen E. says:

      Stuart,
      I must again point out to you that Chicago is not the murder capital of the country. You almost on a weekly basis incorrectly characterize the cities Gun laws. As a Chicago resident you should enjoy more than a passing fancy with reality. Chicago is the 24th or 25th US city when gun fatalities per 1000 population are documented. Most of Chicago’s stern gun laws have been overturned by the Supreme Court. So On behalf of the wonderful city of Chicago I say, Stuart, Love it or leave it…. out of the sidearm discussion the author of this blog so accurately and intelligently addresses.

  4. Michael Schroeder says:

    I think people that want to mass murder a lot of people will find a way to do it guns or not. We need to fix the reason someone rationalizes mass murder is the way to solve their problems. We live in a society where people are not held accountable for their actions, especially kids, the younger a person learns that there are repercussions for bad behavior the better, to many parents go to bat for their child when they mess up, teaching the child that there is no consequences for bad behavior. Removing God from schools was a big mistake, don’t give me the separation of church and state crap, that is not what the founding fathers meant! The responsibility lays on the parents not doing their job to raise responsible kids that turn into responsible adults! That is where the the emphasis should be focused!

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