We do not need guns and bombs to bring peace; we need love and compassion.
Mother Theresa

Currently, we are witnessing an “arms race” between and among American citizens. Before I attempt to analyze the reasons behind the increasing rate of armed citizens, let me share some data on gun ownership in the U.S.

According to the Small Arms Survey (2017), U.S. Census, “There are more guns than people in the United States.” At the time this survey was done, there were 326 million people in the U.S. and 393 million guns. In an article (2018) from the Washington Post newspaper, a startling reality emerges — there are enough civilian-owned firearms in the United States for every man, woman, and child to own a gun and still have 67 million guns left over.

The Post article documents that “the Obama years were a boom time for America’s gun manufacturers, which doubled their annual output between 2009 and 2013, fueled in part by fears of a federal crackdown on gun ownership that never materialized.” Even more disturbing is the following factoid: 

With an estimated 120.5 guns for every 100 residents, the firearm ownership in the United States is twice that of the next-highest nation, Yemen, with just 52.8 guns per 100 residents.

Now the statistics and factoids are about 4 years old, and one can only surmise that, given the COVID-19 pandemic the rate of gun-ownership has increased. Who or what are we afraid of, and why are we so fearful? Are guns the answer? Is the issue guns or no guns? Or is the issue the type of guns being manufactured and sold? Who, outside of the police and/or military, need a high-powered automatic rifle with a 30-bullet clip chamber? If the gun is for sport hunting, your target, when hit by one of these assault guns, will be little more than a clump of fur or a mangled carcass. If your objective is to protect home and hearth, do you need such a powerful killing tool? 

In the spirit of full disclosure, I come from a family of gun owners, from my grandparents to my father. For the record, guns in my family were kept from children stored and locked away. I vividly remember having to sneak my 96-year-old grandfather’s gun from his house in Detroit to protect him from his own trusted firearm. That’s the point: A gun is not a pet; it does not recognize or refuse to be discharged toward you because you’re the owner.

Owning a gun requires maturity, mental stability, and training on the proper handling and use. Yet if fear is the motivating reason to buy and own a gun, you are increasing the probability of something bad happening to you or someone else. While I am not suggesting eliminating civilian gun ownership, I do believe we can rein in the proliferation of these assault rifles by policies that protect both the gun owner and potential victims. For example, many suggest we regulate all guns like we regulate the sale and use of cars. Specifically, based on a chart I came across, we should do the following regarding all types of gun-ownership:

  • Title and tag at each point of sale like cars
  • Gun training like driver training
  • Written test like driver licensing
  • Practical test for both guns and cars
  • Health requirements for both guns and cars
  • Liability insurance on each gun and car
  • Renewals and inspections at intervals like cars

Admittedly, there is no guarantee that these measures will eliminate gun violence. I recognize that criminals and thugs will always gain access to both legal and illegal guns. However, such measures would go a long way in recognizing how lethal unregulated gun ownership can be in our homes and on our streets. 

Next, to get at what is motivating this surge in gun ownership, we must identify the threats and fears we experience or imagine. As Americans, why are we afraid of each other? Does the struggle for social justice by so-called minorities trigger fears for the majority population? If so, why? Or are we fearful of attack or invasion from a foreign enemy? 

Whatever our rationale, we must avoid the knee-jerk reaction to arm ourselves “just in case.” Maybe, just maybe, we can move from fear-based responses to love and compassion. 

What next? As a friend of mine points out, are we looking at people parking military tanks on their lawns? I really believe that the more love and compassion we arm ourselves with, the less need we will have to menace each other with guns. 

Wake up, America, and smell the roses!

Kwame Salter, a former Oak Parker, is president of The Salter Consulting Group LLC.

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