Arming the Asylum

NEW YORK – The horror has become almost routine. This time, the massacre site was a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where accused shooter James Holmes murdered and injured dozens of moviegoers. In 1999, the scene was nearby Columbine High School. By some estimates, there are more than 20 mass shootings per year in the United States. And always the same question: Why?

When the US is compared to the rest of the world, one reason becomes obvious: while America may not have more homicidally insane people than other countries do, homicidally insane people can get their hands on guns more easily in America than they can virtually anywhere else.

According to a 2007 survey, the United States is far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of gun ownership, with 90 guns for every 100 citizens. With 5% of the global population, America has between one-third and one-half of the world’s civilian-owned guns – around 270 million weapons. And many studies show that the US far surpasses other developed countries in deaths from gun violence – 30,000 per year, most of them suicides, but more than 12,000 of them homicides – while guns injure 200,000 Americans annually.

With these casualty figures, one would think that gun-control laws would be a much higher national priority in America than the far more loudly hyped fight against terrorism. After all, ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 left roughly 3,000 people dead, gun violence has killed almost 140,000 and injured more than two million.