By Matthew T. Mangino
Last winter, my son’s high school baseball team had a community fundraiser. The “wing bash” as we called it was held in a social hall in a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Amid all the hot wings and baseball memorabilia was a guy wearing a side arm.
There he was, plate in hand, event program under his arm and firearm on his hip as uneasy patrons pretended not see. He wasn’t a police officer or security guard. He was a private citizen who apparently felt so threatened at our wing bash that he had to come armed.
How did we get to a point where private citizens need to carry firearms when they leave their homes? This isn’t Dodge City, Kansas circa 1878, or a John Wayne movie on the silver screen — this is reality and an obvious step backward for a civilized society.
The proliferation of gun ownership has increased the potential for unnecessary violent confrontations. Lawmakers recognized this concern centuries ago.
According to a New York Times op-ed by Robert J. Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York-Cortland, in 1686, New Jersey enacted a law against wearing weapons because they induced “great Fear and Quarrels.”
Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia passed similar laws in the 18th century. By the 19th century, 37 states joined the list prohibiting concealed weapons. Today, more than 11 million Americans have concealed carry permits.
A 2017 Harvard/Northwestern University joint study estimated that our country’s 319 million citizens currently own about 265 million guns. And while in 1994, the “typical gun-owning household” owned 4.2 guns, in 2015, the Washington Post revealed that the average number of firearms owned has nearly doubled to 8.1 guns per household.
Why so many guns?
It certainly is not due to out of control violent crime. The U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI Annual Crime Report, according to the Pew Research Center — two of most trusted names in crime analysis — found a substantial decline in the violent crime rate since it peaked in the early 1990s.
Every year, the FBI reviews crime reporting from 18,000 police departments around the country. The Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys more than 90,000 households asking Americans whether they were victims of crime, regardless of whether they reported those crimes to the police.
Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 49 percent between 1993 and 2017. Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics data, the rate fell 74 percent during that same period.
Yet in spite of those statistics, Gallup polling found that the percentage of gun owners who possessed a firearm for hunting purposes fell from 60 percent in 2000 to 36 percent in 2013. The number of respondents who cited gun ownership for “sport” fell even more.
According to a Harvard University School of Public Health survey, 63 percent of gun owners in 2016 reported self-defense as their primary motivator, up from 46 percent in 2004.
Some suggest the recent widespread adoption of state stand-your-ground laws has fueled firearms sales. These laws permit people who feel threatened to use deadly force without the need to retreat.
Twenty-five states have stand-your-ground laws, including Florida which brought us George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin and the recent would-be robbery victim who killed three young teens — ages 15, 16, and 16 — in an alleged robbery gone awry.
The Congress can’t even decide if it wants to consider any options on gun violence. Legislators in many states, in deference to the power and money of the NRA, pretend like there isn’t a gun problem in this country. According to the CDC, middle-and high school-age children in the U.S. are now more likely to die as the result of a firearm injury than from any other single cause of death.
How can anyone, much less a lawmaker, look the other way? Pretending it’s not a problem, much the same way patrons at my son’s baseball fundraiser did, is not the answer.
That uneasy feeling that makes you look the other way when someone walks into your neighborhood grocery store with a gun, is the very feeling that should cause you to stand up and say “enough is enough.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. in New Castle, Pa., and the author of “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010.” @MatthewTMangino. He welcomes feedback at mattmangino.com.