According to a recent survey, 11 million new guns are...

According to a recent survey, 11 million new guns are sold in the U.S. annually, up from 3.9 million in 2000. Credit: AP/Eric Licas

For years, the accepted phrasing for the number of guns in private hands in the United States was “more than 300 million.”

The statistic provided an ironclad expression of the enormity of gun ownership, and analogized it to a national population of roughly the same number.

But according to the nonpartisan Small Arms Survey, which monitors gun ownership, it's now “more than 400 million.”

It shouldn’t be surprising: 11 million new guns are sold here annually, up from 3.9 million in 2000. Yet it’s jarring: A number that daunted is now 33% worse.

That leap would not matter, nor would the fact that this country has 1.2 guns per person, were there truth in the phrase “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people."

But that concept is frightfully damning.

You mostly hear it from gun-rights conservatives, many of whom would say the United States is the greatest nation on Earth.

Yet they argue that our 400 million guns neither cause nor correlate with the 43,000 gun deaths here in 2020. Americans, less than 5% of the world population, own 40% of the guns, meaning we are eight times more likely to own guns than non-Americans. 

And six times more likely than those in other developed nations to die by gun homicide, six times more likely to die by accidental shooting, and almost infinitely more likely to die in a shooting massacre.

Many nations go years without a mass murder. From 2009-2015, Albania, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom had no mass public shootings.

If we have far more gun killings here, and don’t believe it’s because we have far more guns, if we believe the problem is that bad people simply kill people … then we must conclude that Americans are far worse people than foreigners.

Is that the contention of those who argue guns are not the problem? That Americans are so much more murderous, and in the case of accidents, more blindingly stupid, than residents of other nations?

Because that seems remarkably off-brand for the GOP.

Then there is bullying, reportedly a formative experience for the person responsible for the child-slaughter in Uvalde, Texas, and cropping up in school shootings going back to Columbine. A teacher whom 18-year-old shooter Salvador Ramos bonded with over a shared love of violent video games, another troubling issue, recalls students picking on Ramos' clothes, and insulting his mother and sister.

Raising a daughter and reporting on education, I’ve encountered many of the anti-bullying programs in use. Most center on kindness, empathy, the impact of harsh words, and treating others as we’d like to be treated.

Maybe it’s time we considered an anti-bullying initiative with the message: “Kids who get bullied can come to hate everyone. Made to feel vulnerable, they may arm themselves. Devoid of hope, they might go to the local elementary school and murder your siblings or children with high-powered rifles.” 

Today, as in the wake of every mass murder, we say we must treat gun violence of all kinds like a crisis.

About 1.4 million Americans have died from gun violence, including suicides, since 1970. That’s more than died in all the wars in American history. 

Imagine the resources we’d commit if we took the threat of violence within the United States as seriously as we take the threat of violence against the United States?

Columnist Lane Filler's opinions are his own.

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