Commentary, Opinion

Gun proliferation is what has changed

By Brian Searles

Editor’s Note: Brian Searles, of Burlington, has served as Vermont secretary of transportation, as a police chief, as director of the Police Academy, and as executive director of the Criminal Justice Training Council.

In the wake of yet another mass shooting in the U.S., we mourn the child victims and again ask: Why are we as a nation unable to effectively deal with the malignancy of gun violence?

That recurring question has us looking to the U.S. Congress, which has failed us many times on this issue.

I come at this subject as a retired 47-year public employee who spent 26 years of those years in law enforcement, carrying a firearm routinely as part of the job.

When I started in the late 1960s, it was very rare to deal with an armed person, but that risk increased over time, and when I retired from policing in 1994 it was a much bigger concern.

According to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms folks, there were 194 million guns in circulation in 1994, growing to 310 million by 2009 and now estimated to be more than 400 million. And guns are not only more prevalent, but also more lethal, as military-style assault weapons are easily obtainable, as in the Uvalde, Texas, case.

Concurrent with the explosive growth in the number of firearms, the number of deaths of those under age 19 hit a record 4,368 in 2020, surpassing child deaths by motor vehicle accidents for the first time ever.

Americans have had enough. According to a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll, 88% of us support background checks for gun purchases, 84% red flag laws, 77% safe storage requirements, and even reinstating the assault weapon ban garners 67% support in the poll.

How obvious does public support have to be in a democracy like ours before the U.S. Congress, particularly Republicans in Congress, respond with support of sensible gun safety legislation?

Nothing here is meant to dismiss the other potential contributors to the plague of gun violence, such as mental health issues and exposure to violent video images, but it is the proliferation of guns in the United States that sets us apart from virtually all other developed countries.

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