Despite successful efforts by the NRA to prevent publicly funded research into gun deaths, several scholarly studies have suggested that a gun in the home is more likely to be involved in accidental death and injury, suicide or violence among "intimates" than in addressing a threat by outsiders.
It should come as no surprise that a recent YouGov poll found that in households where guns were available, members who did not actually own a gun were more likely to support "gun control" than those who owned them. It should not be forgotten that the Newtown massacre was carried out by someone who obtained his mother's legally obtained weapons.
Responsible gun owners may feel outrage about the current debate. One of the ironies of gun ownership is that those who purchase them for protection are far less likely to ever encounter a criminal threat than those without guns who live in high-crime areas. Most gun owners live in relatively safe communities, often in rural or small towns, and may use firearms for hunting or recreation. They certainly share the horror that any normal human feels about the killing of innocent children. They may simply be unaware of people who live in urban neighborhoods who fear the consequences of easy legal, as well as illegal, access to firearms. Most reject the notion that guns in their own home can be more threatening than some criminal they might encounter.
Yet, it is absurd, if not insane, to think that making more guns available to more people will make them safer. Elisabeth Rosenthal, in a New York Times article, notes that in countries with high rates of civil violence like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela, "good" guys with guns "grace every lobby, storefront, ATM, restaurant and bus station" without any discernible increase in safety. Rebecca Peters, of the International Action Network on Small Arms, gets to the main point: "A society that is relying on guys with guns to stop violence is a sign of a society where institutions have broken down."
Blogger and Middle East scholar Juan Cole notes that among 21 developed OECD countries, the United States alone accounted for 80 percent of deaths by firearms between 2000 and 2011. This country has more gun deaths in a 24-hour period than many European countries have in a year. By official count, between 2000 and 2011, the United States experienced 115,997 gun deaths -- more than might be expected in a country experiencing a civil war, such as Syria.
Those who constantly assert the "right to bear arms" need to be reminded that democracies thrive only where people take responsibility for and with each other, rather than arming themselves to the teeth against real and imagined enemies within their own society. It is what we do together as a people that provides for our public safety, not what we would have to do if we lived in a world where safety lies in arming ourselves to the teeth against each other.
Sane people know that our security, and indeed the freedoms we take for granted, come from the compacts we form with each other through our civil and political institutions. One would think that we might have learned this 236 years after the Declaration of Independence defined the purpose of self-governance.
Beller, a West Virginia State University professor, is a Gazette contributing columnist.