The Only Way to Make Gun Accidents Disappear Is to Make Guns Disappear

Handguns are displayed at the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center in St Peters, Missouri, some 20 miles (32 kil
Handguns are displayed at the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center in St Peters, Missouri, some 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Ferguson, on November 26, 2014. Paul Bastean, owner of the range, told AFP that business had grown as a result of anxiety about reaction to the jury announcement in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Typical sales of five to seven guns a day have risen to 20 to 30 in the last week, while gun-handling courses for November and December are fast selling out. Violence erupted in the St Louis, Missouri suburb for a second night on November 25 over the decision by a grand jury not to prosecute a white police officer for shooting dead Brown, an unarmed black teenager. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

It took both sides in the gun debate about two days to respond to the horrific incident in Hayden, Idaho, and as usual, they both behaved in kind. Pro-gun bloggers like Robert Farago immediately attacked gun-control organizations as "bloody shirt wavers of the civilian disarmament industrial complex" because they suggested that Veronica Rutledge probably had "little" required training. Robert can be excused for his flights into rhetorical hyperbole because: a) his audience expects it; and, b) his audience expects it. But the proof he offered to contradict the claim of insufficient training, a statement from the Idaho CCW manual about the student needing to shoot a whole, big 98 rounds actually underscores what Ladd Everitt's Coalition to Stop Gun Violence actually said. Poor Veronica Rutledge held a CCW permit from Washington State, by the way, so Farago's attempt to push back on the Coalition's statement was both silly and wrong.

Not that pundits on the other side of the issue were necessarily any more discerning in trying to explain the how's and why's of the tragedy at the Walmart store. On Wednesday, the Boston Globe ran a major editorial on the incident by Michael Cohen, who is a Fellow at the Century Foundation, a liberal think-tank that was started by Edward Filene, who also founded the Filene Department Store chain. I love think tanks that claim to be "non-partisan" but somehow always wind up on one side of the fence. I guess it has to do with their tax-exempt status or maybe they actually believe that their approach to certain issues embraces all sides of the political spectrum; it's no wonder they aren't known for speaking out about guns.

In any case, Michael Cohen says right up front that he's "no fan of guns." He also believes, and here all the evidence certainly comes down on his side, that guns don't make us safer and that, in fact, firearm ownership increases the risk that someone will be injured or killed with a gun. He takes issue with the cops in Hayden who termed the shooting a "tragic accident" because, according to Cohen, it was an avoidable tragedy and not an accident of any kind. "These incidents," concludes Cohen, "will continue as long as gun-owning parents remain lax when it comes to the issue of gun safety."

Let me make one thing very clear. I am the last person who would ever give gun owners a pass on locking up or locking away their guns. And I have drawn my share of fire from pro-gun zealots like Farago whenever I argue that, NRA-inspired nonsense to the contrary, guns simply don't make us safe. But I think that advocates like Cohen need to ask themselves how to really explain the lethality of guns because otherwise they may end up making arguments that just don't bear any fruit.

According to the CDC, intentional gun deaths have risen from 27,427 in 1999 to 32,288 in 2012, an increase of 18 percent, most of the increase coming from gun suicides but gun homicides are up as well. Over the same period, unintentional gun deaths (like the unfortunate death of Veronica Rutledge) have dropped from 824 to 548, a decline of 33 percent. During these same 14 years, accidental deaths from machinery have stayed exactly the same; accidental drownings have also remained just where they were. There is no other category of unintentional fatal injuries that has shown the same degree of decline as the decline in fatal accidents involving guns.

Let me break the news gently to Michael Cohen and his friends who are concerned about violence from guns. As emotional and frightening as the incident in Hayden may be, when only 548 people die yearly from gun accidents in a country which contains more than 300 million guns, the only way that unintentional gun injuries will completely disappear is if we get rid of all the guns. Remember lawn darts?