Gun violence in the U.S. is simultaneously shocking and commonplace

Here are two typical stories from the inside pages of today’s paper, documenting the daily toll of gun violence. In Jacksonville, Florida, a Spanish teacher who had been fired that morning, returned to the office of the head of school, pulled an AK-47 from a guitar case, and killed the head of school and himself. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a gunman opened fire in the lobby of a psychiatric clinic at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center killing one person and wounding seven before being shot to death himself by a police officer.

We’ve become familiar with these kinds of stories. That’s why they appear on the inside pages now. Mentally ill person pulls a gun and kills people. Again. Fired employee returns with a gun and kills his boss. Again.

After the slaughter of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in 2007, there was a brief period of consideration of how guns might be kept out of the hands of the mentally ill. But that consideration ended when no practical or even plausible answer could be found consistent with the Second Amendment’s constitutional right to own guns.

Even for those who are neither criminals nor mentally ill, people sometimes experience extreme stress, when fired from a job, or when a spouse walks out, or when a home is foreclosed on, or when custody over children is lost, or in a confrontation on the highway or in a bar. If a gun is accessible, the potential for tragedy is heightened.

In 2007 there were 12,632 gun homicides in the U.S. and 17,352 gun suicides. Another 69,863 Americans received non-fatal gunshot wounds. So we’re pretty used to gun violence. Of the 44 U.S. presidents, four were assassinated with guns while in office. Other victims of political gun violence include Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and most recently Gabrielle Giffords.

Over 58,000 American military personnel were killed in the War in Vietnam over 20 years from 1955 to 1975. But more than that number of U.S. civilians die from gunshots now every 2 years.

America has a unique affection for guns. I can’t think of any other country that has the right to keep and bear arms stated in its constitution. In 2008 the Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment to the Constitution as securing the right of Americans as individuals to own firearms.

So it’s good that we’re used to hearing about gun violence, because there’s surely going to be more in the days, months, and years ahead.

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