If current projections hold, for the first time modern American history more people will die in 2015 from gun violence than will be killed in automobile accidents.
Meanwhile, nearly 20,000 Americans kill themselves each year using firearms, amidst an escalating suicide rate. And as Bloomberg News recently reported, the financial cost of U.S. gun violence in terms of lost work, medical care, insurance, court costs, and pain and suffering amounted to nearly $175 billion in 2010.
It's against that dire backdrop that the New York Times' Ross Douthat insisted in his most recent column that gun violence doesn't represent a pressing issue for the country. Instead, it's part of an elitist, "political class" agenda cynically embraced by President Obama.
The columnist's effort continues a misguided trend by media conservatives to dismiss the issue of gun violence as a "red herring" and a "distraction" from what really matters in America, which is job creation. Douthat scolds the president for allegedly not keeping his focus on the economy. But how did Republicans respond to Obama's effort last year to pass a jobs bill? They blocked it. Just as they did in 2011.
Pointing to a Pew Research Center survey from January, Douthat also includes immigration and climate change as examples of how Obama's second-term agenda is out of sync with what Americans truly care about, and how the three issues are actually "non-priorities."
But there's something callous and almost tasteless about casually dismissing as a "pet cause" the 32,000 Americans who die each year from gunfire, and the 70,000 more who are injured by firearms. And to claim, as Douthat did, that only politicians aboard the "Acela Corridor ideology" consider gun violence to be a national priority.
Wrote Douthat [emphasis added]:
After all, gun control, immigration reform and climate change aren't just random targets of opportunity. They're pillars of Acela Corridor ideology, core elements of Bloombergism, places where Obama-era liberalism overlaps with the views of Davos-goers and the Wall Street 1 percent. If you move in those circles, the political circumstances don't necessarily matter: these ideas always look like uncontroversial common sense.
Step outside those circles, though, and the timing of their elevation looks at best peculiar, at worst perverse. The president decided to make gun control legislation a major second-term priority ... with firearm homicides at a 30-year low.
This is an amazingly dishonest argument for a New York Times columnist to make about such a pressing public policy issue. Douthat claims the "timing" of Obama's push for a background check bill in Congress this year was "at best peculiar" and "at worst perverse." The only thing peculiar and perverse is Douthat's refusal to acknowledge the shooting at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut last December when a madman massacred 26 kids and teachers with a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle.
By inferring that Obama recently selected the issue of gun laws only because it's one of the "pillars of the Acela Corridor ideology," Douthat pretends it wasn't a shocking national tragedy that placed the issue at the top of the White House's second-term agenda this year.
As for the columnist's suggestion that gun legislation isn't really needed since the rate of firearm homicides stands at a 30-year low, that ignores the fact that the majority of the gun deaths in the United States aren't related to homicides. Democrats led by Obama didn't push for a stricter background check bill in January in order to only reduce the number of homicides each year. They did it to help reduce the number of all gun deaths, which includes the avalanche of nearly 20,000 gun suicides each year.
But is Douthat right in his claim that Americans don't see gun laws as a priority? According to the Pew survey Douthat cited in his piece, 56 percent of Democratic voters point to it as being one of the country's most important issues. Is it surprising that Obama, a Democratic president, would pursue an agenda in sync with Democratic voters?
And if political agendas are supposed to mirror public opinion polls, what does that says about the Republican Party's relentless pursuit to pass an endless string of laws limiting women's reproductive rights? There's little indication, however, that curbing access to abortion ranks high as a national priority among voters.
Gun violence in America represents an escalating crisis in terms of human loss and financial impact. Writing it off as a presidential "pet cause" is offensive.
Crossposted at County Fair, a Media Matters for America blog.