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Karthika Muthukumaraswamy Headshot

Where There's Gunsmoke, There's Gunfire

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Before we are granted a driver's license in the U.S., we undergo extensive testing to make sure we're not a danger to ourselves or others on the road -- injuring or killing oneself or another with a car is accidental, and yet we have elaborate theoretical and practical tests in place to make sure that a driver would be safe on the road, and rightly so: vision tests to ensure visibility, theoretical tests to make sure we know the rules, and road tests to determine our abilities behind the wheel.

When you buy a gun -- a tool whose only purpose is to kill -- there is no set of established guidelines to ensure you have the skill level, intelligence or judgment to use it. Some states have meager proficiency requirements, in others, the Second Amendment is as good as a gun permit.

There is something wrong with this picture.

President Obama's latest gun-legislation proposal addresses a broad range of factors -- from conducting thorough background checks and limiting the size of magazines to imposing restrictions on the mentally unstable. It is good to see the White House and Congress finally taking this issue seriously.

But let's also remember that Adam Lanza did not pass a background check or carry his own gun, yet he managed to kill over two dozen people including 20 young children. The Bushmaster rifle he used was not illegal under Connecticut's existing assault weapons ban -- modeled after the now-expired federal ban -- which would not have outlawed the weapon either.

Regulations on weapon type and possession are easy to get around in a country with hundreds of millions of guns, and where weapons can be bought at gun stores, gun shows, online, and under and above the table. A criminal or mentally-ill person could steal or borrow a gun, and as some have suggested, a relentless killer could carry three guns with 10-round magazines instead of one with 30.

U.S. gun-murder rate is 20 times that of all other developed countries combined, and shooting deaths are projected to surpass auto fatalities by 2015, reaching an astounding 33,000 gun killings a year. Nothing short of a drastic measure with long-sighted policy proposals is going to get us on the right track.

What would be one effective way to curb gun violence in a country where 300 million guns are already out there? By controlling the consumable: the ammunition.

The long-term goal in any gun-control strategy must be to move toward a ban on lethal ammunition altogether. What possible case exists -- other than crazy conspiracy theories of an authoritarian government turning against its citizens -- to allow civilians to carry weapons with ammunition that can kill? And to pacify the conspiracists (or perhaps alarm them even more), semiautomatic weapons are not going to hold a candle to a highly skilled and trained army, the world's most formidable one at that.

Let's for a moment set aside the thought that a tyrannical government is going to turn on its people and take away all their rights. Let's also be rational (and humane) and say that single-shot rifles are sufficient to tear apart poor animals on hunting trips.

Aside from antiquated qualms and barbaric human tendencies, the only practical reason for a civilian to own a gun is to thwart potential attackers. And this can easily be achieved with non-lethal bullets, allowing one to disable their attacker sufficiently to make an escape. The closest we may come to a magic bullet in the gun control dilemma is one that's made of rubber.

Guns would still be available to gun-lovers, gun owners would still be able to use them, and more importantly (since the gun lobby appears to call all the shots in Congress), the gun industry would continue to make money off guns and non-lethal ammunition.

Wouldn't that be a far more sensible solution than introducing more guns to reduce gun violence? Which is the overriding solution proposed by the NRA and most gun advocates, and expressed by Jeffrey Goldberg in the December issue of the Atlantic.

Goldberg makes his assertion with a hypothetical: If you are caught in a train car -- or college campus or movie theater -- under the fire of a lunatic killer, would you rather have a weapon to defend yourself or cower in fear under a seat?

Obviously the answer to this is the former.

Interestingly, Goldberg is looking to snap judgments made in traumatic situations under a great deal of duress to dictate long-term gun policy. Putting a gun to one's head, literally, while making a decision on a law with such sweeping consequences is not a reasonable solution in a country where firearm-related incidents kill about 25 people a day.

Even as Goldberg accuses gun-control advocates of reacting to this issue emotionally rather than rationally, he himself seems to be clouded by the assumption that the mere presence of a gun could curtail another.

There is no evidence to support this feeling that gun-rights advocates have. In a Mother Jones investigation of 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years, none were prevented by an armed civilian. Not without plenty to go around in a land of 300 million guns.

Goldberg insists that weapons on campus (or anywhere) could not even potentially be harmful on account of the fact that no research study or poll or statistic has shown evidence that they can increase crime.

Do we really need a study to prove that the presence of guns can cause more gun deaths than the absence of guns?

Apparently we do. Because when this simple truth was pointed out by CNN's Piers Morgan, the gun-rights camp went ballistic (pun intended), chastising him for undermining the Second Amendment, and demanding his deportation.

Morgan had a point, one that he made on the Colbert Report a few weeks later: In a country with no guns (his home country, England), there are 35-40 gun murders a year, and in a country with 300 million guns (the U.S.), there are 11-12,000 gun murders a year.

It really is that simple. You don't need a study or a treatise. The numbers speak for themselves.

Also, studies that are available show that in households with guns, a gun is 43 times more likely to cause the death of a member of the household rather than be used in self defense.

To be fair, the more reasonable gun-rights advocates, including Goldberg, point out -- rightly -- that these facts don't help the situation any: the guns are already out there. We should focus on addressing the problem in this age, without turning back time, without going door to door to retrieve hundreds of millions of weapons.

Nevertheless, these numbers do prove that more guns aren't and shouldn't be the solution to the gun violence problem.

Seeking out those with mental disabilities and psychopathic tendencies and denying them access to weapons would be helpful, but as eloquently and candidly expressed by Liza Long, the mother of a mentally-ill child, these individuals lead fairly normal lives in society, and could potentially go on a shooting spree without warning at any time. Even if their mental sickness is known about, there is nothing the law can do until the individual commits a crime, potentially pulling a trigger one time too many.

There is a lot of talk of tracking mental illness and keeping guns out of the hands of severely-ill patients, even to the extent of negating long-held doctor-patient confidentiality agreements (the comprehensive gun control law passed by the New York State Legislature in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting stipulates this).

Even if every mentally-disabled and criminally-inclined individual was somehow wrested of firearms, what is to stop regular individuals with such natural inclinations as anger, frustration and depression, from impulsively pulling a trigger at an altercation, a heated discussion or distressing situation?

Nothing. Which is why just a couple of weeks before Newtown, Kansas City NFL player Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend and himself owing to an argument. And why less than a week after Newtown, a mother of two was shot dead due to gunfire ensuing from an incident of road rage in Houston.

An argument that many gun-rights advocates make is that the very act of firing a gun is so involved that it is highly unlikely for a normal individual to fire in haste or on impulse, which is why it would be almost impossible for law-abiding citizens to shoot without premeditation.

But even avid gun lovers have expressed their discomfort at how impersonal and removed the act of using certain types of weapons can be. As Haley Elkins, a self-described gun-loving West Texas girl, eloquently describes, quick-firing weapons such as semiautomatics can take away the involvement, making the process much too detached -- to the point where one may fire a weapon (and fire multiple times at that) without completely realizing the gravity of the action.

No matter what the reason, way too many unnecessary deaths are caused by guns everyday.

A combined crowdsourcing effort by Slate.com and Twitter user @gundeaths puts the total number of gun-related deaths in the country over 1,400 just a month and a half after the Newtown incident, arguably the deadliest and most ruthless mass murder we've seen in recent years.

If that number isn't high enough to take drastic action, what is?