300,000,000. That's the number of guns, from assault rifles to pistols, in the United States today, with the numbers rising each day as gun enthusiasts arm themselves against -- and gun control advocates hope for -- some local, state or federal action. That's one gun for practically each and every American alive today -- even though only a third of us own them. With lobbyists from the lucrative gun manufacturing/selling complex lining up for what looks to be a long (and one can only hope fruitful) debate and with gun sales rising exponentially, it's easy to get cynical or depressed.
So, what to do, besides hope or despair? Despite the odds, there's quite a lot you can do, -- with or without congressional or state action:
• Face the facts. While 9,000 people were killed in gun-related homicides in 2011, another 19,000 deaths were suicides by gun owners or their family members. People in homes with guns are twice as likely to be killed in a homicide, women three times more likely. Get rid of your guns -- you're more likely to be a victim if you don't.
• Address the reality on the streets. Youth violence is undeniable and tragic. With guns now the leading cause of death for young black men and various policing strategies producing little results, something new is needed. Pastors, parents and police might instead resurrect the old strategy of forging a no-gun policy accord among gangs. The gangs might not go away, but the up-close and personal knife fights of West Side Story are preferable to the drive-by shootings of today.
• Examine your own choices. In irresistible films and shows from Batman to Reservoir Dogs, Dexter and The Sopranos, the computer games we play where an enemy's death improves your score, and even the nightly news, the message that violence is a solution to problems permeates our culture and is far more pervasive and consistent than our chosen intentional moral teachings. Whether or not you are raising children, you might consider banishing these "entertainments" from your home and your life. Organize a sports league, take up dancing, read a book -- you're likely to be more literate and more fit.
• Reexamine what we've come to think of as "normal." Those turning 12 this year have grown up with constant war, been exposed to daily death counts from faraway places and casual discussions comparing drone killings to assassinations to outright hand-to-hand combat. Anyone under the age of 80 has experienced only one decade in which our nation was not at war. And our country's military budget is not only the biggest in the world -- it's greater than the sum of the next 17 biggest military budgets combined. If we want to phase out homicide as a means of resolving conflict, we might insist our nation lead by example.
• Reconsider how we talk about the "other." Even as our nation becomes more diverse, ironically we are in some ways more segregated than ever with our images of the "other" too often drawn from an amalgam of films, TV shows and the news rather than from life -- our image of inner-city life by The Wire or Treme , our images of Muslims by Homeland or Glenn Beck. This is not without effect. From the slaughter of temple-goers in Wisconsin to the New York subway platform deaths of innocent citizens, to the 'arming of America' in light of the Obama election and reelection, demonization of the "other" has a real cost. While media censorship would be undesirable, restoring civility to political debate and seeking out more diverse life experiences would seem a useful corrective.
• Follow the money. Guns are not simply lethal; they're lucrative. Gun Manufacturers saw their profits soar last year with Freedom Group, which manufactures the infamous Bushmaster, earning $237.9 million in the third quarter alone. Gun sellers like Walmart, which is now one of the nation's leading seller of guns and ammunition, selling both in 1,800 of its 3,800 stores, made out like a bandit, with gun sales up 76 percent last year. With 90 percent of Americans living within 15 miles of a Walmart, I'd make a suggestion: Consider doing your grocery shopping at a retailer where semi-automatic weapons are not sold next to the cereal.
While legislation is important, history tells us that good legislation follows the bold action of people. From women rights to civil rights, legislators have followed, not led. Once again, it's time to take the lead -- and as the slogan says we should, thinking globally, but acting locally, where and when we can.
Follow Marilyn Katz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mkatzchicago