"Isn’t America a dangerous place?"

After the shooting at Virginia Tech, several of my students came and asked me the question above. I asked for some time and the next week, I made the following presentation.

32
3,000
30,000
12,658
637
489
141

First I asked my students to read these numbers out loud.

The first number is the number of people killed by a lone gunman on an American university campus recently. The dead and the murderer were all about your age, and there is a similar number of students in this class. So try to imagine the horror of that number by looking at all of your classmates now.

I was recently asked if America is a dangerous place to be, and shouldn’t guns be outlawed. I personally think that the answer to both questions is, “No,” but with some qualification. Is it a safe place? The answer to that question must also be, “No.” No place is safe. Even Japan has its dangers for the innocent. The sarin gas terrorist attacks in Tokyo are just one example. In America the terrorist attacks on 9/11 left nearly 3,000 people dead. And the rash, inappropriate war on Iraq for its oil has left more than 3,000 Americans dead, with Japan’s support.

The number 30,000 may be even more shocking to you. That is the approximate number of suicides in Japan last year. America has a similar number of suicides, but with a larger population. That means that everyday everyday, more than 80 take their own lives in each country. Is this reported on in the media? Did you know that your life was in such danger? More than 6,000 people died in traffic accidents last year, but there are endless public campaigns to stop these needless deaths. Have you ever heard of a campaign to stop suicides?

So is America dangerous because of guns? There were 12,658 murders in America by last count, and most of them, we could even say all of them were done with guns, just for the sake of argument. There are guns in Japan. I know several people who own them legally, all of them hunters in the rural area where I live. But how many murders are there? 637 is one statistic that I saw, but most are not committed by gun, because gun laws are very strict. Does that make Japan safer? Let’s look at a country that has similar gun laws, just north of the US, Canada. Number of murders there, 489. Fewer than in Japan, though of course the Canadian population is smaller.

My point is that America is a dangerous place, but no more dangerous than the country that we live in when adjusted for population, and guns have very little to do with it. We can kill each other or ourselves with guns or whatever is at hand. Callous, uncaring societies that fail to address the real needs of its citizens are far more dangerous than the existence of guns.

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