May 3, 2004
Had Enough Yet?
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Itís an All-American story. Nebraska University soccer star Jenna Cooper throws a barbecue in her home to celebrate the seasonís end. Two men argue over stolen shot glasses. One whips out a handgun. Jenna Cooper, 21-years old, on the cusp of life -- talented and loved by her team, her family, and her friends -- is gone, taken by a stray bullet fired in anger.
The Lincoln, Nebraska chief of police remarked that Jenna Cooper happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. With all due respect, chief, sir, that is not the problem. The problem is that America is awash with firearms hyper-marketed by a relentless and unregulated gun industry. If a Saturday night barbecue in your own home is the wrong place at the wrong time, whatís left? Not much. There is no right place and right time anymore.
How about the office. Bad idea. A co-worker might come in packing to settle an obscure score that has been sloshing around in his cranial brew for years. What about church, or synagogue, or mosque? Nope, thatís been tried. Angry, gun-toting people cork off there, too. Churches have been shot up, even priests officiating masses. Ditto, synagogues and mosques. Schoolyards, the Empire State Building, shopping malls, even the U.S. Capitol have been turned into shooting galleries. Oh, yeah, and the road rage shooters are out there, waiting to be crossed. One of them just might take the occasion of your flight to safety to decide that you are in too big a hurry, made too sharp a turn, or just plain look like a good candidate for road kill.
Had enough yet? The real problem is that there is barely a crevice left in American life in which the handgun has not taken root. Someone wants to argue over a shot glass or two? Just pull out your argument settler and pop off a round. End of argument.
It wasnít always that way. The American gun industry -- one of only two consumer products in America free of federal product health and safety regulation (the other is tobacco) -- has created this nightmare. It has deliberately changed the mix of firearms sold in America over the last 30 years. It has done it because, unlike many other consumer industries that follow population growth, the gun business has faced saturated, declining markets. So it has relentlessly pushed new models of handguns to stimulate sales. This was described some years ago in a magazine called American Firearms Industry: "Without new models that have major technical changes, you eventually exhaust your market. . . This innovation has driven the handgun market."
The most spectacular change in the U.S. civilian firearms market since the end of the Second World War has been the rise of the handgun. In 1946 handguns were only eight percent of firearms sold. Beginning in the mid-1960s this changed. Handgun sales are now twice the level of 40 years ago, consistently averaging about 40 percent of the overall market.
Not only that, the industry is making handguns smaller and more powerful so they can be concealed more easily and do more damage when used. The Austrian company Glock, one of the biggest handgun marketers in America, dubbed its contribution the "Pocket Rocket."
So those corny old movies and nostalgic television shows are right. In 1946, you could go to a party and maybe somebody would get angry. Maybe a punch or two would be thrown. But it would be darned rare for somebody to pull out a Pocket Rocket and start shooting. Not because people were better then, but because handguns were scarce. Not any more. Now every husband who decides to come home and pop the wife has a handgun readily at hand. Every depressed kid or senior who wants to end it all has a handgun. And every nitwit who wants to feel like a big man at a barbecue has a handgun.
There are a few ideological fantasists who are so hooked on the power of the gun that they claim the answer is simply more guns, to arm more people so they can "defend themselves" and "shoot back."
Jenna Cooper was enjoying a party. The bullet that hit her in the neck and took her life first traveled through another guestís scalp. How in the name of blessed reason could she have defended herself from that bizarre sequence with yet another gun?
The answer is she couldnít. Sure, get mad at the guy who shot her. Punish him. But donít fantasize about blazing gun battles to teach that punk a thing or two. And donít blame the wrong place and the wrong time.
Blame Americaís gun industry for putting the gun in his hand.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Tom Diaz is the Senior Policy Analsyt a the Violence Policy Center.
Articles in the BuzzFlash Contributor section are posted as-is. Given the timeliness of some Contributor articles, BuzzFlash cannot verify or guarantee the accuracy of every word. We strive to correct inaccuracies when they are brought to our attention.
otherwise noted, all original