Social and Political Commentary

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The new math -- more of us killed by guns than by wars

... what is the meaning of the Second Amendment?

By Marion Roberts

Math has never been my strong point. But some numbers impress me, even stun me:

Deaths in attack on New York's World Trade Towers on 9/11: 3,000
Deaths of our soldiers in Iraq in the last four years: 3,719     
U.S. soldiers wounded, maimed, disabled in the Iraq War: 24,912
U.S. citizens killed by guns in the last four years: 121,000

We're all lucky if we haven't lost someone we love in one of our many wars - eight since World War II.

We're all lucky if we haven't lost someone we love who was struck dead by a gun.

Citizens in most European nations haven't lost anyone they love in either of these kinds of violence since the end of World War II. The European Union was formed after World War II to avoid wars by settling problems diplomatically - as urged by Britain's Winston Churchill and our President Roosevelt at that war's end. Britain joined us in our ill­-chosen Iraq War, and a few other nations sent small contingencies of soldiers.

There is another side to our eight wars since WW II, of course, the side we took to war:

Vietnamese killed in the Vietnam War, 1963-1975: 3,200,000
U.S. soldiers lost in Vietnam: 58,178
Iraqis killed by our invasion: 100,000
Total of Iraqi deaths by our invasion plus their civil war: 655,000

When facing these figures, Americans always ask - why are we so violent?

Looking over these figures, a person could conclude that we Americans don't care as much about human life as the rest of the world, which suffers so much less from violence. Yet in many ways we get along with each other better than disparate groups in many other countries; we are on record as being one of the most religious countries on earth, and we have no large conflicts between our many different faiths .. Our religions respect human life. When the Iraq War was threatened, vast numbers of citizens marched in protest against it, as did millions all over the world. Catholic bishops, Methodist bishops, clergy of almost all of our faiths spoke out in fervent opposition.

For some much-questioned reason, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney had planned this war since they were elected in 2002, according to then Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill. Mr. O'Neill cited especially Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz as those most anxious for attacking Iraq. These men were founding members of the Project for a New American Century, which had asked President Clinton to invade Iraq and take out Saddam in 1998. When George Bush was elected in 2000, they saw their chance - after all, brother Jeb Bush had also been a member of this ambitious group.

For the first three years, Americans for the most part supported the war, our traditional patriotism directing us once more to back up our troops. But after three years of heavy losses, and now no ending in sight with eruption of a civil war, most Americans are discouraged, questioning the war's purpose, and asking hard questions - when is the end? How many more tours of duty for the war-weary soldiers? When are we pulling out? When will Iraq be ready to take over from our soldiers? Even - why did we go to war in that strange and difficult land?

Then the fear sneaks in - are we able to win a "War on Terrorism"? Are we making headway there or are we only adding more and more enemies by our occupation of a Muslim country and killing so many Muslims?

And then, the shocking shooting of 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech. More shock, more violence, more deaths, more lack of control, lack of security, in contrast to the President's constant message of how he is "protecting my people!" Where was security for the innocents on that lovely campus?

General and Republican President Eisenhower seriously warned us about the dangers of the Military Industrial Complex, blamed by many for our unnecessary wars. The billions spent on this Iraq War have caused neglect in many areas of our nation, but our news media have more and more also been pointing to the great profits the munitions makers are reaping, including Cheney's old company, Halliburton. Are the gun makers aligned with the powerful military suppliers?

Whatever, our National Rifle Association is a strong lobbyist. But in other countries around the world similar companies have not held enough power to prevent gun controls that allow low figures on homicide by guns. Why such a problem here? Many Congressmen have tried to pass laws limiting gun access, but have never gotten enough support. Senator Kennedy, who lost brothers John and Bobby to gunfire, hoped to pass legislation to limit the availability of guns. The late Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island tried for years to achieve protective legislation for our people - but finally gave up.

So every year, our nation shocks the world by experiencing about 30,000 deaths by guns. In European cities if a person wants to purchase a gun, he must first apply for a license at a police station. This may take a couple of months, or even a couple of years. When he achieves the license, he may buy only a rifle for hunting - no handguns. A few countries that did experience severe shooting incidents, such as Scotland and Australia, soon passed strict gun laws, preventing further tragedies.

Many gun owners point to the assurance given them by our Second Amendment; this famous document was created during the beginning of our country, when no national army existed; thus that new government wanted states to have their own militias. In its cases before our Supreme Court, the judges have so declared. Here a quote from the renowned Warren E. Burger, former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court:

"Few things have been more vigorously debated -- and distorted -- in recent tines as the meaning of the Second Amendment ... The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that "state armies' -- 'the militia' -- would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee any citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires." (11/26/1991)

If we all feel the horror and grief of the parents of those young students shot to death in their school rooms, we should do something about it - follow the rulings of each gun case brought before the Supreme Court which in each case declared the Second Amendment as interpreted by Justice Berger, and demand laws from our leaders in Washington that protect our children from easy deaths.

As for our wars, there's another heavy problem - but it's clear that our senators and Congressmen are now apologizing for their vote FOR the Iraq War. A few years too late. They should have listened to our Senator Kennedy, Senator Byrd and Senator Feingold, others who did not want to lose thousands of our young and hopeful Americans ..

May 4, 2007

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