Death by handgun

A public-health crisis; plus, gay marriage advances
By EDITORIAL  |  April 8, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, David S. Bernstein wrote about the growing "state sovereignty" movement backed by anti-government conspiracy theorists and gun-rights extremists, and touted on the syndicated radio show and Web site of deranged agitator Alex Jones.

This past week, three police officers were shot and killed in Pittsburgh by a man who, according to his best friend, was excited by the sovereignty movement, listened to Jones's show, and believed that the US government was planning to take away his guns.

It would be easy to lay this on the hands of the right-wing groups that perpetuate, or tolerate, the myths that swirled in Richard Poplawski's head as he fired at those cops. That would be too simplistic.

Such propaganda was not necessary to set off Poplawski, or to make Jiverly Wong gun down 13 innocent people before turning his weapon on himself in Binghamton, New York; or to make Michael McLendon kill 11, including himself, during a two-hour shooting spree in and around Samson, Alabama; or to make Lovelle Mixon kill four police officers in Oakland, California; or to make Devan Kalathat kill six, including himself and his two children, in Santa Clara, California; or to make Robert Stewart kill eight in a Carthage, North Carolina, nursing home; or to make Guillermo Lopez kill four, and then himself, at a Miami birthday party; or to make James Harrison kill himself and his five children in Graham, Washington; or to make Kevin Garner kill four relatives, including his estranged wife and daughter, before taking his own life in Priceville, Alabama.

In less than four weeks, those nine men left a trail of 62 lives cut short by bullets.

Of course, there were many, many more corpses beyond the headline makers. The same day as the Santa Clara and Carthage shootings, someone shot and killed a 19-year-old man and two 20-year-old women sitting in a car on Mt. Ida Road in Dorchester.

They are among the 10 murder victims by gunfire already this year in Boston; another 51 have been wounded. That's a 45 percent increase in gunshot victims from last year at this time, according to Boston Police Department statistics.

There are no simple answers, only possible contributing factors. The economic downturn appears to have played a role in some of these multiple murders. Domestic violence was reportedly at play in others.

It would be irresponsible to ignore these conditions, when lives might be saved by toning down the anti-government rhetoric, providing assistance to those who are suffering financially, and protecting families from abusive men.

Above all, it would be immoral to ignore the most obvious contributing factor, present in every one of these slaughters: handguns.

If Poplawski and Mixon were armed with knives rather than AK-47s, seven officers would likely not be dead today. Dozens of grievers would still have their loved ones if not for Wong's Beretta and .45, McClendon's four handguns and 200 rounds of ammunition, and the handgun of the shooter on Mt. Ida.

Handguns kill.

What is needed is a serious, comprehensive, public-policy initiative with multiple components — just as we have mustered in response to other public-health crises. And there is no doubt, looking at the recent body count, that handguns are a public-health crisis.

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