393,000,000 Guns in the United States

By Alan S. Chartock | May 21, 2022


New York has gone through another tragic ordeal as a gunman shot up a supermarket, this time in Buffalo. Every time we walk into a market or subway, there is always the chance that some insane person can pop up and kill you. So what do you do? You can put armed guards in schools and supermarkets but in the end, how can you stop someone who wants to harm (read that “shoot”) other people? Well, you could just stay home. That’s ridiculous because we all have to eat. I was in the supermarket this morning and I was thinking about the possibility of an armed gunman shooting the place up.

None of us can think of a sure-fire way to avoid being a horrible statistic. We all think that it won’t happen to us and we demand that the government keeps us safe. Governor Hochul was quick to point out that she, herself, was from Buffalo. Schools now have resource (police) officers stationed in them. I’ve heard people argue that “a good guy with a gun” can prevent this kind of gun violence but that just isn’t true. Such a person was shot in Buffalo.

Every time we see a heinous act of this type, people are quick to suggest what we might do to put a stop to these tragedies, once and for all. At the top of everyone’s list of preventive measures is placing stricter controls on gun ownership in this country. Yes, that is exactly what should happen, but we know that the American psyche is all about the right to own guns. It’s crazy, it’s despicable, and it’s incredibly dangerous to have so many gun toting individuals out there. Some gun owners would have us believe that their lives and their property need to be protected so they should have their guns at the ready. This, despite the fact that home invasions are a relatively rare occurrence.

I really don’t know how all of this began. It may be because of the early western heroes like Matt Dillon and Wyatt Earp who solved their problems by shooting people with their six-guns. Maybe it’s violent video games. Or it may be the simple fact that the manufacture of arms in this country has reached absurd proportions. There are something like 393,000,000 guns in the United States. That’s more guns than people, by far. In Montana, over 66% of adults own a gun. We have all heard the stories about a kid finding a gun and accidentally hurting himself or someone else. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, guns are now the leading cause of death in children. One can only wonder about the parents who are responsible for the way guns are kept. It is unlikely that someone having a gun in the home will prevent the type of thing we saw in that Buffalo supermarket or in any of the other mass killings that are all too familiar on our nightly news programs.

Every time I write on this subject, I tend to get the kind of hate mail that makes me wonder what percentage of the American own guns. In some cases, the industry is responsible. Some cities, towns and localities where guns are manufactured count on the tax profits they’ll receive as long as we continue to manufacture and sell guns in their jurisdictions. I hear from those folks, too. But, really, when you add it all up the idea that anyone, including some very young people, can access these deadly weapons means that what happened in Buffalo will continue to happen all over the country. There have been 198 mass shootings already in 2022. How much longer we will allow this carnage?

Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at [email protected]