No Simple High Way 4/9/08
By Mike Stuzynski
The following is a verbatim transcription of a column submitted for publication in last Friday’s Daily Targum Opinions page. Editor-in-Chief John S. Clyde refused to publish the piece, citing worries that the visceral depictions of suicide across cultures might lead some students to kill themselves, resulting in a lawsuit against the Daily Targum. The column was written as a rebuttal to Josh Baker’s argument for stricter gun control laws two days earlier. It is reproduced here, in its original unedited form, so that the readers of The Johnsonville Press, who we hold to be intelligent enough to keep their rifles (and guns) out of their own mouths, can have access to both sides of this important issue.
In his column in Wednesday’s Daily Targum, conspicuously titled “Welcome to the gun show,” Josh Baker reiterated the typical liberal party-line position on gun legislation in America. Arguing that the recent wave of sensationalized mass shootings/suicides could have been prevented by stricter gun control, the writer develops his argument by listing the prerequisites for a person to commit murder, illustrating the “frightening” efficiency of firearms as implements of death, and ending with a critique of the Second Amendment. Noah Glyn gave an articulate response in Thursday’s paper to Baker’s oversimplified attack on our nation’s Constitutional right to bear arms, but his short letter was not sufficient in addressing all of the misguided points made in the original column.
Toward the beginning of his column, Baker uses statistics from the Center for Disease Control that 3/5 successful suicides are perpetrated with firearms to illustrate “just how frighteningly efficient firearms are at killing, especially when compared to other methods.” In his argument, because “self-inflicted cutting wounds account for 15 percent of all suicide attempts but only 1 percent of all successful suicides,” and “poisons and drugs account for 70 percent of suicide attempts but less than 12 percent of all suicides,” guns must have some awesome power that these other methods simply lack.
This is a gross oversimplification, and represents a terrible oversight on behalf of the author, as it completely rules the intent of alleged suicide victims out of the equation. For example, statistics show that a significant number of adolescents go through periods in which they practice mild self-mutilation or “cutting,” as a means of dealing with the stress in their lives. According to an article in the September 4, 2008 edition of Science Daily, “Self-harm is an international, widespread yet often hidden problem.” However, self-mutilation in itself is not necessarily evidence of true suicidal intent. Many young people routinely cut the top of their wrists, much to the horror of their parents who can easily overreact and label their child as “suicidal.”
The ingestion of pills or other drugs as a form of suicide is also highly suspicious, as one must wonder about the intent of the perpetrator. There was a girl in my high school who allegedly tried to off herself by swallowing 8 Advil at once. They sent her to the hospital, labeled it an attempted suicide, and she spent a few weeks in a psychiatric ward, but no one seemed suspicious about the fact that she left at least 30 pills in the bottle. Of course, for the serious suicide candidate, 50 Ambien chased promptly by a few glasses of whiskey should do the job nicely. Morbid as they are, these are distinctions that deserve serious attention, as Josh has structured a pivotal point in his argument against firearm possession around such dubious statistics.
If we subject his data to more serious analysis, his case becomes more dubious still. Consider the island of Japan, a nation that has historically held very stringent gun control laws. According to the Asia Times, there was one suicide every fifteen minutes in Japan, totaling 100 a day on average. in 2003 Japanese culture has a tradition of encouraging ritualistic suicide in order to restore one’s lost honor. Seppuku, or the ritualized cutting of the abdomen to achieve evisceration, was the only honorable technique up until the Meiji Restoration. In modernity, the method of choice has evolved into asphyxiation in a car with carbon monoxide, though grisly knife-related suicides are not uncommon.
Asphyxiation and ritual disembowelment are extremely effective suicide techniques that reflect an extreme commitment to the act, something that is not necessarily always present in poisoning or wrist-cutting attempts. Imagine dragging a knife across your stomach, releasing your small intestines—it’s not a joke—spill your guts and it’s all over in a matter of a few agonizing minutes. Americans, not surprisingly, prefer the Hemingwayesque method; shotgun to the brain stem and it’s lights out—show’s over—snow falling softly atop Kilimanjaro.
The more liberal among you must pardon me if I have trouble believing Josh when he states, parroting statistics from the U.S. Justice Department, that because “66 percent of the nation’s 16,137 murders in 2004 were committed with firearms, it is a safe bet that the majority of these murder would never have occurred if guns had not been available.” First of all, what does he mean by the word “available?” Living in New Jersey, it is increasingly difficult for anyone, young people especially, to acquire any firearm, much less a semi-automatic handgun, by legal means. The background checks are too much of a hassle, and the inflated price of the weapon itself is generally enough to deter many, especially in difficult economic times. To further put things in perspective, New Jersey also recently passed a Draconian law classifying AirSoft guns—those stupid fifteen dollar pieces of plastic that shoot yellow pellets—as illegal firearms. It’s tough enough to buy a paintball gun, and you can’t even own a slingshot in this state without having to worry about being hassled by the cops.
Knowing about these laws, you might be inclined to wonder why a city like Newark still boasts a murder rate higher than the national average. Not only are the majority of murders in Newark committed with firearms, but the increased gun legislation in the past three years has done very little to deter the proliferation of street crime there, among other troubled New Jersey cities. Of course, this doesn’t surprise me one bit, as it is almost as easy to buy firearms illegally as it is to purchase alcohol and tobacco underage . During my tenure at Rutgers, four different people have approached me unsolicited and offered to sell me or a friend of mine an illegal handgun. One kid even quoted me on his price: $300 for a 32-clip capacity 9mm semi-automatic. If you want to buy a “burner” that doesn’t have any bodies on it, the price doubles, but is nevertheless cheaper than the those offered by most legitimate gun dealers.
I could write on this subject for hours, but the bottom line is that the majority of gun violence is perpetrated with firearms that have been acquired on the black market, making the argument of increasing gun legislation basically moot. I’m actually surprised that most liberals don’t understand this, as it basically follows the same logic as their argument against the prohibition of drugs—if you make something illegal, it will still be available on the black market, so the government might as well regulate it to keep everyone a little safer.
You really want to cut down on gun violence? Get a ballistic print on file from every licensed firearm sold or owned in the United States, insuring that people cannot get away with committing a crime with guns they have purchased by the books. While this may not stop all of the tragic incidents of mass-murder/suicide the media seems to love so much, it could very well lead to a reduction in the number of casualties racked up by these sensationalized, rogue gunmen. Popular rhetoric always bemoans the fate of innocents confronted by a lone madman with a brace of semi-automatic handguns, as if it were something that could never have been prevented, but I can’t help but wonder what might have happened if just one of the hostages inside the Binghamton Civic Association building had been equipped with a licensed personal firearm.