I have no desire for my blog to become a political site, but I’m posting my thoughts on the subject so I can link to it when needed.
Gun control is a very difficult problem with a vast array of variables & situations to consider. But so was drunk driving. We haven’t eliminated drunk driving, but we handled it as thoughtful, caring American adults. This article draws a parallel between gun violence vs. gun control and drunk-driving tragedy and alcohol regulation.
Before My Time
In the 1950s my wife’s uncle, age 3, was crossing the road with his siblings. He was struck by a drunk driver, breaking his leg and pinning him under the car. The woman driving was too drunk to realize she needed to move her car to free a child. There obviously was a lot of confusion, and I only heard this story decades later after marrying into the family. But here is the key detail. The police helped the drunk lady back into her car, and sent her home. This was the attitude towards drunk driving in Eisenhower’s America.
By the time I was a child thirty years later in the 1980s it was common to have a few town drunks. I distinctly remember following one home through my rural county, along a winding state highway, and watching him narrowly swerve past oncoming cars. I can also remember looking over to see adults coolly driving around town with a beer in hand or a glass bottle poking out of a paper bag.
On May 14, 1988 I was just 11 years old, and certainly didn’t pay much attention to the news. But that year there was one story that was unavoidable in Kentucky, the Carrollton Bus Crash. On a spring night a group of mostly teenagers were returning via school bus after a church-sponsored day at King’s Island, an amusement park about 2 hours from their home. They were struck by a drunk driver. The bus became a fireball in minutes and 27 people died, 34 injured, and only 6 were unharmed (physically). They didn’t die from the crash. Only the two drivers were directly injured from the crash. 24 children and 3 adults were burned alive.
That same night our local high school band had also been to King’s Island, and was returning when the crash occurred. King’s Island was also about two hours from our home town. I wasn’t there this night, but I had been up there two or three times including once on a church trip. Everyone went to King’s Island in the spring. Years later my band director recited that story, and the importance of telling your parents where you will be. When you’ll be home. And that you love them.
To say they were met at the school with concerned parents was an understatement. In the days before the internet and cell phones even the police were in the dark. Reports had made it onto the 11pm news that a bus had crashed on the interstate, multiple fatalities. Carrollton was about 1.5 hours away and down I-71 after splitting from I-75 (our way).
As I said above, this story was inescapable in central Kentucky that year. It quickly went national.
A Nation Responds, Calmly
The Carrollton Bush Crash didn’t change things overnight, but it changed attitudes. National papers ran stories daily for weeks. The story was on ABC’s 20/20, the prime-time TV news magazine leader at the time. Communities took a serious look at not just drunk driving, but bus safety, road design, auto manufacturing, alcohol sales, etc.
It was found that the bus that crashed had been pushed through approvals to beat new regulations by just a few days. All sorts of new bus regulations were put in place. At school we practiced exiting the bus in an emergency twice per year. New buses had side doors, pop-out windows, roof hatches. Fuel tanks were redesigned.
Laws were passed that could put blame back on alcohol retailers that sold to clearly intoxicated people. Police were trained to detect drunk-drivers better, and it was made easier to detain them.
But this is what mattered most. We started cracking down on drunk drivers. DUIs were strictly enforced. DUI checkpoints became common. And DUI sentences became longer. Mothers Against Drunk Driving became a nationally known program, and they created Students Against Drunk Driving.
Drunk Driving Accidents Still Occur
Yes drunk driving still happens daily. However the United States got responsible towards a complex issue. Today you can still buy a car, but it must be properly registered and insured. Also that car is much safer.
You can still buy alcohol, but expect to be carded. Expect to be reported and pulled over if you drive drunk.
But no one lost any rights or freedoms.
Sound Bites Solve Nothing
There are a collection of sound bites that are repeated constantly, and do nothing but waste time. A little thought easily dispels them.
Guns don’t kill people. Neither do cars, buses, or a bottle of alcohol. None of the three produce, transport, advertise, sell, or regulate themselves either. Adults do that. We can still easily purchase all of these, but only one goes virtually unchecked. That one is the problem.
Gun bans don’t work. And that’s why less than half of Americans talk about banning guns as a solution. Even assault weapons bans only has 48% support.
Gun control is a failure in cities like Chicago. There is almost no gun control in surrounding Illinois or Indiana. Gun control works much better in Hawaii and the northeast. Hawaii doesn’t have borders, and states in the northeast have similarly enforced laws. Guns are far too easily purchased and transported.
Gun violence is just the price we pay for…. The largest database on all deaths, including gun deaths, is maintained by the Center for Disease Control. For some reason this data is no longer able to be researched by the federal government for gun violence studies. That change made no sense to any sensible American (gun-owner or not), but it made sense to the NRA, who pushed for it. Imagine no one researching drunk driving because the National Distillers of America didn’t like it.
Today another school shooting happened. This time in Kentucky. It’s amazing that it is a challenge to count all the US mass shootings. But since 1999 we’ve had over 30 school shootings and dozens more mass shootings at churches, homes, and businesses. Something that occurs at a much, much lower rate in similar nations.
I can post gun violence stats all day, and anyone with a Facebook account can go visit any pro-gun page to get counterpoints. My point here is simple. Complex issues are solvable if we work on them.
Putting a drunk driver back in her car to drive home was finally found to be inexcusable. Putting groups of children on buses without enough exits was found to be inexcusable.
Tolerating town drunks is no longer quaint. It is inexcusable.
Doing nothing on gun violence is not American.
It is simply inexcusable.