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Guns & Boston Bombs: Is There Safety in Numbers?

by Sheron Long on April 18, 2013

Spectators and runners, like those at the Boston Marathon, seek ways of staying safe from terror attacks

Can we find the “safety pin” that keeps crowds and marathon runners together on our streets?
© Thinkstock (pins, runners); © Ingram Publishing (crowd)

This Week’s “Oh, I See” News Moment

The no vote on gun violence legislation collided with the terror attack at the Boston Marathon. Their coincidence tore at my sense of staying safe and left a rip waiting to be mended by something more than safety pins.

Playing the Odds on Terror Attacks

It used to be that we could step out in the world and expect to stay safe. But now there are questions:

  • Can my friends and I take in a movie?
  • Can kids go to school?
  • Can citizens stand in a peaceful parking lot to hear their elected representative speak?
  • Can spectators cheer runners at the next Boston Marathon?

Events of our day in Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, and now Boston make me think, “Sure, but you’re playing the odds.”

Terror attacks can and have occurred all over the US. The Guardian reports attacks from 1970–2011 in the US. Click “Play” to see their locations on this interactive map, where circle size shows the relative number of deaths:

[ShaktiIFramehttp://vizzuality.github.io/us_attacks 560px 400px]

Based on the START Global Terrorism Database, which  monitors terror attacks around the world  

Despite the total on the counter, there is some safety in the numbers. Terror attacks have declined from about 1,400 between 1970–1980 to about 200 between 2001–2011.

While fatalities are higher in the later period, particularly because of 911, the security precautions taken in recent years seem to be reducing the incidents, counteracting the odds, and therefore easing my fears.

Numbers and Gun Sense

On the other hand, it’s hard to find safety in the numbers surrounding gun violence.

Safety-pin home symbolizing ways of staying safe from gun violence

About 42% of US homes have guns.
© Dieter Spannknebel / Photodisc

It is true that crime rates have been on a steady decline since 1993, but according to a comprehensive gun violence article in The Atlantic:

  • America’s 2011 homicide rate at 4.7 murders per 100,000 people is “one of the highest of all developed countries.”
  • About two-thirds of homicides and half of suicides involve a gun.

Among the countries of the world, the US has the highest rate of gun ownership.

Based on data from the 2007 Small Arms Survey reported in The Altlantic,  the US represents “less than 5% of the world population, [but] is home to roughly 35–50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns.”

When you add it all up, we now have more guns in circulation than we have citizens.

Gun graph showing the need for staying safe from gun violence

The number of guns in circulation in the US now exceeds the number of its citizens.
© iStockphoto (safety pin)

The numbers are disputed less than the impact that millions of guns have on the number of homicides. To follow the studies and arguments, see “Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts” at FactCheck.org.

My common sense—my common gun sense—though, tells me that America would be a much safer place without so many guns. After yesterday’s Senate vote on background checks and Monday’s terror attack at the Boston Marathon, I want to know two things:

Where do we go from here?

How do we confront our fears? 

Moms Demand Action is one group that offers answers: Take action at the state level to get the change we need; raise voices to quiet the fears.

Oh, I see the sense that makes: Moms know how to pin diapers and pin down politicians, and they won’t stop until there is true safety for our citizens, something much stronger than the quick fix of a safety pin.

Where will you go from here?

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