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Editorial

Trump obsesses over terrorism but ignores the bigger threat: Access to firearms

It’s been a bloody 11 days. Since May 27, at least 28 people have been shot dead across the country and another 47 wounded in 13 separate mass shootings, defined as confrontations in which at least four people are shot in one incident. The violence included a rampage in Mississippi late last week in which a man who told a reporter he was trying to commit “suicide by cop” killed seven relatives and one police officer before being captured. On Monday, a disgruntled former employee walked into a job site in Orlando, Fla., and killed five former co-workers before turning the gun on himself. Yet those U.S. killings barely caused a ripple in the public consciousness.

One reason is all the attention being paid to acts of political terrorism. And of course terrorism of the sort that occurred in London and Manchester, England, recently — and in San Bernardino, Paris, Madrid and New York and elsewhere in recent years — is a very significant concern that requires extraordinary vigilance, close scrutiny and effective, preventive countermeasures. But the cold, hard reality is that the most pressing risk to American lives comes not from Islamic State, but lies here at home, among ourselves and our obscenely large arsenal of firearms. In fact, it is the commonness and ordinariness of gun violence that is so chilling. An analysis of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows an average of 33,880 annual deaths involving firearms from 2011-2015. Of those, 11,564 were homicides, or an average of about 32 homicides and 58 suicides a day, every day, over five years.

That’s an astounding level of carnage. A CNN analysis last year found that for every American killed by an act of terror in the United States or abroad in 2014, more than 1,049 died because of guns.

Fortunately, the nation’s murder rate (including non-negligent homicide) has dropped from 8.2 per 100,000 in 1995 to a low of 4.5 in 2013 and 2014, before increasing to 4.9 in 2015 (the rate for 2016 has not yet been calculated). That recent uptick is something that law-enforcement and criminal policy experts need to address. But while it’s good news that we aren’t killing each other as often as we used to, we’re still committing acts of violence at levels unseen in any other industrialized, developed society. And then there are the accidental shootings. And those who are shot and survive but are left physically and mentally maimed — nearly 68,000 victims nationwide in 2015 alone, according to CDC data.

The Trump administration seems uninterested in the very obvious and omnipresent threat to Americans — our easy access to firearms. Trump ran for president with the early and full-throated support of the National Rifle Assn., which continues to press a national agenda to get more guns in the hands of more people with as few restrictions as possible. Trump, notably, has hosted Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s most visible leader, at the White House, and in April addressed the NRA’s annual convention, at which he said, “You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”

That is very bad news for the safety of the nation. But perhaps even more chilling is that a man can allegedly kill eight people, including a police officer, and not rivet the nation’s attention. We must stay focused on the persistent and deeply challenging problem of too many guns, and too many people with too easy access to them. Studies have found that states with tighter gun control laws tend to have fewer gun-related deaths, and that the presence of a gun in a home increases the chances someone in the home will be a victim of homicide or suicide.

The Supreme Court is weighing whether to hear an appeal of a San Diego case called Peruta vs. County of San Diego, in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s decision that the 2nd Amendment does not confer a right to carry a concealed weapon outside the home. Letting that decision stand would be a positive step. Citizens can’t really lobby the Supreme Court, but here’s something they can do: Lobby Congress to drop the de facto ban on the CDC from conducting research into gun violence, and press federal and state elected officials to adopt sensible gun control laws that put public safety ahead of the gun-lobby’s absolutist view of the 2nd Amendment. If Trump and other elected officials won’t take seriously their responsibility to ensure public safety through better and smarter gun policies, then voters need to hold them accountable.

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