Martin Schram: A portrait of our gun culture

Martin Schram, Tribune News Service on

Published in Op Eds

Yet again, our news screens flashed those two damn words: “BREAKING NEWS.”

Yet again, it no longer even felt like news. As soon as we got the words “mass shooting” and “school” nothing in this breaking news seemed new – and everything seemed to be breaking. Yet again. Breaking lives, breaking hearts, breaking governance.

So we ended up telling each other this era’s cliché: There are no words.

Ah, but there are. We just need to use our words to clearly convey the reality that dominates our news. And this is one time when we can best accomplish that by using our words to convey unforgettable images we will always be able to see with our mind’s eyes. And hopefully we will be able to see more clearly just what we must do to save us from what we have become.

SNAPSHOT: We are looking at a bar chart that is probably the most lopsided we have ever seen. And it will convey a message that may be the most obvious we have ever seen. Across the entire top of the chart is one thick green bar; it starts at the left edge and extends all the way to the right edge of the chart. Below that is mostly nothing but white space. Actually, there are 11 other pale blue bars that start at the left edge, but extend to the right just barely, then stop.

What are we looking at? This chart that compares the number of the United States’ gunshot deaths of youths aged 1-19 years old in the year 2020 (per 100,000 population) with gunshot deaths of youths of the same age in 11 other industrialized countries that year.

The U.S. youth gunshot deaths are the green bar that extends across the entire top of the chart. (There were 5.6 U.S. youths killed by guns, per 100,000 population, in 2020.)

Below the green bar across the top of the chart, on separate lines down the left edge of the chart, are those 11 pale blue bar blips that represent the 11 other countries. They are so narrow because all averaged below 1 death per 100,000 population. Indeed, the average of the other 11 countries was just 0.3, according to this Kaiser Family Foundation chart.

After staring briefly at that chart, we will never forget the image of that huge green bar across the top, showing those U.S. gun fatalities absolutely overwhelming the youth gun fatalities in all the other industrialized countries.

So we ask: What is there about us that exposes our children and teens to such horrific violent death?


SNAPSHOT: We are looking at a smiling family Christmas card. Rep. Andy Ogles, the Republican representing Nashville, Tennessee, posed with his family to send Christmas greetings in 2021 and then posted their holiday card on Facebook. The congressman, his wife, and older son and daughter are holding assault-style rifles; his youngest son (now soon to be 8) is only holding an attractive card that says “peace.”

On Monday, a 28-year-old shooter with a history of mental issues and armed with two legally purchased AR-15 assault weapons shot through a locked door of the Covenant private Christian school in Ogles’ district, then killed three children who are just a year older than Ogles youngest child, plus three adults – before being killed by quick-arriving police.

The Washington Post reported Ogles “said the issue hit close to home” because his youngest son is just a year younger than the children slain at Covenant School. But the congressman said we should be focusing on addressing mental health issues, not limiting access to guns.

As we look at that warm, smiling family Christmas card, we should not be focusing on heaping guilt on that family for their locked-and-loaded-for-peace holiday greeting. A majority of his district’s voters elected him after he sent that card. And that’s the problem we have made for ourselves, in district after district.

Together those images show that we, in the United States, are in a world by ourselves. We have isolated ourselves from all other industrialized nations. The truth is we that must learn from their lesson and not try to lock and load and tough-talk our way out of taking responsibility for what we have done to our children. Our kids will never be safe in school until we change our gun culture ways.

We can no longer pick and choose among whether we will ban assault weapon sales, fund mental health programs, have effective red-flag laws and other background checks that keep guns out of the hands of the unstable.

There is only one answer to save our children from the fate we have just seen with our mind’s eyes.

We must do all of the above.


©2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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