As this country begins national Domestic Violence Awareness month, we would all do well to reflect on the sources of violence in our homes, which are both the entry point and too often the exit wound of anger, intolerance, and eventually violence. Many factors contribute to the climate of violence – not least the increasing prevalence of firearms. Mass shootings, drive-by shootings, hold-ups, assaults, and especially suicides (the major cause of death by shooting in this country) are enabled and facilitated by easy access to guns. Oddly enough, until very recent times, violence was declining in this country as well as abroad. Homicides by gunfire were in decline and where gun control is most strict, still in decline. What has arguably changed most is the relaxation of gun control laws and with that the flood of firearms than has penetrated even into our universities, markets, and workplaces.
Almost daily, Americans are apprised by social news networks of police shootings, as well. Too frequently, unarmed individuals are mistakenly shot and often killed by jumpy police personnel themselves at serious risk of being shot. In the West of my youth, and that of my parents and grandparents, those who shot first and asked questions later were called “trigger happy.” It might have been understandable, but it was always regrettable and often reprehensible.
One of my favorite Irish stories involves a wild young lawyer, by the name of Richard Martin, widely known in Galway as “Trigger Martin” and sometimes as “Hair-trigger Dick” because of his quick temper and deadly aim with a dueling pistol. In mid-life, he had a change of heart and, when elected to parliament, not only renounced violence but sponsored legislation to end the death penalty for certain crimes. Like William Wilberforce, Martin became a leading proponent of animal welfare, successfully promoting the Prevention of Cruelty Act (“Martin’s Law”) in 1822. Eventually, the story goes, he was told by King George IV, that where he once been called “Hair-trigger Dick,” he would now be remembered as “Humanity Dick.”
By any means of comparison with other industrialized countries, the United States has clearly gone off the rails. It’s high time to get the train back on track. Our humanity requires it.