Thursday, August 07, 2008

I'm Back from Pascagoula

Last weekend, before the thunderstorms swept through and knocked out power, Atlanta-based producer and rapper Jermaine Dupri hosted his third annual So So Def Summerfest 2008. I didn't attend, but events included a celebrity basketball game at Morehouse College with Dupri, Nelly, Soldier Boy, Chris Tucker and several NBA players. A party at the Woodruff Arts Center advertised a guest list that included Dupri, Nelly, Sanaa Lathan, Gabrielle Union, Nia Long and Larenz Tate. A finale party was scheduled Sunday at The Velvet Room on Peachtree Road.

On Friday night, thousands of people, including several celebrities, attended a Summerfest kick-off party at a club on Clairmont Road. Apparently, some guests became angry when they learned they had to pay twice if they wanted entry to the VIP section of the club. They had paid at the door to get in, but once inside they were told they would be charged again if they wanted entry to the VIP section. Some sort of pushing match broke out, and security came over to calm things down.

That's when, as Dupri and Sean "Diddy" Combs (aka Puff Daddy, P Diddy, etc.), Nelly and Usher were performing on stage, someone produced one of those concealed handguns recently legalized in Georgia and shot a security guard in the arm. Fortunately, the injury was minor. No arrests have yet been made and the gun has not been found.

Thousands of people started streaming out of the club. It's fortunate that there weren't more legally concealed handguns in the crowd, as I can't imagine that more shooting would have improved the situation.

If more guns equal more safety, shouldn't we expect the U.S. to have fewer casualties and injuries, since our society is so well-armed? However, the United States leads the developed world in gun deaths. In 2004, 11,344 Americans were murdered with a firearm. During the same year, Australia suffered only 56 gun homicides and England and Wales had only 73.

The truth is more guns on the streets doesn't lead to greater safety. It leads only to more gun violence.

More 10- to 19-year-olds in America die from gunshot wounds than any other cause except car accidents. Every day, gun violence claims the lives of eight young people in this country, one every three hours. In 2005, 3,006 children and teens died from firearms. Of those children and teens:

  • 1,972 were homicide victims
  • 822 committed suicide
  • 212 died in accidental or undetermined circumstances
  • 2,654 were boys
  • 352 were girls
  • 404 were under the age of 15
  • 131 were under the age of 10
  • 69 were under the age of 5
    • Considering 53 police officers died from guns that year, more preschoolers (69) were killed by guns than law enforcement officers. Yet, despite the bloodshed, the issue of gun safety has not become an issue in the 2008 presidential race. Hardly anyone running for office in Georgia mentions guns at all, except to eagerly note that they own them.

      In Georgia, the rate of gun deaths exceeds the national average. The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence reported that Georgia gun stores supplied more guns that were later recovered in crimes in other places than any other state. Using federal data, the Brady Center said 2,631 crime guns recovered in other states were traced to Georgia. Just last week, the head of a gun trafficking group that illegally funneled guns bought in Georgia to New Jersey's streets was sentenced to over 12 years in federal prison. The defendant was convicted of paying people with clean criminal histories $300 to buy guns. At least 62 guns from those "straw" purchases were sent to New Jersey, where gun laws are tighter. Police recovered 13 of those firearms at crime scenes, including one where a bystander was killed in a gang-related drive-by shooting.

      A 2002 study on firearm deaths by the Harvard School of Public Health showed that children ages 5 to 14 died at higher rates in states with more guns. The study found that children in the five states with the highest levels of gun ownership — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and West Virginia — were 16 times more likely to die from unintentional firearm injury, seven times more likely to die from firearm suicide and three times more likely to die from firearm homicide than children in the five states with the lowest levels of ownership - Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Delaware.

      Since 1979, gun violence has taken the lives of 104,419 children and teens. A black male has a one-in-72 chance of being killed by a firearm before age 30; a while male has a one-in-344 chance.

      While black children are more likely to be victims of firearm homicides, whites are more likely to use a gun to commit suicide. Eight times as many white kids committed suicide by gun as blacks. Research has shown that guns in the home greatly raise the risk of a child dying by suicide. Adolescent suicide is often driven by impulse, such as a romantic rejection or an altercation at school that makes the whole world look foreboding. With 60 percent of suicides involving guns, a pistol within easy reach can turn a teenager's natural impulsivity into immutable tragedy.

      It is a national crisis that a child or teen is killed by guns every three hours somewhere in America. We must support reasonable restrictions on guns to limit the number of illegal guns in our communities and to make certain they don't fall into the wrong hands. Our cities — and our children — cannot wait any longer.

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