The fatal shootings of two men this week at the hands of police officers can be linked directly to the gun industry. This may not be a popular view, but I ask that you please hear me out before reacting.
Both men were carrying firearms, presumably to make them feel safer. This was completely within their legal rights. Philando Castile had a concealed-weapons permit, and Alton Spencer lived in a state that has open-carry laws. In both cases, the guns in their possession led to their shooting. It turned out that their weapons put them in jeopardy.
When police officers know that someone is armed, their fear for their own safety increases. Was this fear compounded by race? There is little doubt about that. Fear of people who seem different than ourselves lies at the heart of all racial inequality and injustice. But do you doubt for a moment that the police officers' fear was heightened by the knowledge that these men were carrying firearms?
Why didn't the police officers draw a Taser instead of a firearm? The shooting of Philando Castile started off as a routine traffic stop. Did the officer need to point a firearm at someone being stopped for a broken taillight? If Castile had been shot with a Taser and paralyzed temporarily, the potentially racist reaction of the police officer could still have been called into question, but the news story would have evoked far less alarm, and for good reason.
Police carry guns because the populations they deal with on a daily basis are likely to be armed. The gun industry has done an effective job of convincing Americans that we must defend and act upon our right to bear arms. And the National Rifle Association (NRA), which may have started as an advocacy group for gun owners, has evolved into a lobbying force for the gun industry. As pointed out by Business Insider, firearms manufacturer are an enormous funding source for the NRA:
"Since 2005, the gun industry and its corporate allies have given between $20 million and $52.6 million to it through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program. Donors include firearm companies like Midway USA, Springfield Armory Inc, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, and Beretta USA Corporation. Other supporters from the gun industry include Cabala's, Sturm Rugar & Co, and Smith & Wesson. The NRA also made $20.9 million — about 10 percent of its revenue — from selling advertising to industry companies marketing products in its many publications in 2010, according to the IRS Form 990."
In 2013, firearms accounted for over 30,000 deaths (suicides and homicides combined) and 75,000 injuries in the U.S. The chances of being killed by a gun are 10 times higher in the U.S. than in other developed countries. And according to The Guardian, U.S. police kill more people in a matter of days than police in other countries do over several years. For instance, police in England and Wales killed 55 people in the past 24 years, which is about the number of people killed by U.S. police in the first 24 days of 2015.
The gun industry generates over $13 billion in revenue annually from sales in the U.S. alone. This industry's products only serve to kill or cause harm. Compare that to the tobacco industry, which has become increasingly regulated and held accountable for the harm it causes. At least with tobacco, the primary function of the product is NOT to cause harm; that happens to be an unintended--though very real--consequence. Isn't it time to start regulating the gun industry and holding it accountable in the same way that we do tobacco?
The gun industry has done an effective job of conveying the message to Americans that gun ownership makes you safer. We know that this message is simply false. For every one percent increase in gun ownership, there is a 1.1 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate. The chances of being shot are 4.5 times greater for assault victims carrying a gun, and the chances of being killed in the assault are 4.2 times greater.
Presumably, Alton Spencer and Philando Castile thought they would be safer if they carried a gun. Tragically, this assumption proved wrong for both men.