Americans are not more violent than people in other countries. The crime rate here is about the same as you would find in Great Britain, France or Australia.

We don’t have more people with mental illness in America. People overseas watch the same movies and play the same video games as us. But none of those countries come close to our homicide rates, which average five times higher than our industrialized peers.

The difference is our access to guns. We have 4 percent of the world’s population and about half the world’s civilian-owned firearms.

This tool that is supposed to makes us safe is killing us. But even as the bodies pile up after senseless mass murders, any regulatory measure that would make it more difficult for criminals or people with a history of mental illness from legally getting a gun is met by a wall of men snarling about the Second Amendment and their “cold dead hands.”

There is a reason that gun control doesn’t fly on the federal level. It’s power.

Specifically white power, especially white male power. Not the ideological white nationalism that’s behind some – but not all – of the mass shootings that have become a standard feature of American life, but a power dynamic where a relatively small group of white men can have political power that goes beyond their numbers.

A gun is involved in 30,000 deaths each year, the majority coming from gun owners or their family members shooting themselves. The presence of a gun turns any argument, any domestic violence assault, any street crime into a life-or-death encounter. Suicide attempts with means other than guns are usually not fatal. But when a gun is involved, they lead to death more than 80 percent of the time.

So, what does this have to do with white people?’

Because in 21st-century America, you can put gun control on the long list of issues that break down along partisan lines. And when you are talking about political polarization these days, you are also talking about race, because the Republican Party is nearly all white and is hypersensitive to the concerns of white voters. There are exceptions, like Maine’s 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat who seems to hate universal background checks for private gun sales as much as he hates high prescription drug prices, but for the most part the politics are predictable.

Gun owners make up less than half of the population, and not all of them are Second Amendment absolutists. So why do the ones who are hold so much sway? It’s because in our version of democracy, political power is not evenly distributed.

A Pew Research Center Study from 2017 found that gun owners were much more likely to be white than black or Hispanic. They are more than twice as likely to be men than women. The majority live in rural areas and not cities or suburbs. About two-thirds of guns are owned by people older than 50, making gun owners older than people who don’t own guns. And since guns are expensive, their owners are more likely to be well-off than poor.

If you listen to music on the radio or watch sneaker commercials, you might think that older white men who live in rural areas are losing their cultural dominance. But that’s not true in politics. They are one minority group that tends to get its way.

They get their say in the U.S. Senate, which gives a half-million Wyoming voters the same representation as 40 million Californians. The Electoral College also exaggerates their influence to the benefit of Republican candidates, and they are well represented in the federal courts by judges nominated by Republican presidents and confirmed by Republican senators. It’s no surprise that in 2008 five Republican-appointed justices on the Supreme Court found for the first time that the Second Amendment’s language about the importance of “a well regulated militia” included an individual right to self-defense.

But the court did not say that anyone should be able to have any gun they want at any time, which leaves plenty of room for gun control if politicians are willing to stand up to a powerful minority.

Guns can be useful. They are fun for hunters and target shooters. They are interesting for collectors and historians. They are part of our culture.

But they are also dangerous as hell, and some people shouldn’t have them. It’s time for public policy that recognizes all of those truths.


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