This week marks the 60th anniversary of JFK’s assassination and the first real traumatic event of my life that ended my eight-year-old universe of innocence. For me, the oldest of six in an Irish Catholic family, John Kennedy, was the embodiment of what a hero was supposed to be.
In the years since, there’s been a string of similar atrocities culminating most recently in the violent Jan. 6, 2021 Insurrection. These days, it’s hard to maintain any semblance of my third grader self’s optimism in a country where grade schoolers have to drill for the possibility of a mass casualty shooting in their school.
When I was in third grade, our survival drills required us to sit with our little faces pressed against the pastel cinder block walls of our school hallway to contemplate nuclear apocalypse. We did get to pick a book to read as a diversion. I picked “You Will Go to the Moon” which seemed like a good plan B at the time.
What is it with American culture and death, anyway? Could it be a nation built on bloody violent conquest just can’t stop even after all the territories have been subdivided?
Since JFK’s murder, more Americans have died from civilian gunfire than the number of well over one million American soldiers killed in all of our wars, according to a flyer circulated by the Virginia Center for Public Safety in January of 2016.
A 2016 PolitiFact review of the claim noted that the federal Centers of Disease Control and Prevention analysis “of yearly gunfire deaths in the U.S. from 1968 to 2014” all added up to 1.5 million gun related deaths, greater than the 1.4 million lost to armed conflict since the creation of the nation.
Between 2015 and 2020, the United States had an additional 237,000 gun deaths. In 2021, the United States set a record with 48,830 gun related deaths, with 54 percent flagged as suicides and 43 percent as murders. Overall, that reflected a 23 percent spike since 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.
It is sixty years after JFK’s murder and the guns are winning with the nation’s children and their families that are increasingly losing.
Earlier this month the family and friends of Jillian Ludwig, 18, gathered to hold candles in the wind outside her church in Brielle. They were mourning the talented young musician’s death from a random gunshot to her head while she was walking in a park in Nashville, where she attended Belmont University.
A 29 year-old was arrested. These gun crimes make a mess all the way around yet our national government is completely incapable of doing anything meaningful to address the issue because just enough of our elected leaders are captives of the firearms industry that market their deadly wares with a survivalist mindset that feeds on fear.
Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a 50 percent increase in the number of children and teens under 18 killed by gunfire with the death toll spiking from 1,732 in 2019 to 2,590 in 2021, according to data from the CDC.
When it comes to guns and dead children, it’s another example of American exceptionalism.
“In 2020 and 2021, firearms contributed to the deaths of more children ages 1-17 years in the U.S. than any other type of injury or illness,” reported KFF (Kaiser Health News) . “The child firearm mortality rate has doubled in the U.S. from a recent low of 1.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 to 3.7 in 2021.”
The KFF analysis continued. “The United States has by far the highest rate of child and teen firearm mortality among peer nations. In no other similarly large, wealthy country are firearms in the top four causes of death for children and teens, let alone the number one cause. U.S. states with the most gun laws have lower rates of child and teen firearm deaths than states with few gun laws. But even states with the lowest child and teen firearm deaths have rates much higher than what peer countries experience.”
The Washington Post reports that last year there were 46 school shootings, more than any year since the 1999 school shooting in Columbine when 12 students and a teacher were murdered by two high school seniors who committed suicide. There have been 389 school shootings since Columbine, according to the newspaper.
“Through 2017, the country averaged about 11 school shootings a year, never eclipsing 16 in a single year,” according to the Washington Post. “But starting in 2018, violent incidents started climbing.” In 2020, with instruction mostly remote, just nine school shootings were reported but in 2021, with in-school instruction resumed, there were 42 school shootings.
New Jersey’s is not immune from the scourge of gun violence like the case of the 15 year-old charged with opening fire at the Brunswick Square Mall back in May or the teen shot leaving school in Newark earlier this month.
But our relatively low level of gun ownership and tight regulation pays off. New Jersey ranks 48th in the nation in terms of our gun death rate, just ahead of New York, and only behind Hawaii and Massachusetts, according to the Violence Policy Center, a national educational organization working to stop gun death and injury.
VPC reports that in Mississippi, where over 50 percent of the households own a gun and the lack of firearm regulation is a source of state pride, the gun death rate per 100,000 is 32.61, the deadliest in the county. Here in New Jersey, where just over 15 percent of households have a gun and our gun laws are stringent, our gun death rate per 100,000 is only 5.13.
Unfortunately, our national addiction to gun violence is holding the entire nation back no matter where you live. Consider that in addition to the tens of thousands of men, women and children lost to gun violence each year, there’s a $557 billion economic consequence annually, according to Everytown, a national alliance of leading anti-gun violence groups.
“This $557 billion problem represents the lifetime costs associated with gun violence, including three types of costs: immediate costs starting at the scene of a shooting, such as police investigations and medical treatment; subsequent costs, such as treatment, long-term physical and mental health care, earnings lost to disability or death, and criminal justice costs; and cost estimates of quality of life lost over a victim’s life span for pain and suffering of victims and their families.”
That’s more than ten times the budget of the Marine Corps. It’s $300 billion more than what it takes to float the Navy, and more than the Army, Air Force and Marines combined. It’s equal to five times the country’s budget for the U.S. Department of Education.
Think of it as a killer tax that targets children.