“It requires less effort and background investigation to buy an AR-15 assault rifle than it does to adopt a kitten from the local humane society.” This is not the exact quote that I heard recently from a well-known personality, but you get the point. Think about how crazy this sounds – it’s even more insane to realize that it’s an accurate statement. But no matter how many times this happens, America is going to stave off any effort to eliminate assault weapons, implement more comprehensive background checks or impede on any citizen’s ability to exercise their “perceived interpretation” of the 2nd Amendment. The simple fact is that most Americans are against these initiatives regardless of the body count at schools, grocery stores, synagogues and subway stations. And based on what you read and where you read it, that majority is getting bigger and louder. The bottom line is that we continue to have to deal with an armed, angry and trigger happy country. It is the American way.
Welcome to the United States of America.
As recently tabulated by the Global Health Data Exchange, the United States had the 10th highest firearm related death rate in the world in 2019. Slightly less than Colombia and slightly more than South Africa. Three times the rate of Nicaragua. Nearly nine times the rate of Turkey. The list goes on and on – including nearly twice as many gun related deaths than Mexico; one of the highest suicide rates by firearms, etc. It never ends. The real kicker though – there are 120 firearms in the United States per 100 people. This is the highest ratio in the 35 most developed countries in the world and more than eight times the ratio of Switzerland whose citizens are required to own firearms as part of their duty in the reserve militia. The death rate by guns per 100,000 people in the United States is more than 10 times the rate of the next highest OECD country.
We hear these statistics all the time. Taken without context, these numbers can be legitimately challenged by pro-gun activists who can usually find a way to dispute these types of data, sometimes by simply creating misleading and contradictory information. The real issue is that many, I would say a significant majority, of these acts of murder, suicide, other gun violence, and even accidental deaths related to firearms represent only one subset of the foundational cracks that are present in 2022 America.
Unfortunately, there are other statistics that are just as, if not more, frightening. Let’s take infant mortality rate for example – in 2020, the World Health Organization ranked the United States 50th out of 192 counties in the world. Even Russia’s rate was 20% better than America. In this country we are 25th in math scores, 37th in literacy rate, 55th in poverty rate (two spots worse than NAMIBIA). 33% of our citizens are considered obese – the 12th highest rate in the world and nearly three times higher than the world average. And last but, not least, according to the Commonwealth Fund, the United States ranks dead last in access to quality healthcare of the 11 most industrialized nations on earth. Dead last, despite totaling 60% more per capita in expenditures on healthcare than the next highest nation (Norway).
What do all these numbers tell us? It tells me that our country is broken. The underlying cracks in the foundation are going to give way at some point. There will be a perfect storm of events that will expose our structural weaknesses as a country. Perhaps the elements of that storm are present now. Two years of battling COVID, an incredible increase in income inequality in the past few years, an alarming reduction in life expectancy due to drug use and violent deaths which primarily effect the younger population, climate change, inflation and social/racial strife all coming together at once. We are still holding on as a civil society, but the trends are not in our favor. Even the rule of law, our greatest strength as a country, is being relentlessly attacked by those who favor power over the common good.
This is not an encouraging portrait of America. It is bleak and dark and scary. But there is strength in the United States that can be funneled to overcome the challenges that we face. So many of these problems can be addressed with better access to quality healthcare for all Americans. Given the political situation at the moment, a massive healthcare reform package on the legislative side is the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. It’s like eating an elephant – you can only do it one bite at time. Let’s take some small bites such as addressing mental health and addiction treatment and counseling. Simple steps such as dental and vision care. More education in schools on the benefits of nutrition and exercise. An expansion of Medicaid to ensure that a bigger portion of the working population can be covered because employment provided care is not available. A reboot of ObamaCare. These initiatives, in real terms, are not expensive. The annual budget for the US Department of Defense is nearly $800 billion per year. Just 10% of that amount would fund programs that address some of these foundational cracks related to healthcare and personal health education in schools. Programs such as lower tuition or more investment in educational institutions for medical fields such as psychiatry, mental health and social services could be easily funded with a tiny fraction of what we spend on weapons of war.
If one studies the statistics that are mentioned earlier, you see the direct correlation between less violence societies and better standards of healthcare. When you throw in income inequality and education, the relationship becomes even more apparent. Our platform at Tarbell is based on healthcare issues – not gun control, gun rights, or the 2nd Amendment. But the relationship exists because access to quality healthcare is one of the foundational weaknesses that we have in America – an argument can be made that it could be the most important weakness to address. A healthy society is a more peaceful society. A healthy society is one that suffers less violence due to mental illness and depression. A healthy society is one that provides prenatal care and child care options. A healthy society has programs to treat and prevent addition. A healthy society is a better educated population on nutrition and personal health risk factors. A healthy society creates less opportunities for a teenager to slaughter 21, 10-year-old students and their teachers in a school classroom with an assault weapon. Hopefully, we can do our part in making this point loud and clear through whatever means we have at our collective disposal.