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Opinion: America's shameful obsession with guns

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29: Pictures of the victims killed in a mass shooting on Monday at The Covenant School are fixed to a memorial by Noah Reich (left) and David Maldonado from the non-profit Classroom of Compassion, near the school on March 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Seth Herald
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NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 29: Pictures of the victims killed in a mass shooting on Monday at The Covenant School are fixed to a memorial by Noah Reich (left) and David Maldonado from the non-profit Classroom of Compassion, near the school on March 29, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee.

There are nearly 400 million civilian-owned guns in the U.S., according to an estimate by the Small Arms Survey.

Americans often lament how everyone seems to be looking down at the screen of a smartphone, reading, texting, or watching videos. But in fact, we have more guns than smartphone users. We gripe about the time we spend in cars, backed up along highways and roadways, going to work, running errands, eating takeout between obligations, and lined up for gas. But there are more guns in America than registered motor vehicles.

Is that how we see ourselves? A country with more guns than cars or smartphones?

There have already been 131 mass shootings across America this year, according to The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks these incidents.

This week began, of course, with news of the shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. Three adults were killed: Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak, and Mike Hill. And three students, nine-year olds: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney.Police killedthe shooter.

The Gun Violence Archive counted 646 mass shootings last year in the United States. This means that on average, four or more people, not including the shooter, were shot or killed in a single incident more than 12 times each week of 2022.

646 mass shootings. That's more than the number of movies released in American theaters last year, or triples hit in Major League Baseball games.

I spoke this week with Pam Simon. She is a former teacher who was shot in the arm and chest, near her heart, at an event for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011. 19 people were shot that sunny morning — including the Congresswoman. Six died, one of them a little girl. Pam Simon is no relation, but we met in Tucson after she was shot. We call each other "Cousin" now.

Pam says when she hears of some new mass shooting, "Each and every time it sucks the air out of me. ... I let myself be numb to avoid the full impact of the new horror unfolding. Yet I also feel duty bound to honor each life. After all, someone prayed for me or spent time thinking about me, an injured person they did not know ...

"All we know," Pam Simon told us, "is that there are new members of the 'club that no one wants to belong to' beginning the agonizing journey of grief."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.