Fifty-seven years ago this week, the President of the United States stood before a joint session of Congress and said something nutty.
First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
John F. Kennedy elaborated on that thought a few months later before a big crowd in a Houston football stadium.
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…
In 1961, no doubt some considered that goal to be “crazy talk.”
As of July 20, 1969, it was reality.
I found myself thinking about JFK and his outlandish commitment to the space program when I read a characterization of Friday’s Santa Fe, Texas, shooting as part of an “epidemic without a solution.”
That’s defeatist talk. Defeatism has never solved a problem.
The US is unique in two key — and related — ways when it comes to guns: It has way more gun deaths than other developed nations, and it has far higher levels of gun ownership than any other country in the world.
The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times that of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to United Nations data compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason America has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)
Researcher Josh Tewksbury’s data show the correlation between the number of guns and gun deaths (including homicides and suicides) among wealthier nations:
If this was an epidemic without a solution, the United States would not be an outlier.
As journalist German Lopez reports in VOX.com:
Guns are not the only contributor to violence. (Other factors include, for example, poverty, urbanization, and alcohol consumption.) But when researchers control for other confounding variables, they have found time and time again that America’s high levels of gun ownership are a major reason the US is so much worse in terms of gun violence than its developed peers.
The moon shot happened because fulfilling President Kennedy’s promise became a priority for the nation and a goal members of Congress supported, for which they approved resources. It unified the country.
Leadership on the gun issue could have the same effect. There’s already plenty of support which, in a democracy, ought to count for something.
Americans’ support for tougher gun laws hit a 25-year high in March. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in a March Gallup poll, 67% of Americans indicated their support for tougher restrictions on guns. This was the highest level of support for more stringent gun laws in the U.S. since 1993. Americans’ support for tougher gun laws has generally trended up since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, and has now returned to levels last seen prior to 2000.
“When we’ve had our say with the government — and maybe the adults have gotten used to saying ‘it is what it is,’ but if us students have learned anything, it’s that if you don’t study, you will fail,” declared Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland student, in a speech that has gone viral on the Internet.
“And in this case if you actively do nothing, people continually end up dead, so it’s time to start doing something.”
Ignore the defeatists.
Americans can accomplish anything if we are committed to victory, no matter how long it takes.
We put a man on the moon, for God’s sake.