Monday, May 11, 2009

What's More Deadly? Swine Flu or Gun Violence?

(by Cynthia Tucker - April 29, 2009)

The deadly contagion is spreading, striking down young and old, well-heeled and downtrodden, sophisticates and illiterates. Last year alone, the affliction killed thousands in Mexico and even more in the United States.

Not swine flu. Gun violence. While federal and state authorities are preoccupied with preventing a swine flu pandemic from overwhelming the United States, the epidemic of gun violence rages on, unabated and little noted.

Last Saturday, George Zinkhan III, a well-respected University of Georgia professor, took two handguns to a community theater and killed his wife, Marie Bruce, and two of her theater colleagues while wounding two others, police said. Zinkhan left his 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son in his car while he went on his bloody rampage, according to authorities. Then, he dropped the children off at a neighbor’s house — he explained he had an emergency — and fled, police said.

Don’t expect that this latest mass killing will arouse any more outrage or prod any more public action than those that preceded it. In March and April, armed gunmen of curious motive and deranged sentiment opened fire in a nursing home, a community center, their own homes and public spaces, killing family, friends and strangers.

Among the lowlights of this savage spring were the murders of two children of Devan Kalathat, who shot them and three other relatives before he killed himself; the murders of five children of James Harrison, who killed them before committing suicide; and the murders of the daughter and nephew of Kevin Garner, who, similarly, killed his estranged wife, his sister and the children before turning his gun on himself, law enforcement officials said. The shootings produced outpourings of grief and outbursts of anger but few calls for tighter gun laws.

In fact, state legislatures in the South, including the Georgia General Assembly, have recently loosened laws that deal with weapons in public places. In Georgia, gun owners with concealed-carry permits may now take their firearms into state parks, onto public transit and into many bars and restaurants.

Moreover, the sales of firearms and ammunition have soared over the last several months, sparked by the election of President Barack Obama and the belief that Democratic control of the White House and Congress will lead to restrictions on gun ownership. It’s a strange notion with absolutely no basis in fact.

Witness Obama’s tepid response to Mexican authorities who pleaded for help in stopping the flow of deadly firearms from the United States into the hands of drug thugs.

After Attorney General Eric Holder suggested the Obama administration might push to reinstate the ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004, the White House received a letter signed by 65 craven Democrats insisting that the president leave assault weapons alone. Obama agreed to do nothing.

We have an odd way of assessing risks. While swine flu may yet emerge as a full-scale pandemic, it hasn’t proved especially lethal so far. Even in Mexico, where public health facilities are not as well developed as in the United States, the death toll has crept past 150 but hasn’t claimed lives on the scale of drug-related gun violence.

Yet, swine flu has prompted the travel industry to brace for a panic; pharmacies report a run on supplies of antivirals such as Tamiflu; and the news media have hurriedly produced new catchphrases for their round-the-clock swine flu reportage. President Obama has dispatched Cabinet-level advisers to assure Americans that his administration is doing everything necessary to prevent the spread of the disease.

If only we could muster half that hysteria over gun deaths.

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Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor at AJC. She can be reached at cynthia@ajc.com.

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