There are, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than 300 million guns floating around the United States, which translates roughly to almost one for every man, woman and child.
That, not surprisingly, is more than ever before in our nation’s history — and their numbers are only going to grow.
This is the surprise: The number of violent deaths in this country, the overwhelming majority of which come at the end of a gun barrel, are on the decline, and has been for decades — hovering between 10,000 and 15,000 a year. Too many to be sure, but we believe most people, fooled by the 24-hour news cycle that is fixated on mayhem, would guess that number to be substantially higher and more distressing.
So it can’t be assumed that more guns means more gun deaths — which is the point often made by those who believe the Second Amendment is under attack.
Stricter gun laws have shown themselves to be ineffective in crime-ridden cities like Washington, D.C., and Detroit, to name just two, but it has to be said as well that those were violent cities before tighter guns laws were adopted.
All this matters little to a Lumberton family who is grieving today because their 17-year-old was shot to death last week in an act of violence that adds a new layer to senselessness — an apparent dispute over a cell phone. Another 17-year-old, Justin Bass, is charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Zachary Meares, and it is possible that more young people will be charged.
So the pulling of a trigger three times will have destroyed some lives and forever damaged many more.
The facts matter, and this newspaper is not a good place for them to be argued. That can happen in a courtroom — assuming a plea arrangement isn’t hatched, and the case never reaches a judge and jury.
But some things appear not in dispute.
There was a confrontation in Lumberton during which Meares demanded that his sister’s cell phone be returned by her former boyfriend. A high-speed chase followed north on Interstate 95, and ended on Broad Street in St. Pauls. There was another confrontation, and Meares was shot dead.
What happened last week recalls a similar tragedy in 2007 when a confrontation between two groups of youths ended also with one dead; the weapon that day, however, was a knife, not a gun.
Young people have always gotten into squabbles about things they later understood just really don’t matter all that much. But we long for the days when such disputes were settled in a wrestling match, or perhaps with fisticuffs, where the damage was most likely limited to a black eye — and a bruised ego.
But in these times, with the easy access to firearms, the potential for a tragic outcome is far greater. There are so many things that are part of this deadly soup, including our glorification of violence and numbness to what it produces, that all of it could not be captured in the vastness the internet provides.
But here is something we say with confidence today: Zachary Meares would be alive if there had not been a weapon in the hands of children that day. And there is an adult somewhere who could have prevented that deadly combination.