In 2009, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 66.9% of all homicides in the United States were perpetrated using a firearm. There were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000. Two-thirds of all gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides. Of the 30,470 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2010, 19,392 (63.6%) were suicide deaths, and 11,078 (36.4%) homicide deaths.

– from a Wikipedia article on gun violence in the U.S.

These statistics are interesting, but they are not the point. The point is the number of assassin-style mass killings like the one at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut , where the death rate was almost a person per-second.

These incidents are statistically rare but significant in the amount of horror involved – the slaughter of so many children isn’t something we can merely add to the statistics. Likewise the killings in the Aurora theater, and all the mass killings before and since Columbine.

This is what groups like the NRA fail to understand: no one is talking about taking people’s guns away (although I personally would be in favor of a constitutional amendment nullifying the second amendment – but that isn’t going to happen). What people are concerned about is automatic and semi-automatic weapons, large capacity magazines, and easy access to weapons.

An assault-style weapon ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines is not going to infringe on anyone’s right to own guns – just to own what can be termed “high kill rate” guns. There are certain types of vehicles you can’t drive on the roads. Likewise there are certain types of guns you shouldn’t be able to own. It’s a matter of public safety.

But more stringent gun control and background checks are only one component needed to try to reduce the occurrence of mass killings. We also need to recognize that many mass killers are mentally ill, and we need to address their health care problems as well as make it possible for mental health workers to identify at-risk individuals to law enforcement. We should look at potentially incarcerating those who pose a severe risk. I’m not saying we should bring back the horrors of the old state hospital systems. I was employed in the California state hospital system many years ago, and we need something better than that. But we need something.

And we need education. We need to reinforce the idea in young people that they aren’t alone, and there are ways to deal with and manage the stresses they are under. We need to teach them not to suffer in isolation if they are bullied or mistreated by their peers or adults. And when they do ask for help we need to give it to them.

The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding and non-threatening individuals. There are always a few extremist wackos in every group, and they tend to get air time in the media. The current leadership of the NRA is absolutely extremist and alarmist, and quite frankly paranoid. I don’t believe they deserve a place in any dialog on these issues because their position is known and predictable: they don’t care how many people die, or how many mass murders there are – they see any attempt to control guns as a threat to their agenda and their cozy relationship with gun manufacturers.