A year and a half ago, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Joe Nocera, an Op-Ed columnist at the New York Times, asked me, an editorial assistant at the newspaper, to find out who gets shot in America every day.
Joe has a young child, and he was haunted by the fact that it could easily have been his own son in that classroom. We realized that we didn’t know who the majority of gun violence victims were, the people whose deaths didn’t make it onto a CNN broadcast.
Six weeks after Newtown, Joe wrote a column consisting of a few lines about shootings that had happened that week, presented without comment. He had a blog he wasn’t using, so starting the next day, I started writing at that blog by searching for America’s shooting victims.
The project began with just a couple of items unearthed during a Google news search, but after a few months I was searching ten pages deep — for “shooting,” “man shot,” “woman shot,” “child shot,” “teen shot” and “accidentally shot.” By the project’s end, the report featured 40 shootings a day. Of course, there were more, but I was only finding the ones reported in the news. This naturally limited my scope — most suicides aren’t reported at all.
In Iowa, it’s easier to sell a gun than lemonade. In Arkansas, it takes less time to buy a gun than to qualify for food stamps. In Arizona, you need a permit to cut hair, but not to carry a concealed weapon. In Florida you’re fingerprinted to be a substitute teacher, but not to buy or carry a gun. It’s easier to buy an assault weapon than it is to vote.
But in order to obtain a firearm in Japan, which has half the population of America and averages about four gun murders per year, you must fill out binders full of paperwork, listen to 20 hours of lectures, take a written test and a shooting class, pass a criminal background check, subject yourself to a physical and psychological exam, submit to half a dozen police interviews, and police interviews of your friends and family, as well. You are asked to produce a floor map of your home and indicate where a firearm will be stored, as well as photos of the locks on your gun safe. Approval usually takes a year. You need to jump through such extreme hoops to own guns — and can get arrested just for firing one — that the Yakuza, the mob in Japan, prefers not to use them.