Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Today... people die
Death sucks. "The supreme irony of life is that no one gets out of it alive," said Robert Heinlein. I admire his sense of humor in the face of such grim subject, but that doesn't change the fact that death sucks. It sucks universally, for everyone involved, in all seasons, for all reasons. ...Which is why I do not understand, why, when a specific kind of death takes place, so many people choose to become fixated on that form of death, caused by that one instrument. NBC had recently posted an article, listing how many people in American die every year from firearms, including crime-related deaths, and accidents. Only the death numbers were presented - not how they compare to other forms of crime, not where gun-related deaths are more likely to occur, not the possible reasons. The entire article could be summarized in one sentence, "A lot of people die from guns every year, but we have a major piece of legislation in the works right now that will fix some of it." Ok. I am not questioning the numbers - I am sure they were accurate. And I actually support the piece of legislation they referred to. Many people would say that they didn't need these numbers to feel strongly against firearm ownership, because they are averse to objects created for the specific purpose of maiming and killing. I can respect that. What I do not support is spewing a bunch of numbers out of context, with the clear purpose to shock and create bias. According to the National Vital Statistics Report, 32,163 people in the United States died in 2011 from gun-related causes - shootings, accidents, suicides. The full breakdown can be found here. In the same year, 32,367 people perished in motor vehicle accidents. That's 204 people more than gun fatalities. The number was not presented by NBC in its article about gun deaths for comparison, to put it into perspective despite the fact that the number of motor vehicle fatalities came from NBC as well. And, unless I missed something major in the news, there is no piece of legislation in the works to improve road and vehicle safety, to introduce mandatory breathalizer locks, or to start implementing "auto-pilot" roads - stretches of highway, where traffic is controlled by speed and traffic density sensors. Car crashes are so ubiquitous, they get no TV coverage, no public outcry, no nighttime vigils. The device involved in them was not originally designed to kill. And so, the number above goes on unnoticed and un-adressed. Based on CDC data, in 2008, 14,800 people died from prescription drug overdose. By 2010, that number nearly doubled. Presently, almost a hundred people die every day by consuming things that were invented not to kill, but to actually make better! I wish NBC would take notes from CDC on how to put together numbers in a way they make sense and present an objective picture. Instead of just throwing out a list of figures, CDC has provided meaningful information about prescription drug-related deaths: what the drugs are, who takes them, where they come from, which states have more issues than others, what is being done. Sadly, prescription drug monitoring and control measures continue to rest primarily with the individual states. As with car-related deaths, there is no media attention, unless a celebrity dies of prescription drug overdose. It passes quickly and initiates no government initiatives on a national scale. Nothing is debated in the Congress. Nothing is slotted to go on the President's desk for signing. Nada. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that 4,609 people perished in industrial accidents in 2011. Of those, 780 were caused by violence by persons or animals in the workplace. How many people are even aware of these numbers? They will watch movies involving a haunted factory, with spooky chomping, dicing and slicing pieces of equipment suddenly coming to life and grinding people up. But in real life? Industrial accidents! Pshaw! How boring! I don't think we've had a major change in workplace safety since the creation of OSHA. Having worked in manufacturing environment and witnessed industrial accidents, I can attest - safety training is treated as a boring chore, a lot of people do not pay attention to it, and the installation of safety devices beyond the OSHA-required basics is left up to each individual facility. If a safety device or procedure slows down production, it is frequently bypassed. I will not mention here the deaths from diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, genetic disorders - they are in a category of their own and require their own discussion. Although it would be nice if medical research received the same amount of debate as gun control. And the same amount of financing as the wars USA is involved in right now. The same applies to poverty and hunger. And illnesses that are preventable through basic measures, such as clean drinking water and steady supply of vitamins. But here we have a set of things that were not designed to kill or hurt people that, between them, kill more people than the things that were designed to kill people. This doesn't include the 34% of all violent crimes that are not committed with firearms (meaning, they are too often carried out using objects not initially designed to kill people.) By all means, be outraged about gun-related deaths, the senseless mass shootings, the preventable accidents, the suicides! But why guns only? How is a gun-related death more terrible than a death in a car accident? Or a death from a prescription drug overdose? When will we start giving equal attention to all things that hurt and kill people in this country, instead of just zeroing in on one of them, as if doing something about that one will fix everything? People die. Prolonging people's lives and improving their quality of life is not going to happen, if one cause of death is chosen to battle against over others, because that cause involves criminal intent and a deadly weapon. If you set out to battle death and suffering, you are going to have to do better than that and battle on all fronts - not just one.