Turn civil rights fight toward homicides

Let's dream a little for Black History Month and imagine the civil-rights movement of the 21st century taking on gun violence.

Guns have contributed to an unforgivable rate of black homicides.

Gun-rights advocates love to point to the Second Amendment backing unrestricted ownership and firearms use for "protection." But because the government openly sanctions individuals owning firearms, the U.S. and its taxpayers should be held accountable for damage the weapons do to individuals and property.

Gun owners, manufacturers and bullet makers should be made to pay, too, having a shared liability for hospital costs of victims and funeral expenses. That high cost, especially for innocent victims, would do a lot to curb gun violence, add value to human life and make living without fear a civil-rights concern.

If gun violence became a pocketbook matter for taxpayers, it could reverse the hands-off attitude people historically have held involving guns.

This long overdue accountability would track with court rulings on segregation. Justices in the 1954 Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education ruling ended legal segregation. The courts afterward forced states and school districts to pay to repair the damage caused by government-backed discrimination and segregation.

Government payments for the gun damage it sanctions would help homicide victims' families and curb the accelerating pace of gun ownership.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence reports that there are more than 283 million guns in U.S. civilian hands. The center said 33 percent of U.S. households had a gun in 2009. Guns annually kill more than 30,000 people and injure even more Americans. A disproportionate number are African-Americans.

Of the Americans who die in gun violence, many are suicide victims. Accidental shootings claim more lives and cause more injuries.

The $100 billion annual cost of gun violence grows if the additional cost in lost work productivity of victims, family members and friends is included, as well as the expense of grief counseling.

Government responsibility for a sizable portion of the tab - because it sanctions firearms ownership - would make the nation rethink conceal-and-carry rules and all liberal gun laws.

The Brady Center notes that an estimated 41 percent of gun-related homicides and 94 percent of gun-fueled suicides would not have occurred under the same circumstances if no guns were around.

But the Second Amendment, laws and court rulings liberalizing gun ownership ensures problems with guns will continue.

People are flocking to gun shows and stores to buy more firearms. Instead of liberalizing gun ownership, society should be held responsible and accountable for the actions of guns. A 2009 study found that gun owners are 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault.

Despite the risks, gun ownership will remain. But if taxpayers shoulder more of the high cost of the blood that guns and bullets spill, it would boost the civil-rights value of life without guns. Perhaps then the country will reassess and do more to limit guns. That shift would help ensure the ultimate civil rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all in America.

Contact Diuguid, a member of The Kansas City Star's editorial board, at Ldiuguid@kcstar.com.