We’re #1: Alaskans, Violence and Firearms


This post started out as a semi-serious recounting of one of the two documented instances of a cougar – a mountain lion – in Alaska. It seems that back in 1989, an off-grid homesteader outside of Wrangell named Paul Matteoni claimed to have opened his door and have seen two green eyes. He didn’t know what it was, so he shot it. A quintessential Alaskan reaction.

What “it” was turned out to be a cougar. Probably the big cat had wandered down the Stikine River Valley from British Columbia, where there is a small but stable population. Mr. Matteoni was charged with the unauthorized taking of an animal. He plead self-defense. The on-line records are a bit inconsistent as to the outcome: either he was acquitted or charges were later dropped.

As the Anchorage Daily News editorialized at the time, moose sometimes migrate from their normal range in Minnesota to Iowa, where they are invariably shot by folks claiming self-defense. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that the moose never attack any Iowans who aren’t armed?

Then on October 27, KUAC-FM broadcast the news that Alaska enjoyed the highest per capita firearm death rate in the nation. The Violence Policy Center, analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, determined that Alaska could boast 20.64 firearm deaths – homicides, suicides and accidental shootings – per 100,000 residents. That’s almost twice the national average, which is 10.38. The Violence Policy Center notes that Alaska has the highest number of firearms in the home of any state, with 60.6% of homes having at least one firearm, and one of the nation’s laxest firearm regulation policies; i.e., we don’t have any.

Opportunity, plainly, equals mortality. And somehow heavily armed, trigger-happy Alaskans weren’t quite so amusing any more.

Props to KUAC for covering the story; most Alaska media have been oddly silent (the Alaska Dispatch being a notable exception).

Yes, the NRA has told us a thousand times that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But the hackneyed slogan begs the question of how people kill people. Here’s a thought experiment: Take two crazed killers. Arm one with a club. Arm the other with an automatic rifle, two pistols and a shotgun. Turn them lose. Which one will create the most corpses?

Advertising agencies’ slogans like the NRA’s little masterpiece don’t have to turn off our brains. We can still think. And WC thinks Alaska needs to do something about its dirty little firearms problem. It’s going to be very difficult, the politics are going to be very ugly and it’s going to take a very long time, but it needs to be done.

(A tip of the hat to WC reader AR for the link to the cougar story.)

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