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One of the handguns in the Winston-Salem Police Department firearms archive is displayed in May 2018.

“What is one thing wrong with the world that you would change?”

That simple yet provocative question was posed last spring to Harvard faculty by the Harvard Gazette, the official news outlet for the university.

One faculty member, an astronomer, said he would like for academics to think more like children. A psychologist said she would like for people to embrace mindfulness. A physicist said she would like to see less driving and more walking.

Beta O’Rourke — a politician, not an academic — is clear about what he would change: the number of assault-style weapons in civilian hands. “Hell, yes, I’ll take your AR-15,” he said in a recent Democratic presidential debate. A large task, since, according to him, there are 10 million assault weapons in our neighborhoods.

O’Rourke is not alone in wanting to restrict military style weapons to the military. In August, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 70% of respondents, including 55% of Republicans, are in favor of banning assault-style weapons.

As necessary as a ban on assault weapons is, and as compatible with common sense, handguns, not assault rifles, are the cause of most of the firearm carnage in America.

Yes, I know, people kill people. But when people kill people, 73% of the time they use a firearm to do it. And when they kill with a firearm, most often — 65% of the time — they use a handgun. In 2018, 6,603 Americans were murdered with handguns; 297 were killed with rifles. (The source for these statistics is the FBI Uniform Crime Report, which does not separate assault rifles from other types of rifles.)

Mass shootings involving assault rifles, some of which can only be described as massacres, distract us from the sobering fact that an average of 19 Americans are murdered with handguns every day.

In addition, each year, an average of 22,000 people take their own lives with firearms (but I have not been able to determine from available data how many firearm suicides were committed with handguns).

On Aug. 31, the Journal catalogued 17 homicides that had occurred in the city in the first eight months of 2019. The list included a shooting on April 7 in which seven people were wounded. A week later, at least 50 shots were fired in an incident on Ivy Avenue. In May, seven people were shot, two fatally, at a gathering of people on Cody Drive. Police recovered 80 shell casings.

Three shootings, 142 shots fired by at least 16 guns, 14 people shot, two fatally. According to police, all the firearms were handguns.

Another homicide victim was Alberto Rios Navarette, who was playing on the floor of his family’s apartment when he was stuck by a stray bullet — from a handgun. Alberto was 5 years old.

Between now and the end of the year, roughly 1,300 Americans will be murdered with handguns; if 2019 follows the pattern of recent years, six or seven of those will be killed in Winston-Salem.

What is one thing wrong with the world that I would change? I would make every handgun in America disappear.

As long as a handgun is within easy reach when an argument gets out of control or when someone takes offense at something someone said or when someone has had too much to drink or when someone can’t think of a good reason to live or when one gang thinks another gang is encroaching on its turf or when someone wants to knock over the service station on the corner, handguns will be a threat to the public welfare.

Wishing away handguns is a fantasy, of course.

I would settle for making every school and place of worship, every public gathering place of whatever type, including restaurants and movie theaters, a firearm-free zone. It does not make me feel safe knowing that the guy next to me is carrying a gun.

I would settle for “red flag” laws that would keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and a system of laws that guarantees that every person who purchases a gun from any source has been thoroughly vetted.

I would settle for a more efficient enforcement of existing gun laws and procedures.

Measures such as these are not likely to reduce the number of homicides and suicides by handgun as much as we would like.

But given the current state of things, they will have to do — for now.

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Richard Groves is a former pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church and former adjunct instructor at High Point University.

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