Editor’s note: Originally published on Jan. 8, the San Diego Free Press is republishing this three-part series in honor of the one year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults.
Continued from Part 1
In almost every measurable statistic whether it be gun ownership, gun homicide rate or total firearm-related deaths including suicides and accidents, the US leads the world in deadly gun violence. Although statistics show that a firearm in the household is more likely to be used on a family member than an intruder, the NRA promotes gun ownership as a means of self-protection and as a crime deterrent.
Britain has a much stricter gun control culture with relatively few guns in households. You couldn´t get a more murder free society than Britain or Japan which has banned practically all guns. In contrast, America has as many firearms as there are people – a situation made irreversibly dangerous knowing that guns have at least a 100-year life cycle.
While the original primary motivation for an armed populace under the 2nd Amendment was to defend against tyrants and invaders, America´s last 60 years of an accelerating gun ownership dynamic –legal and illegal – is now perceived and promoted as an absolute necessity to defend ourselves against outrageous, multiple crime subcultures and misfits. The fact that there are so many guns out there seems to justify the rationale that even more guns are necessary in an ever expanding feedback loop. If it is correct that the size of the national gun collection is directly related and proportional to gun violence levels in the U.S., then, as the total number of guns in the hands of the American people continues to grow, so will the level of gun violence.
In 2010, roughly 70% of US homicides were by gun whereas in Britain including Northern Ireland only 9% were by gun. In the US in 2012 the total firearm-related death rate including both suicides and homicides was 10.2 per 100,000; in France the comparative figure was 3.0; in Britain, 0.25 . So the US firearms-related death rate was about 40 times that of Britain!
The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – at 89 guns for every 100 Americans compared to 6 in Britain, 31 for Canada and Norway. And the gun murder figures themselves are equally astounding. While there were 9,960 U.S. gun homicides in 2010, there were only 58 in Britain. Britain´s population is one-fifth of the US population. When adjusted for this, British gun murders are equivalent to 290 US gun murders.
Thus, versus Britain, the US had 34 times more gun homicides. In 2010, there were total of only 1,164 EU-17 gun homicides vs. 9,960 U.S. gun homicides making the U.S. homicide rate higher by a factor of 11 on an equivalent population basis. In the years 2010 and 2011, homicides by guns as a percentage of total homicides were about 28% in the EU-17 vs. 70% in the US. In 2011 there were 12,664 murders in the US. Of those, 8,583 were caused by firearms. In 2012, there were over 500 gun murders in Chicago alone – almost half the total of the EU-17 countries. Contrary to propaganda by the NRA, these figures show that smaller levels of gun possession lead to smaller numbers of gun homicides.
Obviously, European social and cultural factors play a major role along with much more restrictive, broadly accepted gun controls. In fact, Britain’s strict gun controls led to record low gun homicides in 2011 and to its lowest intentional (gun and non/gun) homicide level ever.
Statistics show that when there is a gun in a home, that gun is more likely to be used on a member of the household than on an intruder. Indeed, Adam Lanza´s mother´s legally purchased semi-automatic guns were first used on her before they were used on 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and later on Adam Lanza himself. Approximately 30,000 people every year die from gunshot wounds – the second leading cause of death from injury after motor vehicle crashes. This includes but is not limited to gun murders. Only a small number of these deaths are due to accidents.
There are far more suicides than there are homicides. Guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Guns on the street or in the house make us less safe. According to the FBI, for every justifiable handgun homicide, there are more than 50 handgun murders.
The correlation of gun availability and violence is an unending chicken and egg debate. Is the U.S. dilemma of extreme levels of violent crime due mostly to easy gun availability and an exceptionally high ownership level or to other intractable societal factors? For example, England and Norway had achieved low gun homicide rates even prior to having strict gun controls.
Clearly, many confounding societal mechanisms – mental illness, uncensored violent TV films and video games, racial divides, alcohol/drug abuse, self-destruction, income inequality, jealousy, anger, physical abuse, youth gangs in urban cities – all are contributing root causes of gun injuries and homicide rates – much more so in America than in Europe.
Sweden censors movies more harshly for violence than it does for sex although if you really want to see the cut scenes you can request a private showing. In the US movies are only rated for sexual content. According to current regulations, the Swedish film censoring agency can censor any film which depicts events “in such a manner and in such a context as to have a brutalizing effect” and is judged to have “explicit or protracted scenes of severe violence to people or animals or depicts sexual violence or coercion or presents children in pornographic situations.” Evidently, no violence or horror is too graphic that children shouldn’t be able to see it in the U.S.
The day after the mass murders in Newtown I [John] passed a movie billboard featuring a man aiming down the sights of a rifle. The name of the movie: “Killing Them Softly.” You’d think out of decency and respect for what had just happened they would have taken the billboard down, but violence sells obviously and no time out from money making is ever taken including the money making from selling guns whose sales rose rapidly immediately following the Sandy Hook killings.
The popular TV show Crime Scene Investigation features cops solving grisly murders depicted graphically. It has spawned a host of other spin-offs: CSI: Miami, CSI: NY etc. Shoot-em-ups and cops and robbers shows are staples on TV and in the movies.
Video games are almost entirely dramas in which a shooter blows the bad guys away. A Connecticut town is burning violent video games, CDs and DVDs in the wake of the Newtown shootings. A dumpster is being provided where folks can turn them in. Los Angeles recently had a successful gun buyback which netted 2,037 firearms including 75 assault rifles. The irony is that LA gun stores are selling that many guns in a single day!
A similar gun buyback in San Diego netted 360 more guns than the buyback a year ago. If the American people really want to get rid of violent weapons and media, they should replicate these efforts in every town and city throughout the country. In addition to legislation banning the sales of assault weapons and high capacity gun clips, there should be legislation defining a new movie and TV rating code which takes depictions of violence and particularly gun violence into account.
If Americans really want to get rid of gun violence and change the gun culture, they need to step up to the plate and start demanding these kinds of limitations on cultural violence on a local level. Support Mayors Against Illegal Guns, for example, and Demand a Plan to End Gun Violence. What is more important – that Americans be able to play with their favorite toys or that needless murders of innocent children and adults be prevented? And as far as hunting goes, is the pleasure derived from shooting innocent animals worth the misery caused by the loss of innocent children? Expanding our global vision a bit, today in Africa elephants and rhinoceros are being illegally slaughtered to the point of extinction with assault rifles just for their tusks which are worth a lot of money in Asia.
Switzerland’s low gun homicide rate seems a contradiction upon first glance. Here’s a country with one of the highest gun ownership levels in Europe that also has a relatively low gun homicide rate! Same applies to Norway.
In contrast, Britain has exceptionally low gun ownership levels and gun homicide rates. The Swiss, Norwegian and even Canadian firearms experience refutes the belief that very low gun homicide rates are due to strict controls on ownership levels of firearms … while British and most other EU country experience confirms that belief. However, even Switzerland has half the gun ownership rate and Norway, a third that of the US which has the highest gun ownership rate of any country in the world. Furthermore, Switzerland and Norway, while having high gun ownership rates, also have extensive training, certification requirements and strict gun controls … and are not permeated by violent cultural values.
But despite all the certification and training it is always possible for a deranged person determined to carry out a mass murder to do it. On January 3, 2013 a gunman murdered 3 people in the Swiss town of Daillon. Scotland’s Dunblane massacre in March 1996, in which 16 children and one adult were shot dead by Thomas Hamilton who walked into a school armed with a range of handguns and opened fire, resulted in the banning of all cartridge ammunition handguns, with the exception of .22 calibre single-shot weapons, in Britain.
One month after Dunblane, Australia experienced its worse mass murder in a Tasmanian seaside resort, where a gunman killed 35 and wounded 23, Prime Minister John Howard tightened gun control legislation and implemented a mass buyback of about one-fifth of all the firearms in circulation. Australia has not had a mass shooting ever since.
What happened in Scotland and Australia was that a mass murder was followed by a tightening of gun laws. The Australian government bought back more than 630,000 weapons, and the British government took tens of thousands of guns off the streets with a similar program. This makes the buyback programs in LA and San Diego pale by comparison.
The result was less gun violence in general which is a good thing although a determined mass murderer could probably do the same thing again despite increased gun control. This is the lesson I [John] draw from what happened in Scotland and Australia and now in Switzerland where these acts of mass murder are really an anomaly in terms of the overall level of gun violence which is really low. The lesson for the U.S. is the same. Increased gun control may not prevent the next mass murder although it should make it less likely, but it should decrease total gun violence in general.
Spain enforces strict controls over firearms. Their constitution clearly states: “The State shall have exclusive competence over … the regime for the production, trading, holding, and use of weapons.” In Finland, citizens must have a valid reason for a gun license such as hunting, recreation, or gun exhibitions. An amendment to the 1997 Scotland Firearms Act banned private possession of all modern pistols, even for competitive sporting purposes. Small bore rifles are not limited. Many types of rifles, shotguns, and black powder pistols and long arms may be privately owned. Luxembourg has a complete ban on guns.
In the Netherlands, assault rifles, silencers, and short-barreled shotguns as well as any kind of high capacity magazine are banned for civilian possession unless authorized by the Minister of Justice. Our neighbor, Canada, has no constitutional right to bear arms. Gun ownership is strictly regulated and certain gun models are prohibited by the Firearms Act. Canada’s crime rate is lower than that of the U.S.
Despite the Supreme Court interpretation of the 2nd Amendment which gives American citizens the right to bear arms, that right does not necessarily preclude strict gun controls including a mandate for training, certification and other precautionary measures. In fact, some states have rather restrictive firearms laws including assault weapon bans. However, many state firearms laws are less restrictive than federal firearms laws.
Complicating harmonization and reciprocity of gun control regulations among all 50 states is the fact that firearm owners are subject to the laws of the state they are in. Also, in the Supreme Court vs. Printz case, the Supreme Court held that state and local police departments are not obligated to enforce federal gun law. The Supreme Court decision in McDonald vs. City of Chicago merely says that the protections of the 2nd Amendment apply to state and local governments. Although we have a broad hodgepodge of gun laws regulating the sale, possession, and use of firearms among the 50 states, 44 states have a provision in their state constitutions that is similar to the US 2nd Amendment.
The Red/Blue split among states is likely to engender a similar split when it comes to gun control laws with the northern and west coastal states having more restrictive laws and the southern states being less restrictive.
Continued in Part 3 – Some WHY Questions