Continued from Part 2
WHY does America’s weakly regulated gun culture vs. that in Europe correlate to out-of-sight gun homicide rates in the U.S.? One WHY answer is that there are higher levels of U.S. criminality compared to England, Switzerland, Norway, and other EU countries … illustrated by the number of U.S. citizens in prison per 100,000 population of 750 ± vs. 100 ± in the EU! (see European Institute for Crime Prevention & Control, “International Statistics on Crime and Justice,” 2010).
Our sub-cultures of violent and less violent crime justify for many Americans the constitutional argument of self-defense, thus allowing high cartridge capacity, semi-automatic firearms of all sorts to roll off gun manufacturers’ production lines. We are at a crossroads … where it’s not only the high gun ownership level that contributes to high homicide rates but also the high level of crime and military-style killings by the emotionally unbalanced (as occurred in Newtown) that motivate more people to acquire guns for self-defense.
“Since there are so many guns, we need more guns.” This NRA promoted endless feedback loop only opens up more opportunities for homicidal maniacs to go on indiscriminate shooting sprees … killing children, adolescents and adults. In the end, what it all seems to come down to is that we are by nature a violent nation … and have always been so.
Studies by the National Institute of Justice conclude that greater gun availability increases the rates of murder and felony gun use, but does NOT appear to affect the general U.S. violence level. In other words, the fact the U.S. is a violent society does not have so much to do with guns. The fact that our violent crime is so DEADLY has much to do with guns … e.g., resort to AR-15s!
Research I [Frank] have examined makes a case that homicides are tied to the willingness and ability to resort to violence as an attacker or defender, not just to the mere existence of firearms. Studies show that our already horrendously high U.S. total gun homicide rates would be even higher it weren’t for right-to-concealed-carry state laws allowing individuals properly licensed to carry firearms for protection against crime. In right-to-carry states, studies reveal that violent crime rates compared to other states are approximately 25% lower, murder rates 50% lower, and robbery rates 50% lower.
I [John] disagree with Frank on this. I think the proliferation and super-saturation of the populace with guns leads to the settling of disputes by a resorting to gun violence much more likely. Disputes are settled in a variety of ways – some civilized, some uncivilized. Even the old-fashioned fistfight rarely left anyone dead.
Today a gunfight will usually ensue instead of a fistfight if one of the participants has a gun handy. In China on the same day as the Newtown mass murders, a deranged man entered a school and injured 20 childen with a knife. They all survived. The outcome was completely different in Newtown.
Control of guns to reduce our tendency to violence remains critical. But complex social factors already noted cannot be brushed aside as they are also a powerful cause of violence. Why does Switzerland or Norway, for example, have such low absolute levels of violent crime and gun homicides despite being among the most armed household nations in the world? Solving our violence dilemma lies in the social, cultural and psychological determinants of violence as much as it does in the widespread ownership of guns. The enemy is US and the battlefield is mostly in the urban areas.
Another WHY answer most people sense is that America has gone nuts producing and selling semi-automatic pistols and rifles that release dozens of bullets in seconds. Some rifles on the open market are capable of firing 100 bullets in a second. Military-style assault weapons are really great for our soldiers in Afghanistan … but insane as everyday household defense products for the general public.
Here’s where guns are indeed the major precipitator of a culture of violence. I [Frank] can’t believe that General Wingate, founder of the NRA, had in mind a population armed with such deadly automatic, big-cartridge weaponry that can be purchased almost at will by the teenager, the novice, the mentally ill and the emotionally unstable. As pointed out, when guns are used, they are almost always used for murder or suicide … this particularly applies to automatic weapons.
Another WHY answer explaining Europe’s very low intentional homicide, gun homicide, and crime rates is that guns are generally viewed in Europe as anathema after so many centuries of human killing. That is why European countries do not see ownership of firearms as a constitutional right … as embraced in our 2nd Amendment. It is also because European countries have updated their Constitutions much more recently than has the U.S. Although the U.S. is a newer country than any country in the EU-17, it has an older Constitution than any of them.
In Europe, one hears little of the facile pro-gun arguments that “gun control disarms law-abiding citizens” that one hears in the U.S. Controls are in place and enforced to limit the availability of firearms manufactured or obtained illegally. Strict selling, permit, and safety training regulations are constantly being improved. England and Switzerland are two of the safest places to be although each has an entirely different approach to gun control.
I [John] think that gun ownership should only be allowed if the gun purchaser has completed a very thorough training program and has been certified as qualified to possess a gun. I think this training should be as rigorous and as expensive as that required to become a private pilot, for example. While you see gun ownership to be pretty widespread among Swiss and Israeli males for the purpose of defending their respective countries, it’s only after being thoroughly trained and certified by those countries.
As it is, in the U.S. unlike Europe there are extremely lax controls over gun usage An owner can pick up a gun and use it whenever or wherever he damn well pleases. And no training or certification is required. I also think that shooting ranges should keep track of people using their facilities, do a quick computer database background check and report any suspicious behavior. Most mass murderers have utilized shooting ranges.
Although Norway has generally a low level of gun violence and free access to mental health care, it had its first mass murder last year perpetrated by Anders Breivik. In this otherwise peaceful country, Breivik perpetrated the largest mass murder in history killing 69 people. Norway still was not protected from a determined mass murderer who obtained his weapons, ammunition and explosives legally. Perhaps the relatively high availability of guns in Norway compared to other European countries played a part. Breivik played violent video games, but had no previous criminal or psychiatric record. However, this event was a total anomaly in Norway, not so in America where mass murders are becoming commonplace.
Another WHY answer is how the original meaning of the 2nd Amendment has evolved and changed. The 2nd Amendment is one long sentence with some key phrases that are a lawyer´s hell or paradise … depending on which side he or she is on. It says:
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
State courts and the Supreme Court have generally upheld the right of citizens to keep and bear arms for individual protection against harm doers. This does not prevent a Supreme Court – perhaps with a Democratic majority – to rule in favor of a very narrow and limited interpretation of the 2nd Amendment concerning, for example, the kinds of weapons and ammunition cartridges that can be sold to individuals for self-defense. Going further and repealing the 2nd Amendment may someday be possible but highly unlikely given the 300 million guns now in the system and past Supreme Court decisions. Amending the 2nd Amendment to get tighter control of weapons sales rather than killing it completely may hold more promise.
However, states and municipalities can implement gun control and then dare the Supreme Court and the Justice Department to prevent them from doing it just as states have legalized marijuana in conflict with Federal law. When it comes down to it, the U.S. is still a democracy and eventually the people will get what they want.
The problem is that at the present time what the people seem to want is more guns. How many more mass murders of innocents must we have before the U.S. gun culture will be truly chastened? Perhaps it will be when there are a majority of women and mothers in Congress many of whom will have lost children to gun violence.
It is of little wonder the NRA and other pro-gun lobbying groups tenaciously support the 2nd Amendment on the basis that guns are the best deterrent of crime against individuals … under their facile philosophy: “As guns increase, we are safer. As guns decrease, there are more murders.” But the NRA after all is simply more of a lobbyist for gun manufacturers than anything else.
So, argues the NRA president, “arm the school teachers and guards!” Of course maniac killer(s) can always go for these people first with the advantage of planning, surprise, and initiative. I [Frank] hope this article effectively argues the utter falsehood and incredibly dangerous social implications of this kind of thinking.
When you put it all together it seems to me (John) that the availability and proliferation of guns, particularly assault rifles with high capacity clips, is the main reason why the US has such a large amount of gun violence compared to other societies. A secondary reason is a violent culture as the amount of gun violence on TV, movies and video games desensitizes and accustoms the public and especially sensitive minds to the fact that gun violence is “normal.”
What one sees and hears and experiences on a daily basis comes to be seen as a mundane and inevitable part of life. A tertiary reason is the fact that a significant portion of our population has mental health issues. Another issue is desperation and poverty. Neighborhoods in which there is a lot of poverty have greater levels of gun violence.
Guns need to be taken off the streets and out of households. Buyback programs have been massive in other countries and not just tokenism as they have so far amounted to in the U.S. In Britain and Australia after mass murders there, gun laws were strengthened and tightened. The result has been that not only have there been no more mass murders, but the everyday mundane use of guns to kill people one at a time has been greatly reduced.
While I believe that no amount of gun control will prevent a determined mass murderer, we know from historical precedent that prudent gun control laws can and will, in general, reduce the amount of gun violence both homicides and suicides.
There needs to be an effort to rate movies and TV programs in terms of their violence, and not just their sexual, content. While we supposedly protect young people from sex in the media, we don’t protect them from violence in the media. As for mental health, it needs to be free on demand as, hopefully, it will be under the Affordable Care Act.
As I [John] wrote recently in the San Diego Free Press:
Terrorists have only been able to kill 17 people in the US since 9/11, but 88,000 Americans have died in gun violence from 2003 to 2010. Britain, which has very strict gun laws, had 41 gun murders in 2010 while the US had around 10,000. 6,626 Americans have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 3000 died in the tragedy of 9/11. The cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far is around $4 trillion.
At the same time no money has been spent on the war on gun violence in the US in which about the same number of people die every year from gun homicides as the total of those who died on 9/11 plus those who have died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. About 30,000 Americans die every year from gun violence when you add in suicides. Does this make any sense? As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.”
The bottom line is gun ownership should be a privilege and not a right.