By John Lawrence
The US leads the world in deaths from firearms. Countries like Great Britain and Japan, which outlaw guns, have hardly any gun related deaths.
These countries don’t have the “freedom” to own a gun. We Americans are free to own a gun and free to go bankrupt from medical debts. In countries like Britain and Japan they are not free to go bankrupt from medical debt because they have national health care systems which prevent that from happening.
Freedom is relative isn’t it, and open to interpretation. One person’s freedom is another person’s bondage. As Janis Joplin sang, “Freedom’s just another name for nothing left to lose.”
Why are there so many police shootings in the US?
It’s because the police have to assume that everyone they encounter is armed. With gun ownership rates approaching one firearm per individual, it’s literally a game of he who shoots first lives to tell about it.
In Britain even the police are not allowed to carry guns. Therefore, what happened in Ferguson and New York City and elsewhere with a steady drip, drip, drip, everyday monotony doesn’t happen in Britain. The civilians have no guns and the police have no guns. Seems a little silly, doesn’t it, compared to the US where we have a fundamental right to own a gun and so do the police who happen to be in the business of outgunning we the citizens.
In a December 13, 2014 article in Vox entitled “We shouldn’t talk about Ferguson without talking about guns” the point is made that police violence is totally related to the fact that they are facing an armed citizenry and they do it every day as a matter of course. If they want to go home to their wives and families, they need to assume that any guy that even appears to be the least bit uncooperative is carrying a gun and will use it if they don’t use theirs first.
It is literally an arms race between the police on the one hand and the citizens on the other. That’s why a lot of informed and caring black parents have “the talk” with their soon to be teenage sons – not about sex, but about the fact that they need to be absolutely cooperative with the police if ever they should have an encounter with them. The results of not doing so are altogether all too apparent.
The Vox article noted:
A well-armed population leads to police shootings of the unarmed in two ways. One is that police officers have to be constantly vigilant about the possibility that they are facing a gun-wielding suspect. Cleveland police officers shot and killed a 12 year-old boy recently, because they not-entirely-unreasonably thought his toy gun was a real gun.
The other, more relevant to the Michael Brown case, is that when civilians are well-armed, police have to be as well. That turns every encounter into a potentially lethal situation. The officer always has to worry that if he doesn’t reach for and use his own gun, the suspect will. In his grand jury testimony, Wilson pointedly claims that at one point Brown put his right hand “under his shirt into his waistband” — i.e., made a motion that could be plausibly construed as reaching for a gun.
Even routine traffic stops can be fraught with danger. In one such stop in North County a few years ago, the officer turned his back on the driver, to go back to his vehicle to get something. He was shot in the back and killed because the driver, not stopped for any criminal violation, happened to be a criminal who had a load of illegal contraband which the officer was unaware of. The officer paid with his life for not assuming that this driver was armed.
Violence begets violence. Poverty, unemployment, poor mental health, anger over perceived slights, gang activity – all beget violence. Gun violence pervades American culture.
There is hardly an “adult” action movie or TV show that doesn’t include guns. Criminality is glorified if only by the fact that so much American entertainment is obsessed with it. Video games exploit the thrill of killing your opponents. Sick minds gravitate to this form of entertainment, and there is precious little in the way of an antidote for this cultural degradation and deprivation.
Mental health professionals in schools? That would be nice. Psychological and psychiatric help on demand? Not if your health insurance doesn’t cover it.
When people are pushed to desperate lengths by whatever reality they face, the first thing they think about is wiping out the offending party. Most think twice before taking action, but there are enough that are pushed to the brink by demons both real and imaginary that mass murders are happening with increased frequency and regularity.
What can be done? Clearly, mental illness is a big part of mass murders. But most mass murderers weren’t declared mentally ill until after they had accomplished the mass murder. The perpetrators of gun deaths need to be studied in order to ascertain motives. How many are due to criminal activities? How many are due to domestic violence? How many are suicides? We already know that more gun deaths are due to suicide than to homicide.
This says something about the relationship between access to guns and mental health. The solution is much more access to free mental health providers and less access to guns. As for crime many of the deaths are concentrated in certain areas of poverty among largely unemployed people and gang members. The solution: more employment, recreational programs and social workers for those areas.
The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence points out that “A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.” So a rational individual, if he or she had any guns in the home and becoming cognizant of this fact, would immediately get rid of them.
This fact was nowhere better exemplified than in the Sandy Hook school shootings. The first thing Adam Lanza did, before he gunned down 20 innocent children and 6 only slightly less innocent adults, was to kill a member of his household, namely, his mother.
If rationality prevailed, which it doesn’t in America, guns would be outlawed like they are in many other civilized countries. But a lot of males seem to think that guns are an inextricable part of their identity. Banning guns would be robbing them of their masculinity. What else would be left?
Smoking has already been discredited. There aren’t many jobs left roping cattle. Sure, you can drive a pick-up around urban streets. You can even wear a cowboy hat and boots in some parts of the country, but the male identitiy is formed around the military and around guns. It’s a rite of passage.
Here in America we have the freedom to shoot guns and the freedom to be shot, but if we’re unlucky enough to be the victim of gun violence, we also have the freedom to go bankrupt when the medical bills arrive from the doctors and hospitals who took heroic measures to save us – of course, never to be really the same ever again.