People kill each other with guns quite a lot in America. (Though not, according to Wikipedia, as much as they kill themselves.) One particular cluster of such events recently has got everyone talking about guns again.
Some people want more legal restrictions on the ownership, possession, and the right to carry certain types of gun. Others think that outlawing guns means only outlaws will have guns, and that maybe there’d be fewer gun-related deaths if some of the victims had been armed and able to defend themselves.
Now, my libertarian sensibilities get a bit twitchy when liberals talk about the government enforcing rules about gun control. But something I’ve learned which many libertarians don’t seem to have picked up on is that my twitchy sensibilities are not that fucking important in this conversation.
And if my political ideology demands that I insist that any infringement on our liberties is a bad thing, it’s on me to explain why the freedom of this guy to buy an assault weapon and several thousand rounds of ammunition, with which he later murdered ten people in a cinema in Colorado, is worth protecting.
I was trying to remember a quote from The West Wing about gun control, and found it here:
If you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, you’ll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year. They had 112. Do you think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?
But as the accompanying analysis on that site points out, that’s not really a fair dichotomy. Looking at the effects of gun control laws on the countries mentioned doesn’t support the idea that all those countries are only holding back a state of continuous pan-global massacre by some rules that make it a bit harder to buy guns.
But those statistics should still fucking appal you, and they still demand explanation. I’m not sure where Toby got his data exactly, but a 2002 UN survey also puts the USA’s firearm murder rate alarmingly far ahead of almost everywhere else, and vastly disproportionate for its population. So what’s going on? Are Americans just naturally more homicidal?
Well, I’d be bewildered if there turned out to be any genetic element to it. But culturally speaking, does anyone have trouble imagining just how murderous growing up in the US could make you?
Have you ever watched a movie, or a TV show, or a news broadcast, which comes out of that place?
The USA is a really, really gunny place.
And that’s not just about people’s ability to get their hands on guns. In Switzerland, men undergo basic military training by default, and there are estimated to be at least 1.2 million to 3 million firearms in private homes, including hundreds of thousands of assault weapons, in a country with just under eight million residents. The number of “killings or attempted killings involving firearms” in Switzerland in 2006 was thirty-four.
In a recent Swiss referendum, a majority of voters rejected stricter gun control laws. What would be the point?
In Switzerland, gun control doesn’t seem to be necessary. In America, I doubt it’d be effective. Because being issued instructions from some authority about what you are and aren’t allowed to do is not the sole defining factor in people’s behaviour, or even the most significant. Prohibition of alcohol and the War on Drugs were catastrophic failures; if anything, they both only exacerbated America’s troubled relationship with the problems they were trying to solve. Gun control laws could end up doing the same thing, if Americans remain determined to own and carry guns.
So no, I don’t think passing laws against gun ownership is the one true way to fix the problem.
But at least the people on that side of the argument are addressing the real problem, albeit in an inadequate way. I feel like, ultimately, I share some of their goals. I want fewer Americans to shoot each other. I want fewer Americans to own, carry, think about, obsess over, and use guns. I want the world to be less gunny. I just don’t think that trying to take people’s guns away, while they still really want guns for some reason, is the best way to get there. It’s going to take a cultural change which can’t be forced like that.
Maybe this is how I know I’m not really an anarchist yet, but I do find that camp much more relatable than the other side, which seems to have little more to offer than to go on about freedom and how the answer is MORE GUNS.
And if “If only more people had been in possession of deadly weapons on that terrible day” is all you have to contribute, you are making everything gunnier and worse.
ETA: This post at CounterPunch has similar things to say, and ties gun crime more directly to social and economic conditions, and wealth polarisation. It also makes a large part of my point, much more pithily than I managed: “[T]he problem is not the supply of guns, but the demand for them.”