But it’s a Lot Easier to Kill People with Guns
Sam Harris writes in his 2013 piece, The Riddle of the Gun. “When viewed from any other civilized society on earth, the primacy of guns in American life seems to be a symptom of collective psychosis” I write from Britain, another outpost of the civilized world, where we are still reeling from a year of terrorist attacks, but have not endured a mass shooting since the Dunblane school shooting of 1996.
I do not say that to look down my nose at America, but I must admit to an element of compassion fatigue as the news cycle of gun tragedy relentlessly streams in. Yet the status quo continues despite being obviously untenable.
I aim to frame the severity of the gun violence problem in an international context while highlighting some extended consequences of the prevalence of guns in America. Additionally, I aim to challenge some of the most popular defences from gun advocates including the interpretation of the Second Amendment. I will outline what I see as the hypocritical delusion regarding “gun free zones” from the left and conclude with some suggestions for realistic solutions.
How does America compare to other countries in the developed world?
America’s firearm homicide rate is 25x higher
Their suicide rate is 8x higher
Americans make up 4.4% of the global population yet own 42% of the world's guns
They account for 1/3 of global mass shooters but not 1/3 of the crime
When adjusted for population, the only country that has a higher rate of mass shootings than America is Yemen.
Yemen has the world’s second highest rate of gun ownership…no prizes for guessing who has the highest.
What are the excuses?
A mental health issue: America may well have a mental health problem and this may be a variable in a multi-varied problem, but I don’t think it is a strong argument to contend that Americans are 25x more mentally unwell or inherently violent than the rest of the world.
The 2nd amendment: It is my understanding that the Constitution of the United States was designed to be a living document that would be reinterpreted to reflect the time…Yet the Supreme Court never seems to touch the 2nd amendment? The 2nd amendment refers to “…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”. In what way are the individual citizens of a country a well-regulated militia? How well-regulated can this militia be if there is no registration of gun ownership (more on that later). What constitutes arms? Are nukes arms? Are bombs arms? If the goal is to defend against tyranny then it’s worth noting that if the Trump administration turns tyrannical, he’s got the nukes. I think that it’s time that the Supreme Court made a stab at reinterpreting the 2nd amendment.
People will find other ways to kill: Perhaps, but why make it easy for them?
Putting guns on the table massively increases the likelihood of death. Statistically, you are just as likely to be robbed in London as you are in New York City, but you are 54 times more likely to be killed in New York. Are robbers in New York City 54 times more violent than the thugs in London, or, is this about guns?
Arm the teachers Vs. Gun-free zones
It is my opinion that to label a school a “gun-free zone” (in a country where it is so easy to get a gun) is to send your kids to school with a “sitting duck” sign on their back. Surely there is a middle ground to be found between the rhetoric of “gun-free zones” and “arm all teachers”.
Politicians and celebrities pontificating about the need for gun-free areas, from behind their sophisticated security detail, is hypocritical in the extreme. Do they not think that kids in schools deserve the same luxury they are afforded? Is it not possible to have well-trained security guards at each school in America?
The usual reductive retort I hear as an argument against having armed guards at schools is that “more guns equals more violence”. But try this out as a thought experiment: An armed man enters your daughter’s school for the purpose of murdering everyone in sight. Ask yourself these questions.
Is it any comfort to know that up until that point, your daughter knew that her school was a “gun-free zone”?
Would you prefer your daughter start preparing to tackle the gunman with pencils and school chairs than run the risk of getting caught in the crossfire between the gunman and a well-trained security guard?
How can we afford highly trained security guards for each school? Could there be a role for veterans to safeguard the country’s schools? These are questions I would prefer you contend within America, as opposed to “how long until our next school shooting?”
Being a cop is one of the worst jobs in America…because of guns
The fact that guns are present amongst every police encounter means that these interactions are fraught and loaded with a life or death possibility. This leads to some examples of extreme ineptitude and abuses of power from some police officers. This, in turn, leads to the worst behaviour being highlighted and a cultural narrative that the “cops are racist”. Statistically speaking, the police in America are not racist as explored in the 2016 investigation “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force” by African American Harvard Professor, Roland Fryer. Police in America are often undertrained, overworked, overly abusive of power, unaccountable, stressed, afraid, angry, resentful, and brave…all at the same time. This is all exasperated by the fact that they are trying to keep law and order in a country where anyone might have a gun. Perhaps if guns were not as prevalent, we would not see half as many instances of Police shootings.
Potential solution: The Australian model
In 1996 Australia endured a mass shooting in which 35 people were killed. The Conservative government responded by rolling out the most sweeping gun control reform in their nation’s history. They implemented a mandatory gun buyback in which 640,000 guns were recovered in 12 months. It cost half a billion dollars (buyback programs only work if they are mandatory and on a big scale as voluntary gun back is counter-productive). They set up a National Firearm Registry and a firearm license was introduced which required people to have a genuine reason for wanting to purchase a gun (i.e. ‘sport shooting’). The firearm license prohibits certain groups from procuring firearms (such as convicted offenders and those with mental illness). Guns were issued with a serial number that was assigned to their owner who must have a registered firearm license.
The risk of dying by gunshot dropped by 50%
Australia’s gun death rate is 1/10th of the United States
In the 18 years prior to the reform there were 13 mass shootings in Australia (5 or more fatalities) but 0 since the gun control reforms
Gun-related homicides dropped by 59%
Gun-related suicides dropped by 69%
There are more guns in Australia now than in 1996
It astounds me that in America you need to register your dog, car, and boat…but not a gun. You are not obliged to report your gun stolen in America. You ought to be responsible for your gun and what happens with it. The fear amongst gun advocates, I am told, is that the government will come and take away the citizenry’s guns if they know who has them…yet this fear does not extend to cars, dogs or boats?
Make the gun club more exclusive and prestigious
The fact that guns in the U.S. can be legally purchased from private sellers without background checks on the buyers (the so-called “gun-show loophole”) is terrifying. Getting a gun license should be made as difficult as getting a license to fly an airplane, requiring dozens of hours of training. Surely this level of prestige would appeal to gun enthusiasts who pride themselves on being able to handle their gun properly.
In my opinion, the buying and selling of guns should be witnessed by the police or done through a licensed dealer. More than ¾ of American gun criminals get their guns through the “Gun-Show Loophole”, which means there is no record or background check.
Before there is a discussion around “banning guns”, surely this would be a start to at least have a paper trail for them that would encourage people to be more responsible for their property and a higher bar to reach in order to qualify for the responsibility of ownership.
The need for a better conversation in 2019
2018 has proved to be a polarizing year for politics and conversation about difficult topics in general. As the great Bertrand Russel once said, “…the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” Sam Harris also reminds us that we only ever have a choice between “conversation and violence” and that we should pay attention to “the things you choose not to be silent about when they're said in front of you".
I intend to wade into the battle of ideas in the coming year, using outlets like PoliQuads and personal conversations as my arena. I am not happy to surrender the discourse to those shrieking loudly from the extreme fringes. Guns are an example of a topic too important for us to not have a better conversation around and I hope you’ll join me as we get into the weeds in 2019.
'Guns don’t kill people, people do...
But it’s a lot easier to kill people with guns’
Elizabeth Hobson (Libertarianism)
William Costello (Center-Right)
How does America compare to other countries in the developed world?
It is self-evident that the U.S. would rate highly with regards to firearms homicides as compared to much of the rest of the developed world where guns are regulated far more highly. As I mentioned in my piece, what is interesting to me is the correlation between safety and legal gun ownership that can be discerned within states.
Furthermore, Switzerland has the third highest rate of gun ownership in the world with an overall murder rate... Close to zero I’m a little lost with where the suicide rate stat in this piece comes from. A quick Wiki suggests that the U.S. rates at 34th in the global list of countries by suicide rate, under Belgium, for example, where gun laws are restrictive. Not only do I refuse to place the blame for the U.S. suicide rate on guns however, I suggest that people will kill themselves and when guns are difficult to come by they are more likely to choose to die in more painful ways. The most common forms in the U.K. are hanging/suffocation and poisoning. I know how I’d rather go.
Again, it’s unclear where the 1/3 of global mass shootings are U.S. based comes from, I couldn’t find it with a brief search, however (according to Wikipedia) the U.S. rates 94th in the list of countries by intentional homicide rate.
I fully agree with the authors’ assessment of gun free zones in schools, his suggestion strikes me as highly sensible.
I also concur with his sympathy for police who must encounter far higher levels of stress on a regular basis due to the prevalence of guns on the streets they patrol – and, yes, I do believe that U.S. police, as a rule, use their own firearms in response to actual or perceived threats from citizens who have (or they have reason to believe have) guns. However, the number of crimes that are prevented by guns is unquantifiable but potentially significant and citizens should have the right to protect themselves.
The “gun show loophole” is ridiculous – some kind of background check seems reasonable and with 40-60% of gun crime being committed with legally obtained weapons, a registry could be a good idea too. The idea that obtaining a gun license should be as difficult as obtaining a license to fly a plane though shows a charming naïvety when it comes to gun culture, even in the U.K. gun licenses are awarded to children.
Before there is a conversation around banning guns, I’d be willing to compromise with some of the ideas put forward by this author.