I have a sin to confess: over the time this weekend when I should have been composing something profound, spiritual and philosophically outstanding for my first blog of the year, instead I allowed myself to become embroiled in a silly, useless political debate on Facebook. The subject really wasn’t even all that important: gun control. But seeing as I’ve killed a good part of my weekend writing about such absurdities already, I may as well keep going with them here and rattle off a bit of my side of that argument as entertainment for those of you who’ve come here looking for something new to read this week.
This is actually only a matter of life and death for about 90 Americans per day, which is about even with the number killed in car accidents each day. But the car accident figures have been steadily declining in recent years, while the firearm death statistics have been slowly but steadily rising. But then again over half of these firearm deaths are suicides, so if you those don’t bother you morally then you might see the dimensions of this crisis as considerably smaller.
The incidents people tend to get all excited about are the mass murders, like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary school last month (that various religious rectums considered to be a sign of God’s judgment on those who accept homosexuality as part of their culture). Sandy Hook was actually the last and most deadly in a series of 10 mass shooting incidents which occurred in the United States during 2012. All together the journalists from Mother Jones counted up 151 victims from these events, of which roughly half survived their ordeals. So these mass tragedies didn’t even amount to a full percentage point in the annual firearm homicide statistics, in what turned out to be a particularly productive year for mass killings. But even so the question remains, are these deaths really inevitable? If not, what can and should we be doing to stop such killings?
The debate inevitably comes back around to the Second Amendment to the United States’ Constitution:
“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.”
Punctuation conventions have changed in the past 200 years, but that’s beside the point. The debate has raged since this document was (literally) penned as to whether it was intended to give every individual the right to equip himself to kill other people, or whether it the main issue was to give everyone so inclined the right to participate in their local militia, so long as they could do so in a well-regulated manner. Courts have generally leaned towards the former interpretation. As Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” famously pointed out, being afraid of the native peoples they were killing off, the threat of British re-colonization, slave rebellions and later civil rights unrest made the issue of defending of individual household’s capacities to kill people a strong emotional concern for many white people. Thus the Founding Fathers quite clearly envisioned a militia system where every citizen with a gun would be ready to take orders in a well-regulated manner from a state-approved commander, but they would still be allowed to keep their guns at home just in case any uninvited guests with darker skin or a red coat came around unexpectedly.
Since that time slavery has been officially abolished, the native population has been effectively stomped out (everywhere except in Bingo halls and casinos), the British have become nothing more than a mid-sized member of the European Union, securely under the US sphere of influence, and the only hostile foreigners the average American is at any risk of meeting in day to day life are those who have come to the US to sell drugs. In other words, the security concerns of the Founding Fathers have long since ceased to be relevant in everyday life, but that hasn’t reduced Americans’ emotional dependence on their guns. And since there is an established tradition of individuals having the right to bear arms, over a quarter of US households continue to do so; especially rural and southern white households. And all in all the number of guns in the US these days is slightly higher than the number of people.
I find it rather sad and anachronistic that more Americans are aware of the Second Amendment than the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; that they consider the right to be equipped to kill people a more important basic right than the right to get an education, or the right to marry freely, or the right to have access to medical care. But I’ve been told that this is just a sign that I’ve become too Europeanized, and I’ve lost track of the sacred values that God has given to the United States. Perhaps so.
In any case, even among those who consider the Second Amendment to be sacred scripture, never to be violated in terms of keeping guns out of households, there is some sort of consensus that not all the latest advances in military technology should be available to the general public. There isn’t any broad public support for the idea of private individuals and motorcycle clubs having access to weapons grade plutonium for instance. Certain forms of destructive power should be strictly limited to government use, and even there we should ideally have strong international restrictions in place to limit what crazy dictators and revolutionary armies can get their hands on. In practice this doesn’t work nearly so well as in theory, but it’s a beautiful theoretical restriction to talk about.
So how much firepower is actually justifiable to allow private individuals and individual households to have as a show of respect for the traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment? It would have to be at least as much as the single shot muzzle-loaders that the Founding Fathers were familiar with, but it would have to be less than a tactical nuke. That leaves considerable room for negotiation on the matter.
Now I wouldn’t want to underestimate the paranoia of gun fanatics with a siege mentality, but those who are still capable of strategic planning would probably recognize that even if their worst nightmares were to come true they would not need to be able to kill more than 3 or 4 people in the process of their self-defense. Thus for truly self-defensive emergency use anything more than an old fashioned six-shooter is actually redundant. Likewise there is no particular advantage in emergency home defense to being able to fire off more than one round per second; outside of zombie apocalypse video games attackers cannot be expected to come at you any faster than that. So while mass murderers might want something that fires faster and longer, those who are honestly thinking in purely defensive terms have no reason to hold weapons that shoot faster than one round per second, or more than ten rounds per clip. That should be quite enough to keep a van full of any suspiciously “other” looking attackers at bay until the police arrive.
That’s about as much as can be rationally justified by the questionable logic of NRA boss Wayne LaPierre’s claim that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” so no gun purchased for private defensive purposes needs to have more killing power than that. And since a viable rule of thumb is that the less killing power you have out on the streets, the fewer people get killed, one rational starting point in protecting public safety would be to restrict the capacities of legally obtainable personal firearms for civilian use to no more than that.
Now weapons which are intended for declaring war on various forms of winged and antlered wildlife are a slightly different story. These weapons have no need to be loaded or fully assembled when one is not out on the warpath, a safe distance from other human beings… unless you happen to be Dick Cheney. So it is perfectly reasonable to have a law prevents hunting weapons from being kept at home in an assembled, loaded and unlocked state; and the more forms of back-up safety the law requires in this regard, the safer the public will be. And with these weapons as well, if you don’t have the skill to kill your prey with one of your first 10 shots, you really have no business out there hunting to begin with; so there’s no particularly logical reason to allow hunters to carry guns with a higher capacity than that. Likewise rapid fire capacity is of limited practical value in the woods or in the field, so what justification is there for putting that sort of deadly force in civilian hands in the name of sport hunting?
Then there are those who simply find it therapeutic to blast the hell out of inanimate objects. Though questioning where such compulsions actually come from –– and how necessary it is for society to indulge them in general –– is a fascinating matter unto itself, in practical terms this hobby need not be a problem. It is generally something to be indulged within carefully secluded locations, commonly known as gun clubs, and there is no practical reason for the guns used in such forms of amusement to ever leave the gun clubs in question. As long as there are security precautions in place that reliably keep these guns off the streets, there’s no reason why they can’t be as fast or as powerful as necessary for the fetishists in question to achieve their chosen type of satisfaction.
But as the old adage goes, guns don’t kill people; people kill people. More specifically, people who think they can keep themselves safe and solve their social problems using guns kill people. So really the best way to prevent people from killing people is to have very thorough medical, psychological, legal and operational examinations of each perspective gun owner before they are licensed to purchase or carry a gun. Call it the equivalent of the special testing and examinations that my son had to go through before he was allowed to get a taxi driver’s license. Especially when you take the first clause of the Second Amendment into consideration –– arms being born by the general population for purposes of enabling a well-regulated militia –– requiring that the bearers of these arms are capable of using them in a well-regulated manner is perfectly sensible. Those who are not capable of being so regulated, or those who consider such regulation to be a violation of their basic privacy, simply don’t need to be given permission to carry guns; “the people” in general can organize the militias, and less formal types of civil defense if the government so permits, without such individuals being included. If those individuals feel too personally threatened to sleep securely without a weapon at their side, what they need is not personal firepower but public hospitalization.
Even then there will always be clever psychopaths and emotionally unstable individuals who will slip through the cracks of legal gun control. The regulations suggested above would not eliminate all firearms deaths in the United States. At best enacting Canadian or European style gun control laws in the US would bring the shooting death rates down to something like a higher end European level: only cutting fatalities by something like 70 % — saving a mere 20,000 or so lives per year. (That’s actually roughly half the number of lives that will be saved each year by “Obamacare,” but that’s rather of beside the point.) To get somewhere closer to an OECD average level in such matters the US will need to improve its national mental health care system (especially for all of the traumatized veterans returning from the wars Bush started in the Middle East) an begin a public service and public education advertising campaign similar to the one used to make people aware of the dangers of smoking.
In fact the parallels between smoking and bearing arms actually run considerably deeper than that. Traditions of gun ownership and tobacco use are both based on an 18th and 19th century understanding of how one might go about living a healthy and secure life. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries both of these grew into huge and incredibly profitable businesses, in turn having a significant influence on the ways in which US government institutions evolved. But during the course of the mid-20th century it became apparent that the products of both industries were significantly reducing people’s life expectancies, and a rush was on to find ways of keeping the general public from realizing this. Both the cigarette and gun manufacturers thus initiated elaborate public relations campaigns, creating images of their products as sexy, strength-building, life enhancing and capable of bringing people into closer contact with nature. Both could not have helped but know better. The tobacco industry’s con game in this regard was thoroughly exposed in the 1970s; the arms manufacturers’ lobbying organization, the NRA, has stayed operational for considerably longer, but with little remaining credibility in the eyes of anyone capable of reading the statistical chart shown here.
In case some of you are not capable of interpreting that chart, it basically shows that the only countries with firearm death rates equivalent to or higher than that of the United States are those which have major business interests selling drugs in the US and buying guns in return, and those which have been through traumatic civil wars or major coups within the past generation and which remain deeply divided from the dynamics of those struggles. That basically accounts for all of them. What puts the US up among such nations is that no other country in the world has such an obscenely influential arms industry promotion organization as the US does in the NRA.
I strongly believe that NRA, like the tobacco lobby, needs to be shut down and prosecuted for deceiving the American people into buying products that have resulted in millions of unnecessary deaths, all for purposes of increasing their corporate profits. To deny that this has happened or to say they didn’t know any better is blatantly absurd. There is no reason to be particularly optimistic about the current crop of politicians having the balls to do this, but this is a form of action that the American people need to start calling out for, especially those who are educated enough to recognize the industry’s intentional deception for what it is.
My reason for spouting about this topic continuously is somewhat a reaction to one particular absurdity I became aware of in recent years: my life was statistically in less danger walking around as a crazy white man on the streets of South Africa than it was traveling around visiting family and friends in the US! There is no rational reason to allow American society to continue deteriorating, or to continue falling behind the rest of the world, in these sorts of ways. Hopefully within the coming years enough people will recognize the absurdity of this situation to get a political process in motion that might fix it.