A final word from me on the US gun law discussion

This is not a political site and I don’t intend to prolong the gun talk here, though I do intend to follow what happens closely in my own personal time. I thought it fitting, however, to present a few final thoughts on the issue borne out of the discussion that started yesterday in this post.

Firstly, I want to acknowledge everyone’s input and thank all but one of you for participating in a civil way. I also want to acknowledge that my post was written in the heat of the moment with a fair amount of passion and featured a proposition that is not workable in the real world.

People in the US have guns – a lot of them. The estimate I’ve read this week is that there are around 280 million firearms in the US, with only around 3 million of those in the hands of the military and less than 1 million in the hands of the police (to be fair, the military also have other, more effective hardware at their disposal).

As a few commenters have noted, any legislation made today is going to see a lot of guns being hidden, buried underground for years only to be dug up later on. If change is going to happen then it will need to be founded on cultural change, which is a lot harder to do. It implies a desire on the part of the people themselves to change and as we saw in comments, that doesn’t exist in everyone.

There are a few positions being taken that I honestly can’t understand. I’ve seen these both on this site and elsewhere:

Defence from government – I’d really like to know what the situation would look like where a democratically elected United States government needs to be forcibly overthrown by US citizens. I can’t envision that situation, not one that preserves the United States as a democracy, at least. I’d be genuinely interested in learning what people think the circumstances are where that might happen.

Defence from invasion – The United States is not likely to ever see large-scale ground force invasion. The thought is quite ludicrous. You have the strongest military in the world and I can’t imagine anyone mounting a sustained attack, especially not with the thought of occupation in mind. The United States, like every other country, is vulnerable to another 9/11 style attack but a stockpile of weapons in the hands of citizens is not going to stop that happening.

Separate the ‘crazies’ – One question: how? Who gets to play judge and decide which citizens with no record of wrongdoing are dangerous and need to be segregated from society? The two major atrocities this year have been committed by intelligent but somewhat socially inept and awkward young men who up until the moment of their crimes, had not done anything wrong. This latest one was committed by a young man supposedly inflicted with Aspergers (an autism spectrum disorder that has no correlation with such violence). I knew a bunch of kids like that growing up and I know kids who would fit that generic profile now, including family members with autism spectrum conditions. None are criminals nor have antisocial tendencies, even if they’re different from you and I. The thought of this line makes me shudder, to be honest.

Ban cars, alcohol, axes, golf clubs, etc – These are strawman arguments that I believe are used solely to take the attention from the real issue: weapons that are designed solely to kill. Anything can have a second function as a weapon, but nothing kills as efficiently as a gun, especially semi-automatic assault rifles and the like.

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There were a couple of other things mentioned that I think are especially valid. The primary one was mental health care. I didn’t know the situation for mentally ill people in the US was so dire but I’ve become more aware of that as I’ve read through people’s comments and various articles following this tragedy.

Given the upheaval in the US over regular health care, god only knows how the situation is going to improve for people with mental illness who don’t have the resources to pay for their own treatment. It should definitely be part of the conversation, or more likely a conversation all on its own. But I maintain that the blanket availability of weaponry to the general public gives such people an instant, easy and quite lethal outlet, potentially on a very large scale, should they snap.

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I still believe wholeheartedly that societies without large numbers of guns are safer societies. It might have got lost in my first article on this subject but I think there are legitimate places for guns. I can recognise the excellent design principles in these as machines and I can see how the discipline of target shooting can be an enticing human challenge.

I still don’t think it’s a right, however, nor that it should be available to everyone carte blanche. IMHO, the ownership of guns should be subject to rigorous regulation with the range of guns available and the size of a collection being restricted.

The police and the military have genuine needs in terms of law enforcement and defence. They come first and foremost. Other people who genuinely need guns (farmers, etc) come next.

Working within the likely constraints of a reality where guns will be held in private hands, I personally think there should be much tighter controls for private owners if regular citizens are to hold firearms. Owning a gun shouldn’t be a right, but it’s definitely a massive responsibility and all the good character checks in the world wouldn’t have prevented this latest atrocity because the guns belonged to the kid’s mother. People should be more accountable for their firearms, where they’re stored and how they themselves are licenced and tested.

And if anyone can pose an argument for the existence of military style assault weapons and high capacity cartridges being sold to private owners then I’m all ears (the enrichment of the company who makes the weapons is not a valid argument).

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Here are a small handful of the stories I’ve read online over the last few days, some of which have been provided by people in comments right here on site (thanks).

Gun Laws – Change is possible (CNN) – written by an Australian academic professor specilising in the public health effects of gun ownership, proliferation and violence. A good study on what happened here back in 1996 and how.

GunPolicy.org – the website setup by that Australian author, with statistics from around the world that you can access on all matters relating to guns.

Do We Have The Courage To Stop This (NY Times) – Addressing the need for tighter gun regulation.

Tactical Reality (Talking Point Memo) – An excellent article about gun culture by an experienced gun owner. The must-read of this list.

A Land Without Guns (The Atlantic) – The article about Japan that I linked to in my original piece, studying the Japanese experience.

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Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts. This is a drop in the ocean when it comes to the gun debate and totally inconsequential in terms of the American outcome, but it’s a matter of interest to many and not just a US thing.

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61 Comments

  1. Hi Steve,

    As you’d already be aware, I disagree with your sentiments on firearms in general, but I do agree wholeheartedly with one point you made – America needs a change far beyond mere law tinkering to reverse its preoccupation with violence. Even if every gun was banned, confiscated and destroyed tomorrow, the racial hatred and socio-economic disadvantage would still remain, and the mentally-disturbed cast astray by its dog-eat-dog mindset would still fall through the cracks of a still very uneven health system.

    The problem is – and will always be – the beholder of the weapon and their intent, whether it be a gun, car, bomb, bat or clenched fist. I realise that for scared people and opportunistic politicians, guns themselves are an easy target to point at and ban, etc., but in doing so you’re ignoring the full problem. After all, hundreds of thousands of (legally own and lawfully used) firearms were used in Australia today and no one died, save some tasty and/or feral animals and paper and clay targets. Despite their inherent dangers when misused (like any other powerful tool, mind you), guns by themselves do not cause harm nor create violence.

    A final thought: if we decided how 100% population could live based on what 0.0001% did (wrong), we have to ban a lot more than just firearms. Cars…. bikes… beer… contact sports… Panadol… sticks… bricks… stones… the list goes on. Can’t say I’m keen on being wrapped in cotton wool.

    Incidentally, I’d take anything Philip Alpers says with a grain of salt – that article is full of errors of fact. If people are genuinely interested in hearing things from ‘the other’ perspective (and if you’re going to wax lyrical about gun control, you’ll get further knowing both sides of the story) I suggest paying a visit to gunfacts.info and reading the PDF on gun control myths… over 100 pages of properly annotated statistics.

    Cheers, Ben.
    (Once anti-gun, now a happy hunter).

  2. Read the post (again) please, Ben.

    It deals with the strawman arguments about cars, knives, etc. It’s just diversion. Guns, especially autos and semi-autos are the flashpoint nexus between someone snapping and being able to kill large numbers of people in a very short period of time. That’s the primary issue here.

    I agree with you on what would remain in the US and yeah, I think the intensely competitive nature of society there produces some great things, but at great human cost in some usually unseen instances. That’s the cultural conversation that needs to be had, I guess.

    I also saw your postings on FB tonight. Sorry mate, but the McVeigh one was feeble and sadly, it’s not the first time I’ve seen that line. There’s a massive difference between someone like him, determined to do evil and calculated about it for a long period of time, and someone who snaps and has a comparatively (much) shorter journey and chooses an easy-to-obtain gun to enact their anger.

    You can’t legislate against stupid. If you could, half our state would live on Sarah Island. But you can regulate the unnecessarily dangerous tools they might use to kill large numbers of other people should they have a massive brain fart. To me, stopping the risk of those kids suffering the fate that they did last week is more important than the leisurely pursuit of a few dead bunnies. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, by the way, but if it did come down to one or the other…..

    That remark you just made about hundreds of guns being used in Australia today with no-one dying – it’s kinda glib and sadly, I’d be seen by some as being opportunistic if I pointed out that it’s not something you can say about the US last Friday (or any other day for that matter). They do indeed have their legitimate use but the consequences for illegitimate use are unbearable.

    1. We should probably just agree to disagree, but briefly…

      By all means label such comparisons diversionary if you wish, but from an objective point of view it is a perfectly reasonable argument to be had. We live – mostly without thinking much about it – in a risk vs reward environment. Cars are a most apt example because despite the many deaths and serious injuries their use cause every year, few if anyone seems compelled to ban them – or even limit speeds to a non-lethal limit. I’d suggest that this is because we as a society consider the benefit of fast and convenient travel over long distances far outweighs the small but statistically relevant risk we place to ourselves and anyone else on the same stretch of road each time we get in our car. A vehicle at speed driven by a drunk and/or drugged individual is a very dangerous weapon.

      RE: the McVeigh thing. I’ll grant you it is not a be-all end-all argument, but given the sheer focus on guns (and guns only) right now, it seemed a fair point to make. Guns are but one option for the criminally minded and deranged. And yes, one can’t really whip up a carbomb in a frenzied hurry (unless you’re MacGyver, presumably), but to use the vehicular analogy once more, it doesn’t take much effort at all to jump in a car and drive at people in a crowded mall or the like and achieve a frighteningly similar result.

      I can appreciate that it is somewhat difficult to see the positive aspects of firearm ownership when you have little to no exposure to their legitimate uses – I used to be like that myself. But here’s the reality: hunting has been a human trait since day dot. Not only is hunting my own food a perfectly natural thing to do, but I’m also eating healthier meat and doing my bit to rid Australia of feral pest animals that cause massive destruction of our environment. Target shooting in its many disciplines are Olympic sports, widely practised across the world. Both are extremely safe sports; deaths in this country at competitive events are nil, while hunting accidents account for a handful of unfortunate deaths per year. More people on average get hurt from one weekend of AFL. I remember reading an article some time ago (will try and dig it up) that stated that, on average, 1 or 2 people die on golf courses (usually from heart attack, occasionally from lightning) each month in Australia. Yes, golf! Sounds mad but I suppose when you consider its main demographic, the occasional heart attack by the 15th is to be expected. Lawn bowls might be worse, heaven forbid.

      Glib opportunism? No, just the reality of statistics. Firearms get used every day across Australia; mostly they’re used responsibly and safety for legitimate purposes and no one gets hurt, but sadly about 300 people or so are killed by their misuse each year (~80% are suicides, incidentally). It’s no different to vehicles; many millions of car journeys occur every day in perfect safety, but sadly ~1300 people are killed on our roads each year. Medical negligence in the country causesChrist, even forklifts kill a handful of people annually, yet many of us (yours truly included) clock up considerable hours in them each day. Like I said, risk versus return.

      In the US, around 12,000 are killed each year by guns – a horrendous number, even bearing in mind their 300M+ population – yet defensive use of firearms prevents crime (including potential murders) some 2.5M times per year (Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Kleck and Gertz, Fall 1995, cited in gunfacts.info PDF). For every firearm related death (suicide, homicide or accident), 13 lives are saved (Unintentional Firearm Deaths, 2001, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control). So you can appreciate why a decent slice of the US take gun rights so seriously.

      Look, I’m not trying to dismiss what is an absolute tragedy as a mere statistical aberration. Clearly the US has a problem with these sorts of violent crimes and indeed it is probably time the country introduced a properly implemented licencing system to make it more difficult for crims and nutters to access to firearms. But if anyone thinks that banning so-called “assault rifles” or limiting how many rounds you can fit in a magazine will instantly solve the issue, they’re delusional. Any law or bill introduced will be immediately undermined by the illegal gun trade – as has occurred here in Australia since ’96 – and it still doesn’t address the underlying reasons why these idiots do the horrible things they do in the first place. Better policing, better mental health care, better education and better life prospects for the socio-economically challenged would.

      Alas that stuff costs money and would take decades to implement and show results, which doesn’t suit a 3-4 year election cycle. So instead politicians will make policy for show, of little to any real benefit, to appease the scared masses and win votes, and piss away a considerable amount of public money that could have otherwise be spent putting cops on the beat, teachers in schools and doctors and nurses in hospitals.

      And that’s a real tragedy.

      1. Yep, we’ll disagree. Absolutely. I do not want our country heading down the US path when it comes to guns and I’m damn pleased JH enacted those laws in ’96. Yes, there is an illegal gun trade but it’ll work in far smaller numbers than the legal trade did and that’s a good thing.

        A local example of guns in homes being dangerous – There were a series of shootings in Glenorchy earlier this year. It was one family being mad at the other and doing a drive-by then the other seeing them coming and getting their rifle out. Nothing was prevented. The only reason someone’s not dead is because they either couldn’t or didn’t aim straight. Bottom line is the only reason some people feel they need a gun is because someone else has one. I say take more away rather than add to the problem. MAD worked when it was two nation states with nukes who knew each other and knew the epic consequences. It doesn’t work with two hot-heads who don’t know each other and forego consequences in a fit of rage.

        I’m not against hunting. I’m not into it myself at all but I understand the link between humans and hunting and the fact that some people do it out of genuine need, or because they enjoy eating game. But as I wrote in another comment, quoting a US gun owner on ABC television this morning, it’s a poor hunter that needs a semi-automatic rifle.

        The car thing IS a strawman. Yes, better health care for mentally ill, etc, is all needed. Nobody argues with that. But those assault rifles (why is everyone putting them in quotation marks these days?) are absolutely unnecessary in private hands. And everybody seems to be sidetracking the discussion with “if you want to look at my guns then you have to look at this”. No, you don’t. You can look at it in isolation and look at the other thing in isolation if the conditions warrant it (which, in the instance of cars, they don’t).

        Here’s the litmus test – how many people raising the car issue are writing right now to the AAA (in America) or the RACT here in Tassie and pushing those consumer groups to advocate for cars to be banned? How many of you are actually serious about it? The answer – absolutely none, because it’s a diversion to keep the conversation away from where it’s really at.

        McVeigh – said my bit and I’ll stick to it.

        As to your stats, I’d prefer to see the source than just take quotes from a website designed specifically to “drive a long rusty nail into the gun control lobby”. I’ve been spending some time on some pro-gun sites today and the rhetoric there is frightening. If the guys behind that guninfo site are the same, then I’ll pass, thanks, and try to directly source some stats from academia. You poo-poohed the Uni of Sydney guy the other day, even though he’s in favour of guns (but also in favour of gun controls). I can’t believe an intelligent bloke such as yourself would pass on his impartial stats and 3rd party references (direct links to news articles from reputable known agencies) without proper consideration.

        Some of those pro-gun sites have amazed me today – people calling quite vehemently for teachers to be armed in schools, for students to not pass high school unless they’ve completed units in gun use and marksmanship. Completely freaking loony stuff and all driven by fear.

        Again, I’d invite you to read my text – I’m living in a realistic world where I know that you can’t eradicate 280 million guns from the US. But assault rifles are absolutely unnecessary in private hands and proper, enforced regulation would help sort a few of the owners out. If the pollies can get that together and have it in place for a generation (it’s going to take that long to make any meaningful change), I think it’d be a better place. This is as much a cultural discussion as it is a weapons discussion and I hope they can progress it.

        And here’s hoping that the other discussions that need to be held, are held with some vigour. Maybe the money received for proper gun licensing could be channeled into better mental health care. Nah.

        1. “I do not want our country heading down the US path”

          Nor I. The fact our country went 190 years without substantial firearm regulations and still maintained low rates of homicide and crime speaks much of our culture and attitude. Even amongst firearm owners , opinion divides sharply when you bring in the idea of self-defense/conceal carry in Australia.

          “Yes, there is an illegal gun trade but it’ll work in far smaller numbers than the legal trade did”

          Well you would hope, but I have to say the spike in gang related gun crime in Sydney/Melbourne and even down here in Tassie does worry me immensely. Given the evidence that such syndicates are capable of smuggling in whatever they want in utter deference to our laws and border controls, surely it is obvious that more laws wouldn’t make a difference.

          “it’s a poor hunter that needs a semi-automatic rifle.”

          Yes – anyone who needs 5 shots to bring down an animal needs more time punching holes in paper. Any hunter worth a damn believes in the one-shot takedown philosophy and won’t take a shot unless (a) the shot is safe and (b) an instantaneous kill is achievable. A wounded animal is unnecessarily cruel (contrary to popular opinion/propaganda, the vast majority of hunters actually take animal welfare extremely seriously) and a prolonged death spoils the meat (from the adrenalin and other compounds that get pumped through a panicked animal).

          That said, ill-placed shots still happen from time to time regardless of how much care you take; could be a whiff of wind, or simply the creature moving erratically (as they tend to do) as a shot is taken. In that case, a quick, accurate follow up shot is important… and it is easier to do with a semi-automatic. They cycle rounds quicker (obviously) and the cycling mechanism itself absorbs a lot of the recoil which makes resighting the target much quicker. We may be only talking a few seconds difference between a self-loader versus a repeater design, but if you’ve ever seen a wounded rabbit or deer move, it can be the difference between quickly putting the animal out of its misery… and losing it in the bushes for it to bleed out slowly and painfully.

          That is one rationale for semi-automatic firearms. There are others, such as pest control and recoil management in competition shooting. And yes, they make shooting “easier”. Given we seem to like automatic-transmission cars and coffee machines that grind the beans themselves, “easier” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “bad”.

          “how many people raising the car issue are writing right now to the AAA (in America) or the RACT here in Tassie and pushing for cars to be banned?”

          None – because everyone (well, virtually everyone) drives cars and because we depend on them so much, we seem to tolerate hundreds of road deaths and tens of thousands of injuries as some kind of acceptable collateral damage. In this country at least, most people don’t own or use firearms; the moment some random tragedy like this occurs, all and sundry seem all to willing to sacrifice the legal and legitimate pastimes of people they don’t know – and who’s passion they don’t understand or care for beyond their own fears – in the vain hope that by banning enough things it won’t happen again.

          Forgive my shortness on this matter; it doesn’t really bother if someone doesn’t care for firearms or hunting, etc. then that’s fine by me. Each to their own. It’s the “I don’t like or understand guns so therefore no one should have them” statements that really irritate me, and there’s been an awful lot of that kind of selfish and hypocritical mentality of late. I’m also a bit sick of the whole “ban everything” mentality that is creeping over our society, but that’s getting off topic.

          “As to your stats, I’d prefer to see the source than just take quotes from a website designed specifically to “drive a long rusty nail into the gun control lobby” ”

          All the statistics quoted in the gunfacts.info PDF are referenced to their original sources. Pro-gun advocates too realise the value of properly-attributed documents that can withstand critical analysis 😉 Curiously it is the anti-gun lobby in this country who are good at making up statistics to suit their purposes, though let’s face it, the masses tend not to independently verify everything they see on TV.

          The other stats came from the Aust. Bureau of Statistics website, and I usually refer to a book called “The Samurai, The Mountie and The Cowboy”, which is an excellent if now slightly old (1992) comparative analysis of various countries’ firearms legislations in context of their cultural and history. It is a long, heavy, academic read but I’d strongly, strongly recommend it to anyone with more than a passing interest in the current debate. It is massively attributed and quite even-handed with the whole pro-gun/anti-gun arguments. It also provides probably the best explanation I’ve found yet of how the USA’s history has shaped its gun culture and why “yanks are the way they are”.

          “You poo-poohed the Uni of Sydney guy the other day, even though he’s in favour of guns”

          I’ve never, ever read anything by Alpers where he supports gun ownership. It certainly wasn’t in that CNN article – please shoot me a link of this reference as I’d be genuinely interested to read it. Believe me, Philip is no fan of guns, nor a qualified Professor, nor particularly good at framing watertight arguments against them – http://www.ssaa.org.au/research/2005/2005-07-22_philip-alpers-a-most-dubious-researcher.html . He didn’t even get the number of confiscated firearms in the 1996 buyback right (it was 648,000, not 1,000,000. I guess a million sounds a lot better).

          The anti-gun lobby in Australia is made up of a handful of people; in addition to Alpers, there’s Simon Chapman, Samantha Lee, John Crook, Roland Browne, Rebecca Peters (original cheer girl of the 1996 laws) and in recent years Greens politicians Lee Rhiannon and David Shoebridge. That’s it. All would happily firearms wiped from the planet completely; looks for “Great UN Gun Debate” on YouTube and you’ll see her berate a competition target shooter for undertaking an (Olympic) sport that “kills” and to “get another sport”. An utter nut bag.

          “people calling quite vehemently for teachers to be armed in schools, for students to not pass high school unless they’ve completed units in gun use and marksmanship. Completely freaking loony stuff and all driven by fear.”

          Agreed. I heard about the bulletproof backpacks for sale earlier today and could only shake my head. I don’t know whether teachers SHOULD be mandated to carry firearms as part of their job; if the teacher is CCW licenced, their school allows guns on-campus, then perhaps yes, it is their choice. And perhaps the youth of today might show a little more respect to their teachers if they were packing heat 😉 I think target shooting should be offered as a school sport (where the school has the resources to do it properly) but again, only by choice and not mandatory for all. I don’t think a bunch of parents not wanting their kids to do target shooting is justification for NO ONE to be able to do shooting… after all, if your mother rocked up to school and demanded the Footy program be scrapped because she didn’t want you playing, she’d be laughed out the door.

          “But those assault riles (why is everyone putting them in quotation marks these days?) are absolutely unnecessary in private hands.”

          The term “assault rifle” is rather ambiguous and ill-defined and increasingly is abused by the media and politicians to describe any firearm that looks black and scary. Generally speaking an assault rifle is a military firearm with selective fire (auto, burst, semi auto), the ability to take large capacity mags and other physical traits such as pistol grips, the ability to attach a bayonet or flash suppressor, folding stocks and so forth. However the media and anti-gun types like to use the term to include look-a-like semi automatics and even straight-pull bolt guns too, which is where the guys in the States get irate at the term.

          In NZ they have a (stricter) class of firearms licence which allows MSSAs (military style semi automatics) to be owned and used. Unlike regular ‘sporting’ firearms (be they bolt, lever, pump or semi auto), MSSA have to be registered with the police and licensees are placed under much greater scrutiny (not a bad thing, in my opinion). The irony is that, functionally, an an AR15 (an MSSA) and a Mini-14 (a semi auto sporting rifle) are pretty much identical. Both use the same calibre, both can take large mags and achieve a highish rate of fire… yet because one looks like something out of Halo and the other looks like a regular wood-stocked rifle, they’re treated completely differently – because of aesthetics.

          Anyway, that’s enough for tonight. My only closing thought is: why when that Norwegian dickwad shot 80-something teenagers and let off two bombs, there wasn’t half the outcry and calls for Norway to tighten its laws that we’re seeing now?

        2. “Maybe the money received for proper gun licensing could be channeled into better mental health care. Nah.”

          It’s not as silly (or rather, unrealistic) as it sounds. Game fees for duck hunting, for example, have been channelled into wetlands restoration work, which combined with hunters volunteering their time, have helped dock populations increase sizeably.

          Having licence/permit fees cover mental health programs would, in my opinion, help US gun owners ‘swallow the bitter pill’, if you get my point. However I’d suggest that any revenue would be lost (and them some) to maintaining the licencing system itself.

  3. In response to your first question: Under what circumstances would we in the US need to overthrow a democratically elected government? I point you to World War II-era Europe. These events are only 70-80 years removed from us now. Both Germany and Italy had democratically elected governments that went amok/easily tipped over. We ourselves had the same crisis with our own Civil War (War Between the States if you must) only 140-150 years ago. The Russians now have a democratically elected government in name only. It is not a tin-foil-hat scenario.

    About the crazies and who should be cordoned off from the rest of us. If that makes you shudder, I certainly understand. I don’t like it, either. However, think of the huge risks that we take with these people every day, even without guns. Our tolerance must be tempered by prudence in some measure. All arguments I’ve seen in favor of permissive treatment of mentally unstable come back to emotional ‘it-shouldn’t-be-this-way pleas. I think that we have to rethink our attachment to ‘everyone gets the same results’ mentality.

    Finally, I agree that something must be done. I also agree that automatic and very rapid-fire semi-automatics should be heavily regulated and they are. Every automatic weapon in the US legally is annually registered and cataloged by the government. Perhaps the semi-automatic weapons should be, too.

    The big thing in my mind is still separating the crazies from weapons of any kind whether they be firearms, cars, gasoline, knives, chainsaws, etc. I also think that this ‘blaze of glory’ mentality must be checked. We’ve got to stop our media from creating anti-heroes out of these whacked-out criminals.

    It’s just not as easy as legislating guns out of existence. Unfortunately.

    1. Right there with you, Eggs and Grits. Very well said.

      As with millions of other Americans, I have a very heavy heart. This tragedy should have never have happened, and several moments of terror cut 26 innocent lives very, very short.

      At the same time, I think the much bigger issue lies in what causes someone to hurt random, innocent people? What are the warning signs? In most recent cases that come to memory (mind you, I live relatively close to Chardon, Ohio, where a teenaged shooter killed four classmates in February), mental illess has played a factor. It appears that it played a factor in Aurora, CO, and in Sandy Hook, too. I think, for many of us, there is much about mental illness that we do not know, do not recognize, and do not understand. And here, as in other places, the unthinkable happens. The question is – how do we address THAT?

      Legislating guns out of existence isn’t the answer- there are all kinds of statistics that will show you that when they are permitted and regulated, crime rates will drop. And then, there are cities like Chicago and DC that prohibit them, and they have some of the highest gun-related murder stats around. The bad guys will still get them, and there will be an underground market for them.

      On a parting note, when studying abroad in London, I learned that living in a gun prohibited place does not guarantee safety from random acts of violence. While spending a morning filing a report with the police (a would be robber broke into my room), I heard sirens in the background. It wasn’t until hours later that I discovered that a powerful plastic explosive was diffused by Scotland Yard minutes (3) before detonation- just right across the street. Of course, mental illness wasn’t the cause- it was the IRA, but still. There are other ways to hurt a lot of innocent people.

      My two cents’ –
      Jen West

    2. Again, I’m absolutely floored this morning waking up and reading some of this. Gobsmacked.

      That you could equate 21st century America with Germany in the 1930’s is mind boggling. The historical, geographic and geopolitical differences alone make it unthinkable (same with the Russia comparison). It makes me think I have more faith in your country and it’s people than what you do. I cannot imagine someone progressing through your mainstream political system further than an election for dog catcher with such extremist views.

      I don’t want to touch the ‘crazies’ topic again. It’s too close to home for me and I’ll say something that I regret.

      “Perhaps the semi-automatic weapons should be (regulated), too.” – that’s the first shred of hope I’ve got here. I’ll take it.

      And on the anti-heroes thing, I completely agree. It doesn’t mean you don’t talk about the issue and the right people learn what they can about the offender, but any glorification is wrong.

      1. I do not equate anything with 1930’s Germany. Nothing at all. What I’m saying is that well-meaning people fall into bad traps and there are many examples in recent history.

        You speak as if there will always be fair elections. People in Russia thought that, too.

        That’s the point.

        That’s it, you have the last word (if you so choose).

        1. The people in russia has always been ruled if not by communism so by cruel “kings” for centuries and they do generally not know what democracy is and understanding this is important if you want to understand whats going on there. The world is older than current US gun laws. You speak as if the solution to all mankind’s problems is the way of John Wayne and as if he was a brilliant thinker.

    3. So exactly how do we separate the crazies and more important the aspiring crazies from us none crazies? Do we put everyone showing the slightest sign of being not “normal” on a train to a suitable place? Perhaps should even everyone not normal enough to understand that a wearing a gun holster while shopping groceries is the way to go also be put on that train? There is nothing in this world i despise as much as people ignorant, clueless, in lack of acceptance for fellow humans as someone arguing the solution is tho “get rid of the crazies”. If you think that’s the solution to bad things happening you are either clueless or a fascist. I don’t think you are a fascist.

        1. Yes you are right. But now and then individuals say the stupidest things and with some beers added one easily get so mad about the stupidity of a individual opinion that one don’t care about the saner side of the individual. Skal Kompis

  4. This comes from someone that has never been in the US, so maybe I don’t really know how about the bonds between the guns and some US population.

    My first question is, why does anyone need a weapon? To defend yourself from the bad guys out there?
    If this is the case, wouldn’t be a small calibre pistol enough?

    Maybe people like weapons, as I like cars. Wouldn’t be enough to be part of a Rifle club, where you could shoot from time to time with a bigger weapon?

    But maybe people would like to see that semi-automatic rifle in their house every day, like I like to see my Saab in front of my house every day. Wouldn’t be enough to have that weapon, not a copy, but in a form that you can’t shoot with it? (Don’t know the English word now)

    I can’t understand why somebody needs to have a weapon and cartridges in his house.

    If policemen have to explain what has happened to any bullet that leaves the police station but doesn’t come back (this is the case in Europe), why should private people buy bullets at Wall*mart without having to explain what are they going to do with those bullets.

    As I’ve said, I’ve never been in the US, and maybe if I sometime visit this wonderful land I will understand why so many private people own a weapon, but now I can’t find a single reason to justify the private ownership of weapons.

      1. So do people in Europe, but I still can’t see the need of having the guns and the bullets at home.

        I can’t understand that ” hunting” thing, and even less when I hear all the accidents where people shoot other hunters because they thought that could be a deer. Hunters over here must wear a bright orange jacket, just to not be shoot by other hunters, just crazy!!!!

        1. SaabRedJ, on the (valid) question of defense, we could consider the same question in the context of the police. Why do our police forces feel the need to have paramilitary tactics and weaponry? Because regardless of what they choose to do, the criminals are and will be better armed. A small caliber handgun is better than nothing for defense, it doesn’t stand up to a shotgun, submachine gun or rifle unless it’s in the hands of a *highly* trained and experienced person. The average person when confronted by violence suffers a restriction of awareness and motor function, making it very difficult to track with the eye, move to cover and line up short sights on a target. It is necessity, just like the (again valid) argument that we needed nukes to discourage cold war Russia from using their nukes. And, as then, it escalates and goes completely out of control and proportion. A similar comparison might be made, what if we had given up our nucleur arsenal, would Russia have left us alone? Right or wrong, sensical or not, without resolving societal issues things could easily get much worse by taking legal firearms from lawful owners who cared about those laws.

          As for hunting accidents, how the hell can you not see the 3,000 pound loud red object in front of you, yet people slam into other cars all the time. As careful as you can be – and yes absolutely there are too many asshats out there hunting – accidents will happen. Training, visibility, restrictions… nothing can overcome human nature.

  5. Re: your comment on the previous post about vehicles and mass murder, please refer here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers

    Wikipedia lists 33 vehicular killings of 14 or more victims, the majority in societies without guns. In the same post: 15 school killings of the same magnitude, only five of which are in the United States. In terms of workplace killings, the Asian continent tops the list of worst killings with 9 of the top 15.

    This isn’t a US-only problem, and it can’t be isolated to guns alone. Those are my points. The US gets a lot of attention because our news media feeds on it. In China, these events are not reported widely, nor are they in many Asian cultures.

    Look, we aren’t perfect, but balance and moderation. This is a global issue, and we can’t extract guns from the equation in our lifetimes. Let’s focus on what we CAN do.

    1. Thanks for the link. I obviously couldn’t find the right search terms whe looking for it yesterday.

      Sadly, though, I’m once again amazed that you’d use this as an attempted block against talking about US gun laws. The Wikipedia list isn’t definitive but as you’ve pointed it out, let’s run with it.

      You’re citing 33 incidents with 14 or more ‘victims’. Without intending to trivialise any of them, the difference between victims and deaths has to be noted. 20 of those 33 incidents had resulted in three deaths or less. The number of those incidents resulting in a double-digit death count is only 5.

      On the same page, the US has four of the top 10 school shooting incidents and three of those four resulted in more deaths than the worst of those vehicular killings worldwide.

      Yes, vehicular murder is terrible, but in terms of the gun discussion, it’s a mild diversion at best.

      Statistics can be used in multiple ways but none of them alter the discussion as framed in my entries on this – that the US could benefit from reviewing its gun laws. The fact that other countries need to have a look at themselves as well doesn’t alter this.

      This discussion isn’t about death by madman. It’s about death by madman at the hands of a gun, which is by far the most common way that it happens and in my opinion, so common because it’s so easy.

      ——

      I hope the US does change its gun laws. I hope it makes semi-autos illegal in private hands and I hope it makes gun ownership far more regulated than it is now for those that want to own them.

      That is something you CAN do now, even if it represents generational change rather than instant change.

  6. I didn’t read any of the comments here or on other sites about the US gun laws. It’s mostly a pointless discussion where nobody ever seems to win.

    In countries with strict gun laws, tragedies with guns also happen. Breivik in Norway and the gunman in the Netherlands who killed 6 people last year are only two examples. Attacks with knifes are common in the Netherlands. As long as there are deranged individuals that want to kill or hurt, they will find a way to do it.

      1. The US is such a big country, more things obviously happen here. When a gunman in Norway goes on a rampage, you don’t automatically think all Europeans are crazy killers carrying guns. Having lived half my life in Europe and half in the US, I actually feel safer in most parts of the US than in Europe.

        1. That’s a great observation, and one that I’ve tried to highlight, too.

          Perception is so hard to integrate when you hear ‘US, US, US’ and ‘Norway, England, Switzerland’, you don’t equate those two. And yet, the population is roughly the same US/Europe.

        2. I’ve travelled to the US 4 times and to Europe maybe 10 or more times in the last 5 years and I can unequivocally say the opposite. I didn’t countenance venturing outdoors for a walk at night in Detroit, LA or Boston but I didn’t have a second thought doing that in suburban London, Gothenburg, Frankfurt or Geneva.

          Much of that is down to my own preconceived ideas, of course. But to say that one’s particular experiences are definitive is not a conclusive argument.

          1. Every city has its problems, Wulf. Even sleepy little Hobart. All I’m saying is that I never felt intimidated anywhere I travelled in Europe, but felt directly intimidated particularly in Venice Beach and Detroit (and that was during the day). None of that’s conclusive, it’s just my experience.

          2. Crime rates are all over the place in the USA. You were probably right not to walk around at night in Detroit, but would have been fine in LA. Of course, a lot depends on where you are: I’m sure there are places in Detroit where you would be OK and the opposite in LA. Here’s a few random statistics of rate per 100,000 citizens in 2010.
            Murder Violent Crime
            New Orleans 72.8 727
            Detroit 34.5 1,857
            Boston 11.3 903
            LA 7.6 559
            New York 6.4 581
            However, you have to take things with a grain of salt: bad as New Orleans is, I’m guessing that downtown areas frequented by tourists are relatively safe. And in New York City, my wife and I routinely walk all over Manhattan below 96th Street before midnight almost every weekend. But there are definitely places in East New York that I wouldn’t want to drive in, let alone walk around in the daytime.

            One of the problem with statistics is that people can cherry pick whatever they want out of them, but two things seem relatively clear. Many of the states and cities that safest have the strictest gun laws, and there are probably thousands of deaths by guns in the US that have little to do with protecting oneself from bad guys, or the big bad government. The good thing is there now seems to be a rising tide of politicians and others who are gun supporters feeling the time in right to curb assault guns, big clips, etc. And lets get a grip Eggs, do you really think that you can protect yourself from the government when they come for you with a drone or a tank or SAW with your little AK-47?

          3. Hugh, there’s a reason I didn’t include New York in my list. I spent four or five days there for the Auto Show last year and felt safe the whole time, day or night. I’m sure there are areas where that’s not the case (just as I’m sure there are areas on the cities I mentioned that ARE safe) but all you can go on is personal experience. I loved New York.

          4. I agree- it’s where you are in the US that makes the difference. In many cities, it can change within a mile or a block. One has got to be mindful of what they do not know.

            Anyway, I love New York, too. Especially since I just got engaged there :).

    1. “I didn’t read any of the comments here or on other sites about the US gun laws. ”

      That’s the first problem and sadly, not the first time I’ve read it. So many people think “I’ve got the answer” without listening to others.

      Yes, gun tragedies do happen elsewhere but to stick your fingers in your ears and ignore the problem in your own backyard (or to say we’ll only fix our problem if they fix theirs) isn’t a solution. It’s just nuts.

      This discussion is about the US and whether or not it needs tighter gun laws, ones that keep military style rifles and up to 100 round clips out of the hands of people who a) don’t need them and/or b) would be a danger if they had them.

      To make that discussion conditional upon what happens somewhere else is just mind-boggling.

      1. I’ll leave the discussion for what it is right here. The only thing discussions about weapons (and religion/politics) do is divide people and often become a shouting match with no winners. It is obvious we have a different opinion on this subject and that’s not going to change. It’s just not worth it.

        1. Call me naive, but I hope that it does change. I think it will be worth it.

          It’s crossed my mind more than once that I’m risking several personal friendships by writing this. Those people are important to me and I want to listen to what they’ve got to say if they choose to talk about it, but it doesn’t mean I’ll just stand aside and accommodate them. They won’t do that for me, either, but hopefully we can still listen when all’s said and done.

        2. Funny thing is I agree with more strict gun control and most of your post. I just think there will always be sick and bad individuals who can get their hands on guns and cause tragedies like this.

          1. Frank, I saw lately an statistic about death by gun and gun ownership restriction.
            On the one side, comparing the US with Canada showed that there is something wrong in the US when having similar (I may be wrong) gun legislation, there are by far more deaths by gun in the US than in Canada. And on the other side looking at Japan where gun ownership is very restricted, the deaths by gun are the lowest (in percentage) worldwide.

            So I agree with Swade when he says that a needed first step is to regulate the gun ownership, this won’t be the solution, but a first step that needs to be done.

          2. I’m actually trying to reply to saabredj below (but there was no reply button)…

            In Canada we definitely have more restrictive gun laws than in the US. Our current government is trying to do away with (has already) a (somewhat unpopular) registration program, but the vast majority of people here do not own/carry guns and have no use or desire to own guns. Purchase is definitely regulated, even for hunting. Hunting is popular here, at least in rural areas, but much of it is for the overall experience. I’ve had colleagues who were into moose hunting, and would spend a week in the bush to bag 1 moose (there is a tag system with regulations and significant cost) – it’s the times out there drinking and camping out they primarily enjoy. The deer and bird hunters are a little less restricted, and as a result kill each other more often (beer + guns is not a great combo)… for those anti-hunting, there’s a small number that make a bad name for the rest of them (eg hunting in people’s back yard, shooting from the road with headlights on, etc)… the same could be said for many other activities…

            With tighter gun laws, criminals will still get their hands on guns, but fewer guns around in general does result in less gun violence. Pretty simple. We do have a lot less gun violence here, though there is some in the major cities, where gangs try to pretend they are like gangs from the US… Canada actually has a lot more in common with Australia than with USA in this respect (and many other respects also)…

            Swade: I agree with much of what you’ve posted on this…

  7. Just want a short comment on swades weapon post since Norway and Breivik has been dragged into this discussion since Im a Norwegian citicen living in Norway.
    Norway is one of the countries in the western world with the highest density of weapons (rifles and shotguns) compared with population. But there are a huge difference between USA and Norway. The purpose of the weapons. In the States people carry weapons because they want protection – and to show off. In Norway we carry guns because we hunt, forest birds, elk and deer. No one bear arms unless inside the hunting season. The purpose if the weapon is not to protect by killing a “madman”, but to shoot wild animals for food. Breivik purchased multi-automatic weapons on the black marked in Europe – because it is not possible to purchase multi-automatic firearms in Norway. His intent by purchasing such firearms we now know, standard rifle was for his actions not suitable. No one hunts animals with a semi-automatic rifle – not even in America. Everyone hunt with a standard rifle aiming and firing one killing shot at the animal – the intent is not to destroy the meat with multi shots.
    The big question coming from my sofa is: How many children needs to die before these mad firearms are banned. They have only one purpose and it is to kill men. Do we really want that?

  8. The following tweet actually says a lot about the rethoric in this case…

    “If only the first victim, Adam Lanza’s mother, had been a gun owner, she could have stopped this before it started.”

      1. that sounds like the same guy who during the elections was decrying governmental takeover of health insurance saying that “the government better keep their hands off of medicare.”

          1. Might be lost in translation, ctm, but I’m quite sure he does. Both comments are full of irony – the government already runs Medicare and the guy making the comment was scared they were going to mess with Medicare by introducing a more comprehensive health insurance policy.

      2. exactly. imho, owning a gun is more dangerous than not owning a gun. More often than not, gun owners are killed/hurt by their own weapon (either by their own accident, inability, or a determined criminal). This was the case in this latest rampage…

        It is all so very sad… for the children who were killed and their families, and for their friends who witnessed it… so much innocence lost… I have a 6 year old, and it is incomprehensible what they must be going through… very very sad.

    1. That tweet is very interesting.
      Imagine the huge shootouts there will be when everybody, armed to the teeth, are trying to prevent others using *their* arsenal. If you follow the NRA’s ideas, that is.

      1. The tweet was a retort to the NRA rhetoric. His mother had in fact guns to “protect herself”, but as usual that didn’t help. In fact, my original question reamins unanswered. Why is it that no law-adibing and sane citizens never ever are able to stop these crimes with their own weapon for “self-protection”? No teacher at the Newtown school did. No visitor at the Denver cinema in July did.

        1. Because both shootings occurred in gazetted “Gun Free Zones” where CCW permit holders cannot carry their firearms. I guess the perpetrators keep failing to see the signs.

          There are daily instances of CCW allowing ordinary US citizens to defend themselves from bottom-feeding scum, in most cases without a shot needing to be fired. Given how stretched their police forces are in most areas, it’s probably a good thing.

          1. Isn’t private gun-ownership then in effect a kind of privatization of police functions? That suggests one would be better off by funding the police adequately, and getting people off the streets whenever possible of course, I guess.

          2. @Signs

            “Isn’t private gun-ownership then in effect a kind of privatization of police functions?”

            In terms of firearm ownership specifically for defensive purposes, you could say that – though I doubt it was planned that way. Regardless, police resources in the US (and lately, here in Australia too) have been constantly reduced, to the point where even the police themselves have stated numerous times that they cannot properly protect people from violent assaults, break-ins and other such crimes. Hence the mantra “defend yourself”. When Florida introduced modern Conceal Carry Weapon permits in the late 80s (they were the first state to do so), the police were well in favour of it.

  9. Swade, if this is a final word on the subject, perhaps you should close comments. But since comments are still open, here I go:

    I read a lot about european arrogance in the last days, so i looked up the word “arrogance’ in my dictionnary. It is defined as the act of abusing and overstating certain qualities with the sole purpose of creating a false and unjustified sense of domination over the other.

    While the sense of domination may be false, the basic qualities being overstated, are not.

    The US are the world’s number one nation. They are the largest democracy, and the biggest economy in the world. They lead everyone from a science and technology point of view. They have the world’s most feared and efficient army. They are the land of freedom and of the american dream.

    Do you really think that we (in this case tiny, insignificant, stupid little Belgium) are capable of arrogance ? On what basis ? That we invented the french fries (which as the name says, were stolen by our southern neighbours) ? That we invented the most complex political system, compared to our size ? That we, with our outreagious tax-system, are a model of modern economy ? That our national monument is a 70cm-high statue of a guy having a piss ? Give us a break ! We wouldn’t know where to look for the first clue at being arrogant.

    Believe it or not, but we are truly touched by events such as those that occurred last week. We don’t gloat and think “suits them well”, but actually shed a tear when watching the news. And those tears are sincere, not arrogant.

    But when a nation refuses to evolve and hides by accusing others of being arrogant, that’s just silly. And when that refusal comes with the price of sacrificing a nation’s children, that just borders on irresponsability.

    Please note (and this will be an arrogant statement) that the opposite of “arrogance” is a word called “humilty”, and it is a word that actually is at the basis of a lot of good stuff in life.

    And for a little bit of belgian pride, feel free to look up “Humilty” by an artist called “Wim Mertens”. Completely off-topic, but a bit of a feel-good moment in these troubled times.

    Sincerelly, and not arrogantly

    2T

  10. From a layman’s perspective when these mass killings happen, everyone I know of, are committed by a young man or one – two teenagers.
    An assault rifle in the hands of an emotional or disturbed youngster is extremely dangerous. Question is how do we keep the two apart. Any ideas?

    Even a lot of small children have been shot after they’ve come across the handgun in the house in the U.S. I wonder how many people have been killed by weapons that were bought for their own ”protection”?
    I wouldn’t ever dared to have guns in the house with two boys. The risk is just enormous even with perfectly normal children.

    To ban the sales of any type of automatic weapons to civilians would make the situation better in the long run in America I’m sure, but the ones that are already out there, I don’t know. Honestly they should be turned in. No one needs a M14 unless you’re on the battlefield.
    The three guns that the mother of the killer had in Newtown didn’t help her very much did they.

    As for ‘all out’ strict gun laws in Europe, it’s a widely used overstatement. Only recently have the authorities started to take seriously ownership of weapons around Scandinavia were we have a lot of them for hunting just like BC said.
    I could only imagine how many more people would have been killed in the incidents over the years if these semi-automatic rifles had been easily accessible.

  11. Well written Swade. I live in the US and I think you are totally right on. Funny thing about it is that I am also a registered Republican. I think the guns have to go.

  12. Swade, I just wanted to say today’s post is exactly why I stayed with the site post Saab-demise. Whether I agree with everything, anything or nothing, you present your viewpoint well and I find myself disagreeing with some of your logical conclusions rather than finding fault with them. As you noted here, statistics and studies can be taken and presented in many ways that support or destroy a viewpoint, and the ones I read/reference support other conclusions. All the facts and figures out there will support what we believe to be true, we’re inclined to register things that way as humans, and part of the societal difference may simply be that we’ve always had guns and you haven’t for awhile. Or their role in our independence and formation as a country. We’re fiercely proud of our heritage and that symbol of the pioneering spirit with which firearms are inextricably entwined, perhaps that’s also part of the ‘need’ or desire for the coolest, biggest, baddest weapon. I don’t know.

  13. Guns make me sick. They are killing machines and killing anything must be done with reason. Therefor I exclude guns and gun fanatics from my circle of friends.
    A retired law enforcement official told me the best gun for defense was a pump shotgun with no ammo — any one who hears that sound will flee. It would help a lot to make ammunition heavily regulated and taxed to fund mental health care.
    Keep going Swade, you have my vote! And NYC rocks!

  14. Swade, I always enjoy your writing style, keep it up! I have to agree with you on this one… I don’t necessarily think guns should be banned, but it’s too darn easy to get guns in the US and most of the reasons aren’t justifiable except perhaps historically (ie they made sense 2 centuries ago)…

    I don’t see any downsides to life in Canada and Australia where the availability of guns is more restricted. The more powerful the weapon, the greater the training one should need to be allowed to use it… pretty simple imho…

  15. Swade, in tackling this topic, your writing has reached a new high. Your insistence on standing your ground on what you know to be right, and trying to keep the dialogue going with opponents even when there is no sign that they will budge is impressive. Your original post managed to be thoughtful and respectful but also leavened by a bit of humour, which can be necessary even (or maybe especially) when dealing with the most upsetting of topics.

    I have read some of the linked articles and found them interesting. Thanks. I thought that article about the rising fashion for “Tactical” weapons was most interesting.

    I have been looking at some stats at gunpolicy.org. The figures there are thought-provoking.

    As a starting point, the figures show that the United States has a much higher rate (per head) of homicides by any means or method than many other western countries, eg the UK or Sweden.

    But I noticed some revealing details in the figures. Although the rate of gun-related homicides is higher in the US than it is in both Sweden and the UK, Sweden is slightly closer to the US figure than the UK is. In other words, Sweden has a small but significantly higher rate of gun-related homicide than the UK does, although Swedish gun murder rates are still an order-of-magnitude lower than the US.

    Here is the really interesting part. In spite of the fact that Sweden has a higher rate of gun-related deaths than the UK, the UK in fact has a small but significantly higher overall rate of homicide by any means than Sweden does. So the threat of being murdered generally is slightly greater in the UK than it is Sweden, if I can put it in those terms.

    This would appear to contradict the argument that guns make society more deadly. But then you look at the numbers of guns in private hands in each of the respective countries and things become clearer.

    In the US, no surprise here, the number of legally held guns in private hands is vastly greater than it is in the UK. It looks to be more than 10 times as many per head.

    But while there is a much higher rate of legal gun ownership in the US as compared to Sweden, too, the difference between the US and Sweden is far less than between the US and UK. From what I can see there are “only” about three times as many guns in private hands in the US as there are in Sweden.

    This leads me to two interesting (to me anyway) conclusions. First, if Sweden had fewer guns – and I suppose the reason it has a lot more than the UK is for greater pest control and more hunting of elk, etc – then it would likely improve its general homicide stats in comparison with the UK even further and likely drop to a comparable or even lower level than the UK in terms specifically of homicide with firearms.

    On the other hand, secondly, the amount of guns in Sweden (almost three million in a population of nine million) would suggest that – if we were to take the US as a benchmark – there ought to be a much, much higher rate of homicide with guns in Sweden than there is. Thank God that is not the case.

    But why not? My hunch – and this alludes to something Swade has already written – is that at the root of this seems to be not just the amount of guns in society (which is fundamentally important) but equally importantly it is about cultural attitudes.

    The fact that Sweden and the UK have fewer guns than the US seems to be an obvious and basic reason why there is far less gun-related homicide. But the fact that in Sweden, where there seem to be around four or five times as many guns per head than in the UK, people are not killing each other with guns in anything close to correspondingly greater numbers in relation to both the UK and US – and indeed the figures over the past 17 years show a pretty stable low rate, with the economic depression of the 1990s perhaps to blame for a couple of higher blips in that decade – suggests very strongly to me that the reasons why people apply to purchase and own guns in Sweden is fundamentally different from the US.

    Swedish people appear to acquire guns for hunting, sport or pest control. They do not, the figures would suggest, buy guns with a human target in mind. And that I think is the other key factor, along with the raw number of guns floating around in people’s homes: culture. In America, the right-to-bear-arms culture seems to me to be heavily skewed towards the business of shooting other people, not animals.

    My understanding of gun history in America is that the second amendment to the constitution was originally supposed to be about forming militias in case the Brits decided to invade in the 1790s and crush the Revolution. It was only with the expansion of the wild west in the following century and the need to protect you and yours from predators such as bandits and “injuns” did it take on its supposedly “traditional” meaning of the right to self defence in pretty much any circumstance, eg stepping out to buy a McDonalds.

    In the wake of this latest exceptionally dreadful thing that has happened at the school in America, the people holding the guns are conveniently forgetting the daily gun killings in gun-permissive societies and retorting with arguments like “cars kill people too” or “what about Anders Breivik?”, or “we just need to lock up all the loonies and all will be well”, or something along the lines of “only cowards want to live in a society without guns”. But these arguments seem to me to be cover, at least among those from the US, for a deeper, more honest and infinitely more sensible cultural truth: owning a gun is my right as an American.

    This argument underlines to me the cultural aspect of a three-pronged change that is required if this murderous cycle is to be broken: one, countries such as the US which retain a permissive attitude towards personal arms begin to move their culture to the point where the gun is recognised as a threat to liberty not its guarantor; two, legal restrictions on gun ownership and use must be tightened with countries like the UK as an example; finally, the number of guns in circulation simply must be reduced by a combination of greater regulation, law enforcement and changing attitudes.

    The second two will never happen without the first, and in the case of the US, for as long as people continue to fear the silhouette in the doorway (with good reason many will say, and there’s the rub), it seems to me that key cultural change will take generations if it ever happens at all.

    Here are some figures from gunpolicy.org:

    The rate of private gun ownership in the United States is 88.82 firearms per 100 people.

    In the United States, the annual rate of homicide by any means per 100,000 population is, in 2010: 4.6.

    In the United States, the annual rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 population is, in 2009: 2.98.

    The rate of private gun ownership in the United Kingdom is 6.72 firearms per 100 people

    In the United Kingdom, the annual rate of homicide by any means per 100,000 population is, in 2009: 1.2.

    In the United Kingdom, the annual rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 population is, in 2009: 0.03.

    The rate of private gun ownership in Sweden is 31.62 firearms per 100 people.

    In Sweden, the annual rate of homicide by any means per 100,000 population is, in 2009: 1.

    In Sweden, the annual rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 population is, in 2010: 0.19.

  16. Few days late in reading this commentary (so I’ll just post my thoughts on both of your gun threads), but as an American —and one who has kids that age and has my family in that lovely part of Connecticut two to three times a year even— thanks. Sometimes the view is clearest from afar, and no fault found at all in the logic of your various points. Yet, can only imagine that this was the piece that lead to you needing to ban someone from your site.

    Lots of vitriol online in our discussions here in the States with many equating those that seek sane and safe firearm rules as being “anti-gun.” As a former military officer who has handled and shot more than my share of various weapons, I find that sadly funny. Yet, I suppose you could say that is true, if you view people who want to get semi-automatics rifles, concealable handguns, large capacity ammo reservoirs, split core bullets, etc, out of being commonplace in the civilian community as “anti-gun.”

    But especially with a group that reads your car oriented pieces here, think most that are not in willful denial are capable of understanding that seeking sane and safe traffic rules does not make someone “anti-car.”

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