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.
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.
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).
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.
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.