Home > Politics and Society > Post-Aurora Shootings: A Perspective on Gun Control

Post-Aurora Shootings: A Perspective on Gun Control

I’m going to jump straight to the point, and hope I don’t have to preface my post with a heartfelt statement about how terrible the shootings were, because I think we can all agree it was pretty awful.

A word of background: I have largely been a metropolitan urbanite who has never fired a gun in real life, save a small collection of water guns, Nerf guns, video game guns, glue guns, BB guns, paintball guns, air guns, and laser guns (the ones for laser tag; sorry to disappoint you, sci-fi fans). I consider myself to be a pacifist, and while I’m certain that if I am forced in a situation where I have to kill, I will very likely kill, I don’t hold a lot of romantic notions about inflicting harm upon others, even if it’s for a “just cause”. I grew up largely in San Francisco, which may or may not be the capital of America’s “dirty liberal hippie-land”, and have resided in countries where possession of firearms are illegal; the sight of anyone carrying a gun – even police officers and soldiers – makes me feel genuinely uncomfortable and makes me want to keep my distance (imagine how I felt when I worked for six months in Memphis, Tennessee).

At this point, anyone reading this (this is assuming I have any readers to begin with) will probably want me to first disclose my opinion as to whether or not I’m for or against stricter gun control or – more drastically – a gun ban in the United States (which I don’t support, actually, a position taken entirely for prudence as opposed to principles, if largely because I’m fairly convinced a gun ban will result in nothing short of a shooting civil war), if only so they can figure out whether or not they should stop reading the words of a “left-wing dirty liberal Big Government hippie”/”right-wing morally-bankrupt redneck-hick conservative”.

Alas, my answer is going to disappoint a number of people: “It’s complicated.”

*****

By pure numbers alone (discarding motivation, education, prevention, and everything else), the top three countries by homicide rate per 100,000 people – Colombia, Guatemala, and Paraguay – all allow legal possession of firearms by civilians. “But, Ysi, that isn’t fair, those are poor backwater South American countries with corrupt governments and even more corrupt law enforcement and civil unrest and gang warfare and terrorism!” Alright, massive generalizations and stereotyping aside, we’re going to avoid countries with high levels of civil unrest and highly inadequate law enforcement, focus specifically on the “civilized world”, and compare the members of the G-20 (although, incidentally, there will only be nineteen members counted, because the last member is the European Union and doesn’t count as a “country). I realize it’s a little unfair to just dub the G-20 as the “civilized world”, but it was a consideration made out of sample size and the fact that it’s a preexisting institution so as to prevent accusations that I’m “cherry-picking” my way through developed countries (or insinuating that some nations are more “developed” than others).

Using the most recent statistics from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (and using figures from Gun Policy to fill in the blanks), the list of G20 nations from the highest firearms homicide rate to the lowest goes: Brazil, South Africa, Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, the United States, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Italy, Canada, India, Germany, Australia, France, United Kingdom, China, Japan, and South Korea (notably, all nations from Turkey and after all have firearm homicide rates under 1.0 per 100,000 people, and Japan and South Korea are solidly at 0.0).

However, regardless of whether we try to compare them to firearm restrictions, rate of civilian firearm possession, gun rights, or firearm regulations, it is difficult to find a solid, direct correlation between firearm-related homicides and gun politics. Countries like Canada, France, and Germany have some of the highest private gun ownership rates in the developed world, yet have remarkably low firearm-related homicide rates; meanwhile, countries like Brazil and Indonesia have low gun ownership rates and restrictive gun laws, yet some of the worst firearm-related homicides. Whatever the reason for gun homicides, it’s not as simple as “availability of firearms”.

It is important to note a few more facts, however. From those statistics, countries that make it nearly impossible for civilians to own guns legally, such as China, Japan, and South Korea, have virtually no firearm-related homicides. Meanwhile, a look at G-20 homicide rates show that countries that have restrictive gun laws does not mean the number of non-firearm-related homicide rates have gone up. So, depending on how you want to interpret this, either “banning firearms does not mean people just find other ways to kill people”, or “the availability of guns doesn’t matter when you’re population is mature and well-educated enough”.

Verdict: There is no definite or direct correlation between the availability of firearms and firearm homicides/crimes. However, nations making an active effort to keep firearms out of civilian hands statistically have low firearm homicides, meaning – at the very least – there are less firearms going off and less gun crimes.

*****

This one’s directed mostly at the United States.

One of the leading arguments in favor for gun ownership is self-defense, whether against crime or against a tyrannical government that turns against its people. I’m not going to talk about the former, because there is a good argument about whether we should leave our civil defense to the police or if we can at least defend our own homes; I am, however, going to talk about the latter, especially since it’s such as prominent point in the American pro-gun crowd.

The Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – is a statute that was added into the American Constitution for a very important reason: The United States did not have an official, professional, functional military force at the time of the signing of the Constitution. The United States Army in the time of the adoption of the Bill of Rights – 1791 C.E. – was in reality a collection of poorly-trained militiamen from the thirteen colonies who nevertheless bore the responsibility to swiftly gather and resist all the other colonial powers in case they became aggressive, at least until an actual professional army could be trained and fielded in adequate numbers. Until then, it fell to the citizenry to try to resist; they were pretty much left to their own devices. An important thing to note, however, was that although cannons certainly existed at the time, wars were generally fought with single-fire muskets. This was virtually the only weapon available to civilians, militiamen, and soldiers alike.

However, two hundred and twenty-one years later, this is no longer the case. The United States has the largest military force in the world, and Americans aren’t expecting a foreign military invasion anytime soon; the citizenry does not have to worry about resisting invaders. This leaves the question of having to fight against a tyrannical government that turns upon itself, to which I bring back my point of the single-shot musket. Although soldiers generally have a greater degree of training compared to militiamen and civilians, all of them had a relatively equal playing field one-on-one (-on-one) when one considered that there was no body armor, and everyone held onto a single-shot musket that took fifteen seconds to reload and fire. Today, however, the average United States Army soldier comes with the M4 carbine and body armor, among other pieces of equipment, while military hardware remains out of civilian ownership. And this is assuming that they actually deploy Army infantrymen, as opposed to, say, Predator drones. The idea that a bunch of untrained, under-equipped militiamen can valiantly stand between a government and tyranny is, honestly, ridiculous.

Verdict: Armed self-defense versus police intervention is a debatable subject; “preparing for armed resistance against the military” is not. Unless you’re Tom Hardy, your Second Amendment rights are not going to protect you from a hypothetical U.S. dictatorship and their fleet of Predator drones. Defense against the state is a fallacious argument if you’re in a developed country.

*****

James Alan Fox wrote an excellent opinion piece on CNN recently, which I heartily recommend. For those of you who can’t be bothered, however, I will summarize here.

We can make a reasonable – although likely highly contested – argument that reducing the number of firearms in circulation will lower gun crimes. We can claim that increased gun control can reduce crimes of passion, or diminish the effectiveness of certain criminals. What we cannot do, however, is prevent mass murder – that’s the keyword there, “mass murder” – simply by increasing gun control or even banning guns altogether.

People who might commit crimes of passion will have to find some other “effective” weapon when access to guns are restricted, and by the time s/he finds something, s/he might’ve have just enough to give the whole thing a more reasonable think-over, and stop himself/herself. Premeditated murders may have to use potentially less-effective means to kill someone in a society where guns are banned, which at least gives most victims a possibly greater chance at self-defense.

These are a lot of maybes. What isn’t a “maybe”, however, is that mass murderers are dead set on creating as many dead bodies as possible. Mass murderers are people who – for whatever reason – have decided they are going to take out whatever it is that’s bugging them onto society at large. This is a psychological issue that goes beyond gun control. Think of the most famous mass murderers in recent American history. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed thirteen people and injured twenty-four with guns in the Columbine High School massacre, John Allen Muhammad killed ten and injured three with guns in the Beltway sniper attacks, Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two and injured twenty-five in the Virigina Tech massacre with guns, and Nidal Malik Hasan killed thirteen and injured twenty-nine with guns in the Fort Hood shootings.

Meanwhile, Timothy James McVeigh killed 168 and injured more than 680 in the Oklahoma City bombing, and a handful of hijackers armed with knives were able to kill almost three thousand and injure more than twice that number on September 11.

Firearm restrictions might be able to prevent some crimes; it is not an unreasonable argument. However, a person committed to the goal of mass murder will use any means to accomplish his or her task, and indiscriminately killing people is logistically easier than having to jump through hoops just to kill one (disclaimer: I am not speaking from personal experience).

Verdict: Whatever more restrictive gun laws are going to help prevent, mass murders are not going to be one of them.

*****

There is no “final verdict” that I’m going to offer, given that my point had essentially been “both sides have a point, but some of their arguments are wrong”. Discussion of gun politics is likely going to continue in the United States, and I don’t foresee any closure to that debate anytime soon, unless the country is willing to risk civil war in response to the split attitudes towards gun culture. In the meantime, however, I would like to remind Americans that your much-venerated Founding Fathers emphasized the “right to life, liberty, and happiness”, and I hope that everyone agrees that someone’s right to freely and happily walk out of a movie theater, still alive, supersedes your right to own an automatic weapon.

And, apparently, your right to politicize this tragedy in the most nonsensical ways possible.

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Categories: Politics and Society
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