Guns and principles (or lack of them!)

Been off for Christmas and new Years, so just back!

The tragedy in Sandy Hook before Christmas has led to a renewed debate about the issue of Gun control within the US. In America currently 52,000 or so are killed by guns each year (10.2 per 100,000 people). By contrast the murder rate is just over 500 in the UK, only a fraction of whom are committed with guns. Indeed in the UK there are just 0.25 firearms related deaths per 100,000, a 40th the US rate! Even north of the border in Canada it’s just 610 (4.7 FrD’s per 100,000, half the rate in the US, even though Canadians own more guns per capita).

Of course people have been pointing the finger for this tragedy and previous gun murders on many other factors. Some, notably the Christian right, blame violent films and computer games. While it might be a factor, it’s worth remembering that plenty of teenagers in many other countries, including those such as Canada and the UK, play just as many violent video games as Americans. Indeed in Japan (which has an extremely low rate of violent crime) the level of violence in film/games would make a Tarantino film seem pretty tame (indeed many of Tarantino’s movies are essentially toned down versions of Japanese/Hong Kong movie’s!). So if this alone is a factor, why then is the gun violence rate so high in the US?

Others, again notably conservatives, blame immigration for gun violence. While the near war across the border in Mexico (as drug gangs fight for control of the lucrative smuggling market) is probably spilling over to the US. But the vast majority of recent spree shootings in the US have been undertaken by young white males, not Mexican drug lords (nor indeed Muslims!). And again, the UK has experienced nearly as much inward migration recently and unless you take seriously the propaganda from the Daily Mail, the truth is the violent crime rate in the UK is currently falling.

One could query whether it is the pressure of modern society that has played a part in this and other tragedies. As a lecturer I know that teenagers are under enormous levels of pressure to “succeed”. They will howl with horror if they don’t get an A for everything (nevermind what happens when they fail!). It’s has also been my observation that society in the UK and US has gotten ever more mercenary over the years….something I blame on Thatcher and Reagan’s market reforms, which has created a very pressured “rat race”, less trusting society. But I doubt even this alone could be responsible.

Then there is the issue that the killer in Sandy Hook had either Asperger’s or a form of functioning autism (or so it was reported). Now while this doesn’t make you a killer (quite the opposite, I’d argue!), one has to consider the state of privatised health care in the US. Mental health issues often fall into a grey area in the US (pre-existing condition and all that). Consequently they are often left untreated and undiagnosed. Indeed, a number of recent Spree killers in the US are believed to have been suffering from some or other form of mental health issues (schizophrenia, paranoid delusions, severe depression, etc.).

But what about the Guns?
Of course one cannot escape the obvious question, does the easy access to guns have anything to do with this and other spree shootings?

While there are many other countries with fairly liberal gun ownership rules, which do not have a major issue with gun violence, Finland, Switzerland or Canada being good examples . However, it is quite clear (as witnessed by the vastly higher murder rate in the US) that these are very different societies to the US (to put it in tea party language, they are more “socialist”). And that said, the murder rate and fire arms related suicide rate of all of these countries listed is still universally higher than these countries, such as the UK, with stricter anti-gun laws.

So to be blunt Americans needs to realise that they have a gun problem and denying the problem exists won’t magically make it go away. Indeed, the “accidental” gun related death rate in the US (0.22 per 100,000 persons) is not far off the total gun death rate (0.25 per 100,000) in the UK!

Obama Responds
Indications are the lone gunman at Sandy Hook was armed with several different weapons including a semi-automatic rifle and a pistol. Indeed the warped and somewhat bizarre nature of America’s love affair with the Gun is shown by a jump in pre-christmas sales of the very gun using in the shootings.

Obama’s reaction to the recent shooting has been to propose a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons. One could argue, assessing the evidence above, that this simply doesn’t go far enough. However, given the huge difficulty likely to be faced getting even these measures passed, it is perhaps the best he can hope for.

But any sort of a ban on gun ownership is likely to be extremely controversial. The conservatives and pro-gun lobby have inevitably argued that the cause of this tragedy is a lack of gun ownership and possession, rather than the other way around. That the teachers should have been all armed and then been able to stop the shooting.

My suspicion is that the gun lobby have watched one too many cowboy films. Modern US society isn’t the Wild West. One can think of many practical and obvious reasons why, e.g. people wandering into banks or the local drugs store with an AK-47…or how about on planes? (they won’t let you take a sharpen pencil on a US plane these days!) if someone looking to commit a spree shooting in the future knows there’s a place where people won’t be armed (such as an airport or bank or a church or town hall) that’s where they will commit it, so you’d have to allow people to carry guns even in places we have good reason to forbid them…and what about criminals? (or terrorists!) Not only would they now have a legitimate reason to walk around with a gun, but a good excuse to get away with murder (the other guy moved for his gun, I shot him in self-defence).

I suspect the first time a WASP finds himself sitting next to a nervous Muslim (hardly surprising given that he’s on a plane full of armed white guys!) sporting an AK-47 on a flight to Houston, who keeps reciting stuff in Arabic (some Muslims do this all the time, its like Christians saying Jesus or god bless), they’ll quickly realise this idea is a non-starter.

Deport Piers Morgan
A good example of just how emotive an issue gun ownership is in the US can be seen by Piers Morgan. He recently criticised the US gun lobby on US television and as a result NRA supporters set up a petition on the White House website, one which quickly attracted 32,000 signatures, calling for Piers Morgan to be deported “for interfering with Americans 2nd amendment rights”.

Of course Piers Morgan has all the grace and diplomacy as a slap in the face with a wet kipper (a counter petition from the UK calling for him to be denied entry back into the UK!). But as he himself pointed out, the fact that so many Americans seem to believe that the 2nd amendment supersedes all other elements of the US constitution, including the 1st amendment (free speech!), is telling (and very worrying!).

But let’s pick apart the objections to Obama’s proposal. The gun lobby will argue that people should be allowed to own automatic rifles (AK-47’s, AR-15’s, etc.) because, well you might want to go hunting with one….While I’m not claiming to be an expert, I don’t think you want to go hunting with a semi-automatic rifle….as this scene from “the distinguished gentleman” illustrates), not if you plan to eat the thing afterwards (and not be spitting out bullets!). And one worries about the consequences of letting loose a few hundred rounds in a woodland (Health and safety and all that!).

Then there’s home defence. Again, I would question the wisdom of using an automatic weapon to protect your home. Troops in Iraq will often, in addition to their rifle, carry a side arm (typically a pistol) for when they enter a building as they recognise the impracticality of getting into a fire-fight with a field weapon (such as an M-16 or an AR-15) in a confined space. Similarly, the last thing you want to do is get involved in a gun fight with an intruder, both of ye letting off hundreds of rounds of high velocity bullets (which can go thro walls, ricochet off stuff, etc.) in the same house as you’re wife and kids are sleeping.

Personally I would argue the best “burglary deterrent” in the world is a dog. They’re big, they’re noisy (and will wake the whole neighbourhood up before a burglar even gets inside), territorial, have an excellent sense of smell/hearing…..plus they have teeth!

Get a gun-nut or a libertarian drunk some time and they’ll give you a load of BS about how they need their guns cos, well what if the Chinese invade, or the US government turns tyrannical or something? My response to that is all the M-16’s in the world won’t be much use against a modern army with access to tanks, helicopter gunships and nuclear tipped ICBM’s. You’re hardly going to stop an M1 Abrams tank or shoot down a Chinese warplane at 30,000 feet with you’re daddy’s shotgun!

The Principle
Confront an NRA supporter with the obvious and the total lack of any logic supporting their position and they’ll mumble something about “the principle” is what they object too most.

You know you’ve got a republican on the ropes when they start whining about “principles”. I had a few conversations with some of them before about Obamacare. They were complaining about the impact it was having on the deficit. I pointed out that Obamacare is likely to be revenue neutral, that the NHS offers much better value for money than the US approach to health care, and if you are really serious about cutting the deficit I’d start by trimming American’s massively bloated military budget or various other pork barrel funds first, all of which will cost the country a lot more money. Predictably they went for the same its the “principle” of Obamacare argument. Gay marriage? It’s “the principle” behind it that they object too…presumably they fear it being made compulsory!

If the objection of Republicans to Obama’s proposal on gun control is (and I suspect it will be once their usual half baked propaganda is debunked) “the principle” of gun control then they have some pretty warped principles, i.e. that’s its okay for someone to be able to commit mass murder and the state should do nothing about it. Indeed, even “the principle” of the 2nd amendment, I would argue puts them on pretty shaky ground.

The 2nd amendment states:

“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 ”

My reading of that is that the purpose of the founding fathers was more “national defence” or “civil defence”. There is no mention of “personal defence” or anything else anywhere in the US constitution, although in typical Republican historical revisionism they’ve attempted to claim otherwise.

In theory there would nothing stopping Obama from requiring all US gun owners become a member of a “well-regulated militia” (presumably regulated that is by the state or local law enforcement) if they wish to hang onto their guns, or having a national register of firearms (as exists in many other nations with more liberal gun laws).

Neither of these proposals would violate the spirit of the 2nd amendment (indeed I would argue they’d be completely within the purpose of it). But mention that to any republican member and watch him go into full fanatic birther freak mode. Like so many things, Republicans oppose any form of gun regulation purely because it attacks their core fantasy belief’s of politics and religion. That thousands of people get killed in the process matters little to these men of “principle”.

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