Thursday, 16 June 2016

Glorified G

Here’s the topic on everyone’s lips of late: gun control. Having had the good fortune to live in two countries where gun laws are relatively strong and sensible (that is, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), it might seem at first that I have nothing useful to say about gun control. However, I can dodge this argument by stating that anyone who has an interest in avoiding seeing their fellow humans murdered by legally-obtained weapons ought to have something useful to add to the argument.

I am talking, of course, about the most recent mass shooting in the US, in Orlando, FL. At this time it may be useful to throw around some statistics. The BBC has an interesting article stating that there were ‘372 mass shootings in the US in 2015, killing 475 people and wounding 1,870, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which catalogues such incidents’. It provides comparisons with the UK, Canada and Australia for relatively recent gun homicide rates, and quotes another source, which says that ‘So many people die annually from gunfire in the US that the death toll between 1968 and 2011 eclipses all wars ever fought by the country. According to research by Politifact, there were about 1.4 million firearm deaths in that period, compared with 1.2 million US deaths in every conflict from the War of Independence to Iraq.’

Thing is, though, even though Pulse was the latest (and bloodiest) in a string of mass shootings going back for years, other websites can be found holding data which seem to suggest that per capita rates are higher in parts of Europe than in the US. Whether or not this is true, to me is in some sense immaterial. After all, police forces don’t respond to victims of burglary by saying, ‘well, look at that other city, they have much worse rates of theft’, and if they did, the victims would probably reply, ‘who cares? I need you to solve the problems we have in this city, right now.’ So, the following thoughts can be applied to many countries equally.

Having said that, the US still stands out as having much worse gun crime than comparable Western nations, and I don’t think that the stats can really mask this fact for long. Also, the US has some of the more, shall I say, interesting arguments against gun control that I have heard. Then there is the fact that, when even the most modest proposals for reform are put forward, they are twisted, misquoted, and torn down with such vigour that no change is possible. Even though there seems to be public support for ideas like a gun sale database, or preventing people with mental illness from buying guns, any reforms are blocked in Congress. A cynical man might suspect that for the will of the people to be so openly defied, for the people to be so rashly endangered, either the relevant politicians are stubborn, stupid, or have another motivation altogether for the way they behave.

Omar Mateen, the man who pledged allegiance to Isis (or, as I like to call them, Daeshbags), before the attack, was very possibly a closeted homosexual whose religious beliefs caused him to hate himself and those who lived the life he secretly desired but could not bring himself to embrace. It seems that those at the club were deliberately targeted because of their sexuality, and the club was a place Mateen had visited previously. His homophobia is framed within the larger narrative of intolerance promoted by the religious ideology the attacker pledged allegiance to before the attack.

Certainly Mateen was known to the FBI, although he was not deemed a threat. It might be logical, though, to prevent such persons from having access to automatic weaponry.

Add to this the sickening behaviour of religious persons in the US who have praised the shooters’ actions, and you see why the issue of gun control is even more urgent in such a country. The man who may be President also took the chance to say a nonsensical ‘I told you so,’ exploiting the horrors of the moment. (Fortunately most Americans seem to disapprove of his response.)

There is information suggesting that most gun deaths in the US are accidental, and many involve children. This is another place where you would think people might pause to think it may not, in fact, be worth having guns in the home after all, no matter how well-secured they are.

I also dislike the argument that people are generally safer with more guns around. This follows no logic that I can find, except maybe in the event of alien invasion or zombie apocalypse (though if either of these happen, the NRA will be too busy fighting to yell ‘I told you so!’). To take the most extreme situation, if no one in a country has a gun, then no one in that country can be killed by a gun.
If guns are limited to law enforcement officials and the army, then, again, it means citizens are much less likely to be shot illegally (discounting for a moment the issue of skin colour). Of course, the US is a country flooded with guns, and many argue that in such a situation, where criminals will not follow gun laws anyway, they are safer and more protected from said criminals if they themselves are armed. I can see their line of thinking, but if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night while you’re sleeping, are you really going to have time to get to your well-secured gun? And if you are, are you then able to engage in a Lethal Weapon style shootout with armed robbers without some collateral damage, or with your children in the house?

Another issue is the sheer type of weaponry available. There is an argument for allowing responsible gun owners to have hand guns, hunting rifles, and shot guns for clay pigeon shooting, but why on earth would they ever need an AK-47 or Sig Sauer assault rifle? What kind of deer are they hunting?

One of the biggest obstacles to change is the Second Amendment, which 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.’ To me, the phrase ‘well regulated Militia’ denotes both the need for good regulation, and the need for guns to be held by a body or organisation for a particular purpose (such as civil defence) rather than simply held by whoever wants one at the time. Still, much ink and many hours have been devoted to this argument, and I am not going to solve it here.

Finally, I have been told that the people need guns should they ever need to stand up to the government. In response to that, I would simply say, the government of the US has machines that can kill you from a hundred miles away, at the press of a button. They have (arguably) the most well-equipped and well-trained army in the world. If they want to get you, your small arms stash will not stop them.

Now, it is not, and probably never will be my place to decide on US law, or even to vote on who should run the country. Thing is, as I mentioned, these shootings are a human problem as well as an American problem, and therefore I find it helpful (if not necessarily effective) to think about what could be done to solve it. The power, though, is with the people with the votes, the people in the position to make changes. The question for them is, what if it’s your child’s school next? Or your sibling’s workplace that suffers a mass shooting? And sadly, at the moment, the real question is: how long until the next one?

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