image by: Orin Zebest
Gun advocates say that not only doesn't gun ownership correlate with violence, but that guns are a means to greater safety. But how healthy is it for society to buy in to such an argument?
Guns don't kill people, people kill people.
You have to admit that it's a catchy slogan. On the one hand, it's seems perfectly reasonable. Guns don't fire themselves, after all. There's always someone pulling the trigger.
On the other hand, it's a load of crap. When a coroner determines a cause of death after examining a body with half of its head blown off by a .44 caliber Smith & Wesson, it's not "Bob Jones," but "gunshot wound." The bullet from the gun killed the victim, just like it was an atomic bomb called "Little Boy" that killed 50,000 people in Hiroshima.
Is this partly semantics? Sure. But you realize it's semantics with a point as soon as you see that countries with the most guns per capita tend to suffer the most gun-related deaths. There's no evidence, it seems, that guns make people safer.
That claim—firearms make people safer—is apparently believed by the majority of Americans. It's certainly asserted time and again by gun-advocacy groups, including the granddaddy of them all, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which lobbies against any and all restrictions on gun ownership. The NRA's vision of utopia is a world that is made relatively safe by the fact that, because guns are so ubiquitous, criminals are less likely to prey upon people, since for all they know their would-be victims are packing superior firepower.
The logic may be impractical—and was pretty much proven wrong by history, since no-one argues that the Wild West was a safe place—but it's not unattractive. Were many of us confronted with force, we would want nothing more than to meet that force with overwhelming force of our own. Who could blame you for feeling that way?
I certainly can't, because I have always been one of those people. It seems as if I was this way nearly from birth. Despite growing up in a very safe upper-middle-class Orange County neighborhood where crime was unheard-of (I recall three police cruisers in front of our house one night in response my mother's call about the disappearance of a couple of hanging plants near our front porch), I often implored my parents to buy a gun, so possessed was I with a fear of being victimized, of being at the mercy of intruders trying to break into our home.
I never quite outgrew this little obsession, even though the closest thing to an attack I experienced was in 7th grade, when an 8th-grade bully grabbed me by the back of the neck, then ripped from my hands a can of soda I was carrying home. (He took a sip and then returned it to me.) When I finally found myself of age and with enough disposable cash, I bought a 9mm handgun. The clip had a 15-round capacity, which I filled with hollow-point bullets. If I felt compelled to shoot someone, I wanted him dead. I wouldn't enjoy killing an attacker, but neither would I hesitate to do so.
Did owning a gun make me safer? It seems disingenuous simply to say "no." And as much as I am not a gun advocate, I have never found the oft-quoted, vague reference to a statistic that gun owners are more likely to have the gun used against them particularly credible.
Moreover, the correlation between gun ownership and violence is far from simple to ferret out. For example, the United States, with the highest gun-ownership rate in the world by far, along with the highest rate of gun-related deaths, yet it doesn't make the top 100 in terms of overall murder rate. South Africa, meanwhile, has almost as many gun deaths per capita despite a gun-ownership rate nearly seven times lower. And "murder capital of the world" Honduras has a homicide rate 20 times that of the U.S., despite barely makes the top 100 in per capita gun ownership.
Then again, there are numbers that seem less ambiguous. For example, within the U.S. two-thirds of all homicides are gun-related, and states with the highest gun-ownership rates generally have higher homicide rates.
But we don't know nearly as much about this subject as we should, and it's probably telling that one of the reasons is that in the mid 1990s the NRA, in a classic follow-the-money story, successfully lobbied Congress to cease researching gun violence. It seems that knowledge is power that the NRA would prefer be kept out of public debate.
That is a shame, because informed discussion is the only way in which public policy should be shaped. When gun advocates point to the Second Amendment as guaranteeing their right to bear arms, they should be intellectually honest enough to note that this right is granted only to "a well-regulated militia." And as wary as I am to tamper with the Bill of Rights, we should consider whether the Second Amendment makes sense in a country whose government, unlike that of the neonatal United States of the late 18th century, has such an incredible arsenal of weaponry at its disposal that the even wealthiest gun-owners can't begin to match it—a fact that nullifies the whole point of the Second Amendment, which is to keep the people enabled to overthrow our government if need be.
A recent news item exemplifies why we need more informed discussion about guns. At an Arizona firing range, gun instructor Charles Vacca handed a 9-year-old girl an Uzi. After she fired it in single-shot mode, with her parents looking on and apparently approving of the whole business, Vacca switched it to automatic mode. The first time she pulled the trigger, the recoil pushed the aim of the gun toward Vacca, and bullets ripped into his head.
If guns don't kill people, then the little girl is a killer. Or her parents are. Or perhaps it’s the American milieu, which is so permissive toward gun usage that no charges were filed in Vacca's death, because neither the firing range nor the girl's parents broke any laws by letting a 9-year-old shoot an Uzi.
But let's not kid ourselves: guns kill people. What we should ask ourselves is how we can reduce the number of killings. And when your argument is that more guns is the best way to do so, you're probably making it within a society that has too many already.
About the Author:
Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.
His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. For more information: greggorymoore.com
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