In the wake of last week’s massacre in Las Vegas, many people find themselves thrown back into the heat of the debate at the heart of two American identities: is the 2nd Amendment worth defending?
The two sides largely fall along the liberal vs. conservative line. As we know, liberals tend not to support the second amendment. Typically opting for strict gun controls or-in some cases-a full repeal of the 2nd amendment. Conservatives typically feel that the 2nd amendment cannot be changed as it is a right enshrined in the constitution and if anything gun ownership rights should be expanded.
However, neither side really seem interested in the relevant facts of the matter: saving human lives.
Mass murders are media hits because they are tragic. No true American, regardless of their politics, wants to see dead Americans. Full stop. If you do want to see such a thing, you are not an American. It is Americans who ultimately will need to make this decision. While our friends in Europe will take all chances to try and “Eu-splain”*** gun rights to us, this is our burden, and any solution will be our solution.
*** yes, Eu-splaining is when a European tries to explain gun rights to you as if you don’t know these arguments already. Its like “man-splaining” but with an accent and large dose of arrogance.
The fact is that both liberals and conservatives have good points that we need to take real action on in the wake of every mass murder. However, at the end of the day, while I listen to both sides, I come down on the side of maintaining the 2nd amendment. I’d now like to ask liberal readers to bear with me. Your points come at the end. Here’s why I still think that Americans can own guns:
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
(Liberal’s don’t stop reading)
This is a fact of physics. No gun on a table commits a crime, until a human picks it up and pulls a trigger. As repeated as this is by conservatives however, this can’t end the dialogue on gun rights in the US. While it is true that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, people kill people with guns. Therefore, we should talk about the causes for homicides.
I grew up with guns in the house. Every home of every family member I know (except my own) has (at least) one gun in it. None of them have committed murder. Why is this? Well, this peaceful co-existence between man and firearm is only perplexing to those who didn’t grow up with guns. The fact is that there are over 300 million guns in private (civilian) ownership in the US. This is enough for every man woman and child in the country. We are unique in this, it is true. Serbia has a per-capita gun ownership that is half of ours, and they’re in second place. However, we need to look within the US to answer this question. While people compare the US gun homicides to the UK, Canada, or Australia, the fact is that the US is more complex and larger by population than all of these countries.
When comparing areas within the US, many conservatives cite Chicago as an example of where gun laws fail. While technically, it is not true that Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the country, Chicago is an example of how gun crimes may be the result of different cultural approaches to guns within the US and how different socio-economic contexts can affect homicide rates.
However, I’m going to stick to what I know, and compare two states, Maryland (where I was born and raised) and Vermont (Bernie Sanders’ state; where I went to University and was happy to call home for many years). The Brady Campaign rates states based on their gun laws — with higher grades being more gun restrictions. They give Maryland an A- . Vermont gets an F. In Vermont, many individuals open carry in the small towns and ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles is not uncommon. In Maryland, both of these things get you jailed. In Baltimore, there are even additional gun laws from the rest of the state that basically prohibit guns in public without permits from the police — which are notoriously hard to obtain (see Article 19 Subtitle 59).
And yet, Baltimore is one of the most deadly cities in the World, yes, the world. A recent analysis of data has 4 US cities listed, Baltimore, Detroit, St. Louis, and New Orleans (all cities with gun controls; all cities run by democrats).
Meanwhile, Vermont is also run by democrats (generally). In Vermont, there are multiple political parties at the state level, almost all of them are generally progressive in nature. Yet, the homicide rates in Vermont (much less gun homicides) are far lower. A recent report has shown that Vermont has had 47 gun homicides. While this is equal to some months in Baltimore, Vermont has had 47 gun homicides in the last 6 years combined… yes, combined.
So here, there is more proof that there is more going on than just more gun laws equal less death. That simply isn’t true. Fact is that gun laws can help, yes, but gun bans are not a blanket solution.
While most people are convinced that gun laws are weak, they are. And they’ve been weakening. However, this is where the complexity arises:
Most people are convinced that gun crimes are going up. Fact: They’re not. In fact, gun homicides are almost half of what they were in the 90s.
My European friends still like to argue however, that their gun laws work. Personally, as a resident of Europe for over 5 years now, I’m not so sure. Europe effectively doesn’t let people own guns without a reason (determined by the government), licensing, and testing. Yet, this doesn’t stop Europeans from buying black market guns on the dark web. And, like the US, European nations stock up on guns (to the extent that they can) after terrorist attacks as well.
Yet, their gun crime rates don’t seem to rise; and the argument is shaky as the science on the relationship between the number of guns and gun crimes is still inconclusive. Furthermore, violence still happens all over Europe, look at Northern Ireland, where thousands were killed by paramilitary organisations during the Troubles. France recently saw its own mass murder in a night club. The European laws aren’t a blanket one size fits all approach, and the extent to which that would even help in the US is speculative.
One could argue that European gun laws would be unlikely to even have an effect given how many firearms there are already in the US (more guns than people). And in addition, those areas that have seen stricter gun laws may see fewer gun homicides, but they don’t see fewer homicides in general. As such, it seems that we’re not looking at a “gun” issue so much as we are looking at a people issue.
So, where does this leave us?
Well it leaves us with the need to address gun violence, but no practical way to address gun ownership because 1) the right to bear arms is clearly enshrined in the US constitution and 2) there are more guns than people in the US already.
How can we do this?
Well, we reverse the scientific question. You don’t ask if there is a correlation between guns and violence and then come to the conclusion that less guns might mean less violence. That’s logically similar to saying less pants means less people die wearing pants.
Instead, we should ask: what are the conditions under which violence is minimised even in the presence of firearms? For this, we turn to Vermont again. They have trusting local communities with general economic prosperity. This creates an environment where people don’t fear their neighbour and its OK to let your kids outside to play, even if you know your neighbour owns an AR-15. In communities like those in Vermont, you know you neighbour. So, if there is a loaner in the neighbourhood, people notice. They can’t hide in plain sight like Stephen Paddock did. Compare this to Baltimore, where you can live in an apartment building and not know who lives next door, much less everyone on the floor, or everyone in a building.
Most murders are not committed with rifles but with handguns. They’re also not committed in rural areas, where people are born and raised to respect guns as tools, they’re in urban (democratically run) areas. So to move forward we have to stop blaming republicans and start looking at ourselves as “Americans”.
Most importantly, people in Vermont aren’t fighting for scraps. In Baltimore and many other areas, the cities are falling apart. Baltimore has entire neighbourhoods that look like they’re preparing for a hurricane. In any place, people will do whatever it takes to feed their family. In Baltimore, there aren’t jobs to get money. So people turn to gangs and crime to put food on the table. It’s a natural consequence here. And as such violence — even gun violence — rises despite strict gun laws.
When people are hungry, laws become meaningless.
So what can we do?
So one thing we can do, is stop trying to blame a tool for the actions of its user. We don’t blame obesity on spoons, we shouldn’t blame gun crimes on guns. There are many issues, psychological and contextual, to take into account.
Another thing we can do is start to support our inner cities. Create ways of bringing economic prosperity back to downtrodden areas. People in these neighbourhoods don’t want to break laws to feed themselves. But there sometimes isn’t much of a choice. If new legislation can facilitate the choice between crimes that pay and an honest living people will choose an honest living.
In addition, it appears that other forms of legislation that don’t limit gun ownership rights can help: start actually prosecuting crimes. Psychological studies lead scientists to the conclusion that: victimisation results in violence. As noted in Psychology Today:
“… if crimes involving African-American victims were to be more aggressively investigated and prosecuted: (1) African-American murder and victimisation rates would fall, (2) pre-emptive killing between African-Americans and whites would fall, and (3) white murder and victimization rates would fall”.
So while it may be difficult, perhaps criminal justice reform is easier than the gun legislation efforts suggested so far. Perhaps by actually punishing crimes that are committed and solving murders in the inner cities (where only a fraction are sometimes solved), that gun violence will fall due to a manipulation of our own psychology.
Take Baltimore for example, in the city, some years have seen as few as 33% of all murders solved. While the city has been boasting that it can solve about 50% of murders this year, even that number is basically tainted by shaky counting and administrative rules that count “closed” cases that are never solved, or are “solved” because the criminal was arrested for another crime. This doesn’t just call into question they very competence of the police there (who have been accused of assassinating one of their own residents in recent years: Freddy Grey), it calls into question the extent to which people there have any respect for laws in the first place. What are the repercussions for murder in Baltimore right now? Well, chances are: nothing! So if you have a problem and it gets heated, you have a pretty good chance of no punishment for your actions.
Lastly, any legislation needs to look at a harsh truth and stop attacking statistically irrelevant firearms. A report by the US Department of Justice shows us that the vast majority of firearm related homicides (80%) are committed with handguns. So why is our debate always about semi-automatic or automatic weapons? In fact, when you look at convicted criminals, only 2% of state inmates were armed with an automatic weapon… 2%. That means that 98% of our problems are not the weapons we hear the most about in the media. The fact is that in reality there is also little difference between what the media describes as an “assault rifle” and a regular hunting rifle (yes, most of what we see referred to as assault rifles fire just as fast as a hunting rifle). It is visual aesthetics and nothing else.
Legislation should target actual problems, and this reveals a harsh truth. Most murders are not committed with rifles but with handguns. They’re also not committed in rural areas, where people are born and raised to respect guns as tools, they’re in urban (democratically run) areas. So to move forward we have to stop blaming republicans and start looking at ourselves as “Americans”.
Additionally, most guns are not committed with legally registered firearms. So demanding better registration doesn’t stop a criminal who doesn’t respect the law. Given the statistics on murders being solved in cities like Baltimore, if they are unlikely to get caught for killing someone, what more is the risk of simply having an unlicensed gun? Fact is that these laws already exist, but yet, most gun crimes are still committed with someone else’s guns: only 18% of gun crimes are committed by the owner of the gun used.
Checks on power
The last point to make is, I believe, the systemic point of power dynamics throughout human history. Guns are a source of hard power. When all else fails, in the darkest points of despotic regimes and oppression, firearms can ensure that one has the ability to enact change. This point is dark, very dark. But those who support the right of citizens to bear arms do have history on their side. Taking a look at Time Magazine’s list of toppled dictators, every one of them was removed by death or guns. The fact is that if it weren’t for an armed citizenry, the US would still be under British rule as an armed citizenry was able to fight back two invasions from the world’s largest “superpower” of the time (during the American Revolution and the War of 1812).
In more recent years, almost every revolution has been a violent one. If it isn’t for an uprising of armed militias from inside the country, regimes get toppled from outside. Of interest to note, many regimes that are toppled from outside are only done so because of international pressure and gun bans inside the countries that leave the citizens effectively unarmed.
Is all of this relevant to the US? Yes. I believe it is just as relevant now as it was in 1776 (although to be clear: I do not support an armed uprising in the US). The fact is that we are not so different now as we were then. People are still power hungry and do not relinquish power when they obtain it; this is a problem because governments are made of people. Look at the presidencies of Bush and Obama, both of them promised smaller governments and turning over power to the people. Both of them maintained all the previous powers and expanded their own executive power during their terms. Now we have someone who half of the country believes to be a tyrant, a Nazi sympathiser, or both and what do we see: a significant increase in the rise of left wing militias.
Militias and crazy armed individuals are no longer relegated to the fringes of America’s right wing (or “alt-right” as they’re called now). The list of domestic terrorists include many, such as Timothy McVeigh, who were right-wing nuts. However, he’s now joined with the likes of _______ the killer who shot at Republican senator Steve Scalise and 4 others at a baseball game. Do you remember his name? I’ll give you a moment to fill in the blank. It was James Hodgkinson (if you didn’t know that, I’ll ask you to reflect on media bias).
Where do we go from here?
I as a supporter of the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution, believe that we have to do something about the rate of gun deaths in America.
I also believe that the actions we take need to focus on psychology and motivations. There are currently too many guns in circulation to enact a ban or expect some miracle of willing disarmament. We also have sufficient reason to believe that simply owning a gun does not make crime inevitable. Therefore we need to look at the actual cause of crime: people.
Whatever action we take in the future to curb gun deaths need to address human motivation. We need to bring live back to our inner cities. We need to address the inequality that leads to oppression of millions of Americans. We have to bring back real livelihood and positive lifestyles to our friends and families and fellow countrymen. We need to live in a world where you can ask your neighbour for a cup of milk when you’re making a child’s birthday cake. If we keep going on a path of hyper-individualism and breaking down the cultural foundation that make us American, I worry that, as a country, we’ll never make it out of here alive.