Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The Second Amendment - Death and Tragedy

It's time for the right to guns to join the right to slaves of a bygone era

Note: This article is based on a piece co-authored with Tom Hashemi, Founder/Director of theriskyshift.com.

This week marked another shock to the psyche of the United States. The ninth mass-shooting in just 2012 alone at a primary school leaving twenty-six dead including twenty children is the most tragic event of mass murder in the United States since the Second World War. Newtown will go down in history along Columbine as the worst murders of children in living memory. I will not mention the name of the killer, he is undeserving of the type, but if you wish to find a detailed biography of this monster it is easily available elsewhere. It is important to take a moment to remember the victims of this tragedy, and the families who have had their worlds torn away from them in a terrible ten minutes of history.

However, in a year of such great tragedies, dwarfing any other before it, it is impossible to just sit back in grief. To do so is to allow inaction to permit the state of affairs to wander into further tragedies. The debate must be had and something must be done to stop such devastation to strike again.

The battle which is rising is one between the right on one side, and their holy text of the second amendment. They attempt to pin the blame on anything other than the weapons used in these tragedies, whether that be the unions, atheism, drugs, sex or political correctness. On the other side a desperate attempt to control the spread of guns before another killer wields them on defenseless innocents. Fortunately both sides agree on the necessity of significant looks into the mental health care system of the United States, unfortunately no one seems to agree on what must be done. However, this article will focus on the very real clash facing the United States, guns and the second amendment.

The case of the pro-gun lobby is, at best, the work of a group firmly fixated on trying to make reality look like a world in which the Second Amendment is still relevant. At worst, it is one so dedicated to this fantasy as to have dangerous illusions as to the continued relevance of an armed militia concerned with resisting a tyrannous federal government. There are several arguments which are wheeled out repeatedly in favour of the "right" to guns, all of which are deeply flawed:

  • It's constitutional: So what? "Amendments" are exactly that, changes to the constitution. Is it too much to ask that the constitution changes to meet the times? It did after all with slavery and the Thirteenth Amendment. The Second Amendment is archaic and belongs to the time of slavery and the looming threat of the British Empire, a time well before the U.S. could truly have been called a democracy. Now, when federal government depends on votes to remain in power, votes are the weapons every household needs. There is no need for every man to wield a weapon to warn off a federal army which has its hands tied controlling Afghanistan, let alone the three hundred and ten million citizens of the United States – even were they completely unarmed. Besides which, where is the organised militia such armed citizenry are supposed to belong to? The Second Amendment is a disastrous carry-on from a past era. The eighteenth century solution (to eighteenth century issues which no longer exist) has created a twenty-first century problem.
  • People will always find a way to get guns: If that's the case, why don't we just give out weapons to everyone en-masse, regardless of their mental stability or criminal history. After all, they will find a way anyway. We will simply have to hope that the good guys will outnumber the bad guys and put more effort into developing the ability and will to kill people than their opponents bent on murder. Not only does this argument make no sense when taken to its extreme, it betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of who spree killers are. Spree killers tend not to be experienced criminals with extensive connections and experience with crime necessary to get hold of illegal weapons, the vast majority of spree killings (unlike gang shootings) are carried out by people without prior criminal histories with legally-accessible weapons. 75% of the sixty two mass killings since 1982 were carried out with legal weapons.
  • If everyone had guns, someone would have stopped him: As mentioned above, this relies on otherwise good people developing the ability and will to kill someone equal to that of a man (most spree killers are white men) bent on murderous intent. In the most recent shooting it works on the assumption that primary school teachers, mostly women who have dedicated their lives to caring for youth, would actively stand ready to kill someone who attacked the school, carry a deadly weapon around children, and train themselves to stand calm under fire. In real life, bad guys are much much better at killing people than good guys are. Their mission is death, they have no hesitation in killing others or at losing their own lives. They are armed with an arsenal and recently have turned to body armour to prolong their sprees. The concept that a primary school teacher would stand ready with a weapon, would be willing to use it to kill someone, and be better at it than someone prepared to kill and to die is ludicrous. Much is made of people who say that the Aurora cinema shooting would have been cut short by an audience member with a gun. As someone who has been trained with various rifles, I know full well that in a panicked chaotic environment, into the light of a cinema screen, surrounded by noise and being shot at with a military-caliber rifle, any non-military man is just as likely to shoot a fellow audience member as his attacker. At best they would cause a distraction, and worst they would bring surer death on everyone around them.
  • People will always find a way to kill, with or without guns: Note how this argument relies on a prior one being false, as if guns were so easy to get hold of when illegal no one would have to commit murder with other weapons. However this argument is also completely false. It is simply impossible for a weedy untrained individual to take on a school with a knife and kill twenty six people in ten minutes. That would even be difficult with a low-caliber handgun, or a single-shot rifle. Having fired several guns competitively I know exactly the difference between giving an amateur a breach-loading .22 rifle and a semi-automatic rifle like that wielded in this week's tragedy. He wielded a weapon similar to a military M16. On a day's notice he could not have killed nearly as many as he did in ten minutes (the time taken for first responders to turn up). It's possible no one will have died at all.
  • The United States is no worse than abroad: This is simply not held up at all. The homicide by firearm rate in the U.S. is completely disproportionate to its position as a Western nation. It is only bested by developing countries and the nearest developed countries to it are Liechtenstein and Switzerland (also low gun-restriction countries). The United States is four times worse than any western country other than Liechtenstein. One can point to all kinds of different mitigating statistics to this, but the inescapable conclusion is that lax gun laws equal more gun murders in developed states. In the United States, unless you were to insult the entire populace with the assumption that they are more homicidal than average, a factor of four is simply too large of a difference to be challenged. Bringing the United Kingdom in hardly helps the case – it has a gun-related homicide rate of approximately forty times smaller. The rate of gun crime has halved in the years since stricter gun laws were enforced and cannot be attributed to a culture of less crime, as the United Kingdom has a slightly higher crime rate. It also rubbishes the claim that those without guns will find other means, as despite the higher crime rate the UK’s homicide rate is significantly smaller than that of the US, 1.2 per 100,000 against 4.2 respectively. The most significant factor separating the United Kingdom from the United States are its gun laws.

Unfortunately the strength of the argument for gun control is all but irrelevant. As Sam Leith, writing in the Evening Standard, argues, “the issue in the US is a dialogue of the deaf because it's about identity politics, not harm reduction”. The Second Amendment equates the gun to freedom, and as we are aware, freedom is a big word.

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are wilfully, and purposefully ignored.

As such debate on this matter is nothing but a formality. No matter how much the facts stack up on one side, votes will be matched along these lines of identity, not of rationality. What needs to change is what "freedom" really means: that we should be looking upon it not as freedom to wield a weapon of your choice but as one of freedom from the death and suffering which presently torments the United States.


  1. You make some good points, but your arguments remain emotive and selectively ignore some of the facts;

    "If everyone had guns, someone would have stopped him:"
    At least one of the teachers (not including the head teacher who tried to prevent the gunman from entering the school) remained calm and rational enough to have helped the children in her care to hide and stood up to the gunman. I think its very likely that, had she had the opportunity, then she would have done whatever she could to stop him.

    "People will always find a way to kill, with or without guns:"
    "...It is simply impossible for a weedy untrained individual to take on a school with a knife and kill twenty six people in ten minutes."

    A knife is not as effective a killing weapon as a firearm, but banning guns (even allowing that such a think was possible - which it isnt) wouldnt stop mass killings using explosives, knives, clubs, or improvised weapons;

    Check out this link for a huge number of attacks on schools that did not involve firearms;

    Also refer to;

    While acknowledging that the most efficient way to kill people is with an automatic (or semi-automatic) firearm, it also remains the fastest way to stop any mentally unstable person who is intent on causing injury to others, whether with a firearm or merely a blunt weapon or pointy stick...

  2. Anonymous: My arguments are not at all emotive, they are based on facts, I try as hard as possible to keep emotion out of these equations.

    "she would have done whatever she could" - The key word here is "could". You're expecting a primary school teacher to double as a stone cold killer. There is a big difference between giving your own life to protect people and putting a bullet in someone, the two are not comparable, and I doubt most people would ever be capable of shooting someone in the way you expect.

    I take your point on explosives, knives, clubs etc. However, none of these were used in this case. Banning guns would eradicate the spree of spree killings we have seen of late. Massacres with any other weapon are significantly more difficult to carry out, and therefore, rarer. This argument seems to be based on the idea "If you can't stop all of them, why stop any?"

    I have already tackled the "if only someone shot him" line. The chances of someone being trained and armed and willing to kill on the same level of a man with murderous intent is extremely low. It would have taken someone with military-grade training to have stopped the Aurora shooter, and in the case of the school shooting they were primary school teachers, hardly the most likely group to fall in this category. The chances of a good guy being able to stop a killer is not nearly high enough to risk arming the killer in the first place.

  3. Mr. Kelley,

    You keep referring to these spree killers as if they were trained, professional killers who have turned their evil skill set to murdering innocent civilians. You yourself said that they had no prior record and were completely off the radar until they went on their killing spree. What you seem to have conveniently overlooked is the obvious real intent behind these acts. When the Aurora killer was met with any resistance he immediately surrendered. When the Newton murderer was met with resistance he took his own life, which was the same with those in Columbine. Their intent seems to have been to kill themselves but to go out with some blaze of glory. They are not cold blooded killers. They are cowards that simply have lost their capacity to value human life. The killing of others is just a way to gain fame or to make some point. Could be a way to cry out for attention.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that their names should not be mentioned, since that seems to have been their main intent in the first place. But for once I must also agree with what Quinten Tarantino said last night on Lenno, the main issue is mental health. I would like to see what their medical records might reveal. What types of medication have they been on during their youth? We are certainly the most medicated society in the world and that comes with a price. I wonder if you have any facts on the level of prescription drugs used on the youth of any of those other developed nations.

    You seem to be an advocate for taking away all firearms from the citizenry and placing solely in the hands of the responsible people in the government. That responsible government that knowingly placed hundreds of real "military style" weapons in the hands of international drug cartels that we know used them to kill both innocent people and government officials to create chaos and control their society by fear. Removing the rights of individual citizens to keep and bear arms has been tried before, in places like Germany. We know how that turned out.

    You might think the second amendment is antiquated, but the reality is that nothing has changed in the world. As Lord Action said in 1887 "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." We are never more than one generation from tyranny. When all power is centered in one entity, a centralized government, tyranny will certainly follow. That has been through the ages and no amount of modern technology or society will ever purge it from the human experience. Therefore the only real protection we have from a tyrannical government is an armed citizenry. That is what the formers of the US constitution knew and what many in our modern society seem to have forgotten.

    Thank you for your post and for allowing the free expression of ideas. I know you will not agree with many of my thoughts, but civil discourse is what makes this country great.

    1. Thank you Anonymous, it's important to me that people are as free and able to criticise and disagree with me as possible. No one can learn without discourse.

      I'll answer your points paragraph by paragraph:

      1) I would never suggest that spree killers tend to be trained professionals. However, many practice with their weapons long before their attacks and plan them out methodically. Even those who don't are far more determined to kill people than anyone facing them would be. Simply losing the capacity to value human life makes them far more dangerous than the vast majority of people they would face.

      2) As for mental health, I completely agree.

      3) Removing the rights of individual citizens to keep and bear arms isn't just something that has been tried before, it is the first major security change which happens in most developing nations. I'm not sure what you mean by "how that turned out", Germany is one of the most successful states in the world, and states with no such rights to have guns are far safer than states that have those rights.

      4) The idea that nothing has changed since the 18th century is ludicrous. Not only is voting power far more significant, but it also almost impossible to be a tyrant over a developed country. The vast numbers of checks and balances in place in all governments of the western world renders it almost impossible. An armed populace is outdated and dangerous.

  4. My name is Bill by the way.

    1. Again these people are cowards. Had any of the courageous women at the school held concealed hand gun licenses and fired even one shot in the general direction of the perpetrator, I believe that his own actions demonstrate that he would have immediately turned his gun on himself.

    2. I'm happy we agree on something.

    3. I agree that Germany is an admirable Capitalist society. they seem to find success in almost any economy. A very industrious people. According to gunpolice.org, there are 30.2 guns per 100 people in Germany. Carrying a handgun in plain site is allowed with a permit. There are 7.2 million legal firearms in Germany, however there are an estimated 17 million illegal firearms there also. My statement about how that turned out refers to these quotes:

    We are in danger of forgetting that the Bill of Rights reflects
    experience with police excesses. It is not only under Nazi rule that police excesses are inimical to freedom. It is easy to make light of insistence on scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.

    Justice Felix Frankfurter

    The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all
    conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms
    have prepared their own downfall by so doing.

    Adolph Hitler

    It seems that the Germans did learn a lesson from their WWII experience. Though their gun laws are restrictive, they have a well armed citizenry in an effort to protect themselves from the tyranny that they experienced less than 80 years ago. I would maintain that the disarming of the citizens is only the goal of those in power as a way to control the population.

    4. Was not Germany a developed country in the early 20th century? Yes it was. They were experiencing a severe economic downturn, runaway inflation and a devaluation of their currency. In a desperate attempt to believe in the false promises of a corrupt leader, they willingly handed over their rights to the government for the promise of a better future. Kind of a hope and change thing. Abraham Lincoln, often lauded as the greatest president of our country's history said "You can fool all of the people some of the time." I would add that you can fool enough of the people enough of the time. It only takes a majority. Then we all go down together. A well educated, well armed, civil, cooperative society that remembers the past well enough not to repeat the mistakes we and other societies have made is the best hope for continued prosperity and a long peaceful existence. Reagan's policy of peace through strength applies to domestic as well as foreign affairs. It brought down communism and it will keep potential domestic tyranny at bay also.

    Thanks for the discourse. I'm fairly sure you will comment on this post but I'm done. Have a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous and Happy New Year.


    1. 1) However you are making a presumption, it is possible he had simply ended his rampage. This may also not be true of many other spree killers. Also calling people cowards for not being able to take another person's life simply isn't on.

      3) Hitler's speech is not about his own people. His own people certainly were not a "subject race" nor were many of the belief he was a tyrant (he was after all democratically elected and hugely popular). Germany's lesson was to install a system of government checks and balances on power, one the US already has.

      4) No country has ever faced tyranny because of an unarmed populace, it simply has never happened. Many other factors have resulted in tyranny, but that is not one. Nor has any population had any success overthrowing a tyrant based on lax gun laws. Rebellions succeed if they survive long enough due to chaos which make any laws and control over gun trafficking irrelevant, not because the population already had weapons. Especially today it requires extremely sophisticated weaponry to take on a state, one citizens simply do not have access to. Syria is a good example, the scales have only begun to tip since rebels got their hands on heavy weapons and AA weapons. Should all US citizens have access to these as well?

  5. Correction that should have been gunpolicy.org

  6. How about the Revolutionary war in response to point 4? Almost every successful rebellion to tyranny has been due to a self-organize militia or 'lax gun laws' as you put it.

    1. Actually if a rebellion is strong enough in the first instance gun laws are completely irrelevant. The gun laws in all of the Arab Spring states are extremely strict, in Libya among the strictest in the world. Using the revolutionary war as an example (over 200 years old) is no better than using Crimean cavalry tactics in modern warfare. In fact one of the main reasons the Americans won the war was due to French supplies of weapons and supplies, as the local militias were grossly underarmed compared to their regular military opponents. Even then, eighteenth century examples are as outdated as the second amendment, archaic in a modern perspective.

  7. The rest of the world looks at the States' policy on gun control and thinks you care more about your right to shoot things than you do about vulnerable children.

    In Scotland, a man with a handgun went into a primary school and shot a lot of children. Within the year, we had made it virtually impossible to get hold of one. No more such incidents. That was almost 20 years ago.