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.