Once again another mass murder brings up the debate on gun control, and unproductive discussions full of straw man arguments fly. As I write this I am sitting in Edmonton, Canada where I grew up. As a Canadian I have a hard time understanding pro-gun arguments, and I think it’s safe to say this would be true for a lot of Canadians and people in many other western countries. In light of all the gun related deaths and mass shootings in the U.S. it is unfathomable to a lot of us why this right to bear arms is so important compared to other things like health care or education which many people don’t see as rights. Two things that have the ability to greatly increase your chance of survival not only individually, but collectively as a society. Such things many people have simply turned their backs on. Other individual freedoms like the right to privacy have been openly exposed by Edward Snowden. The outrage minimal, and Edward Snowden is labeled a traitor. Things like income inequality, fair and democratic voting processes are sometimes discussed but little happens. This simply adds to why many of us from other countries are simply confounded and don’t understand.
And believe me, I am trying. If there is one thing you have convinced me of about America, is that any sort of ban on guns will not solve any problems, at least in a major way. In some countries this might be the case, but not in America. As many pundits decried after Sandy Hook, if the shooting of elementary school children is not enough to convince anybody that we have a national crisis and that maybe we have to revisit the applicability of the 2nd amendment to this current day and age, nothing will. I have rested on this conclusion for a little while now, and even wrote a blog piece before in which I ask the question about why, if we won’t give up our guns, can’t we fight for a society in which we don’t need them? It is along those lines that I want to write about again today, but perhaps looking at it from a different tack. Because I certainly want to talk about my views, but productively, and try to ask more questions, because I don’t know that I have a lot of answers. I just know that I really want there to be less shootings and schools and other public venues. More importantly I want to ask questions that perhaps change thinking and can change culture. Because I don’t think any true progress on the gun issue can happen unless there is a change in attitude about them.
America has a lot of fear. While I also groan somewhat at Michael Moore’s overplay to the emotional in his films, his documentary Bowling for Columbine had a central thesis, and that wasn’t about the banning of guns, but that is about us living in a culture of fear. When you debate about guns with people that are pro-gun, overwhelmingly their best arguments boil down to protection from violent criminals, but also to protection from a tyrannical government. The very intent, we are told, for the 2nd amendment. Fear can sometimes be a sensible state to live in, if those fears are real. Are they in this case? In 2009 it was discovered that of the approximately 15,000 homicides, only 1900 were committed by an actual stranger. This tends to be true for other violent crimes as well. It’s people you know. It isn’t because they broke into your home. You let them in. The Pulse shooter was a regular and had passed through the doors many times. They know you. Know something about your habits. Killers pick the time and the place, the chances of you being ready to defend yourself are small.
In terms of protection from the government, well it’s understandable this was a concern of our founding fathers given what they went through. How applicable is that today? We know of course many countries that have far less guns, who have less murders and their governments have not rolled over them. For instance the Netherlands has had between 0.8-1 homicides per 100,000 people (any method) for the past decade. This country has only 3.9 guns per 100 people. Such restrictive gun laws have been in effect for at least 20 years and to my knowledge the government has not attacked it’s people. There are of course other similar examples of low gun numbers, low homicide rates and restrictive gun laws without having a tyrannical government. Are those governments waiting to strike? Why don’t those governments roll over their unarmed citizens? Why aren’t the citizens more worried and fighting to gain more access to guns? Are they fools? What is different about them and us? And if they seem content with a lot less guns even when they are unhappy with their government is that an attitude we can learn too. In talking with a number of people who have served in the military they are rarely happy with their government, Republican or Democratic, and have said to me explicitly that if they were ever asked to turn their guns on the people by the government, they would turn their guns on the government and not the people. The military are not mercenaries, they are made up of us. They are trying to protect us. Why would they aim at us? The trust you don’t have for your government is the same mistrust the people who make up our armed forces have. So when you say you need your guns as protection from tyranny you are really saying you don’t trust your military. Even if these horror of a government were to convince the military to turn guns on the people, of course guns wouldn’t come into play anytime soon. There would be bombs from planes and drones, tanks rolling through the street, and long range missiles. Given how armed the citizens are, it seems like the most sensible strategy. Because among all those military people with guns come people with a lot of training, and experience in strategy. And the government knows where weapons are being stockpiled by the citizens. They are coming to destroy your stash first.
But let’s try and go a little deeper. It seems to me that there is a feeling among those who are pro-gun rights that there is inevitability to certain things. Governments will eventually always turn on the people. Criminals will always be plentiful. I am always in danger from unknown assailants and I need my guns. To me it is this inevitability that seems to be most damning evidence to this culture of fear. While no society is without criminals there are societies with a lot less. While there are no societies without homicides there are ones that have a lot less. While there are governments that attack their people, there are others that do not. So we have plenty of examples of how we can change for the better. What is the attitude and culture of those countries that make them safer from their government and each other? When you know someone who is doing things in a better way, don’t you usually try and do it that way too? This is at the heart of what I do not understand. Even if these fears represent a real in present danger why would we not strive for a society where we live in less fear? It requires no change to gun laws or the 2nd amendment. You would simply find that your gun would be sitting in a closet unused as it does in Switzerland. The oft used example of the safe country with plenty of guns. Those guns though come from mandatory military service, and they generally sit unloaded in closets by those men and women after they serve. Nobody is carrying them into the Swiss version of 7/11.
How much damage can an angry person with a knife do, compared to an angry person with a gun? I hope everybody would agree the latter will do more. The conversation about guns often focuses on the latter. It assumed that liberals are thinking that by removing the gun, anger goes away, and it is possible that some liberals think that. They would of course be incorrect. Just like there are many societies with low gun numbers, low homicides, and restrictive laws, there are also many nations with restrictive laws, high gun numbers and high homicides. What are the factors that make those more violent societies? They also seem to have angry people, and angry people with guns. Our initial question indicates two problems. Angry people, and angry people with guns. However both those problems, as you’ll not have something in common. If you could make people less angry, whether or not that person has a gun becomes irrelevant. And so I agree with the oft used argument that guns don’t kill people, people do. The problem is people with guns, when they get angry, can do a lot more damage. Taking away guns won’t reduce the number of angry people just the amount of hurt they can cause. We can’t treat the problem like it’s all or nothing, if we can reduce deaths we should be doing that shouldn’t we? But I’m with the pro-gun people, I’d prefer not to take away people’s guns, I’d rather work on the problem of how to make less angry people. There are solutions to this. There are examples of societies that have less of them. There are studies about what factors lead to more peaceful societies. It’s a challenging road, it means making a lot of other personal changes, but if you think keeping your guns is important those are your options. Fight for that society that gets the heart of the problem that causes people to want to kill other people. Don’t just throw your hands up and say it can’t be done. We know better.
Finally let’s ask an even more fundamental question. What are the grounds in which we should end someone’s existence? Trespassing? Burglary? Being suspected of a crime? Acting suspiciously? Not listening to the police? In debates over gun control issues with people you hear a lot about people deserving today. “He should have listened to the cops instead of running away”, “If anybody steps foot into my house in the middle of the night I’ll shoot him dead”. In Arizona a lady shot at a car that had children in it for simply turning around in her driveway. In a country with due process, with guns we suddenly all get to become judge, jury, and executioner all at once. In an excellent video about how we can arrive at morality through scientific means over divine guidance, they talk about why we have gradation of punishment in society for crimes. Why for instance do we not punish rapists (a horrible crime) with the death sentence? I honestly never thought about it before. Rape of course is an absolutely horrific crime. The reason is, that if you are already going to be put to death for rape, you have nothing to lose really by killing your victim. Your punishment can’t be made worse. Imagine if all crimes were punishable by death. Would this lead to a more orderly society, or a more violent one? So if, as many claim, there is nothing we can do about criminals. If we now arm everyone to the point where criminals now feel any crime they commit is likely to lead to them being shot, what is the response of the criminal mind? Does the criminal let fear prevent them from doing the crime, or does the criminal simply increase their own arsenal when committing crimes? Do the criminals not become more deadly instead of committing crimes less frequently?
Given the amount of guns in the U.S., we should be the most orderly society, but we are not. So once again, I agree that there have to be other factors that lead to a more orderly society with less violent crime. Can we not all agree to fight for those things? Can we listen to our sociologists, mental health experts, people who study deviant behavior? Can we all work together to de-stigmatized mental illness? Can we all fight against poverty and income inequality? Can we demand a media that doesn’t sensationalize and misrepresent statistics to attract viewers, but actually informs and covers issues objectively and reasonably? Can we all fight for a government that has politicians that don’t try to make you feel afraid to win your votes? They give you things to fear, give vague solutions on how they are going to make the fear go away, but they never do. If one side is so naïve as to removing guns from the equations is the answer, then you also have to take responsibility for suggesting that more guns is the answer either. If you are going to say having your gun is important, and that it is your right, then ethically if you have compassion, and care about living in a society with less death and violence you must fight for all these other things. You must research solutions to how we create a society, like many that exist currently, with less angry people (whether they have guns or not). Your evolutionary advantage is not your ability to shoot a firearm. It’s your brain. If you can’t see that increasing happiness in society is a more effective means of keep you and other safer then you yourself are a victim of the same fear that ends too many lives.