On Guns.

I am not an American. But in Canada, we get lots of American news, and I follow the gun control debate with interest. In Canada, we also have a public discourse on gun control laws and there is a pretty divided response to our own ‘gun registry’ imposed by the government to force gun owners to register their long guns (restricted and prohibited weapons such as handguns, or modified weapons, were already regulated).

No one seems to mind one whit that handguns and other weapons are tightly controlled in Canada, but people just don’t want to bother with registering their hunting rifles and shotguns. And frankly, the jury is still out on whether or not the long gun registry was a waste of money or not. But we don’t have the problems that America has.

Do I have your attention?
Do I have your attention?

I’m not a peacenik anti-gun “make love not war” type. I don’t think guns are evil and in fact I enjoy practicing target shooting with firearms in a controlled environment. But something about the proliferation of handguns among our neighbours to the south makes me uncomfortable.

One of the most inflamed sources of any debate is social media, and one that I follow is Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed. Love him or hate him, he has been a polarizing figure in the US gun control struggle. Many (particularly those against gun control) view Morgan as an outsider with no business commenting on their laws (this is putting it rather mildly – I have rarely seen such vitriol as the stuff spewed at Morgan on Twitter). Those in favour of gun control are grateful for the celebrity spotlight that he shone on their side of the issue.

Personally, I don’t know enough about the state and federal laws in the US to have an informed opinion about whether or not there is a need for more or less gun control.

I do know however that there seems to be an extraordinary amount of gun crime in the US. Of course, extraordinary is a subjective word. The gun lobby certainly doesn’t portray the statistics as “extraordinary”, but simply cites the stats to argue that everyone needs guns to protect themselves from everyone else with guns – or something like that. To be honest, the argument is so flawed I can barely keep it straight.

In 2011, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report (UCR), there were 11,101 firearm homicides in the United States. Over half of those were committed with handguns (6,251). This says nothing of the number of handgun suicides (numbers for 2011 weren’t available but in 2010 there were 4,603), unintentional handgun deaths (again, no numbers for 2011 but in 2010 it was 91) and handgun deaths from undetermined causes (in 2010 it was 37). Add on top of that the 73,883 non-fatal injuries from handguns in 2011 (according to the US Department of Justice).

Unless my math is wrong (which is possible, I have a social science degree for a reason), that totals roughly 84,865 human beings in the United States who were hit by handgun bullets in one year. Of that number, 10,982 people died.

73,883 injured and 10,982 people dead in one year is, in my humble opinion, extraordinary.

All the gun control talk got me thinking – what would it take for there to be decisive and dramatic change in the US in an effort to solve this problem? I don’t necessarily mean stricter gun control; although I personally think it is urgently necessary in some form, I could support other practical and decisive solutions which might decrease the number of handgun injuries and deaths.   But for some reason, no change has come.

Many years ago I watched Columbine unfold on my TV screen and thought for sure that there would be swift policy change in the US. I watched Virginia Tech happen and thought there would be change. I cried and turned off the TV when Sandy Hook happened; the cruelty of those deaths just overwhelmed. I thought there would be change. There has been none.

On September 11, 2001 there were 2,753 people from 115 nations killed in a terrorist attack. The result was the passing of the Patriot Act, sweeping changes to airport security, the introduction of a lexicon of new jargon into the mainstream, and ten years of war including the introduction of new “drone” warfare.

Imagine if September 11th happened four days in a row. That would roughly equal the number of handgun deaths that occur in a year.

Or how about this: imagine if all those handgun deaths occurred on one single horrific day in the United States.

Could we turn off the TV and look away if 10,982 people died in one day? 10,982 dead in malls and theatres and God forbid elementary schools across one country in 24 bloody hours? Would it bring people together, under one common purpose, the way that 9/11 did? Would there be new laws imposed within weeks, regulatory changes to gun carrying and possession rules and background checks to mirror the changes in airport security protocol? Would there be a common feeling of unity the way, in 2001 even non-New Yorkers wore those I Love NY t-shirts as a symbol of fidelity with the victims and the survivors?

I’m a Canadian, and I really don’t know all the legal framework surrounding American gun laws but I know it can’t be as complex as national security legislation and that seem to have been changed easily enough.

People on both sides of the debate seem to have dug in and are stubbornly refusing to budge. There used to be a tongue-in-cheek saying for when someone was exasperated with the status quo: “Does someone have to die for something to be done about this problem?”

Not so tongue in cheek anymore.

Status Quo

(While this piece was informed using stats and info taken from the following websites, this should be taken as an opinion piece only: www.gunpolicy.org, “A Look at Gun Crime in Canada” in the Montreal Gazette (www.montrealgazette.com/news/gun-crimes/index.html), www.statcan.gc.cahttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/03/promises-promises-us-safe_n_947688.html, and the September 11th coverage in New York Magazine (http://nymag.com/news/articles/wtc/1year/numbers.htm)).  

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4 thoughts on “On Guns.

  1. I think the problem so many people have with “gun control” is it has been shown to work as well as Alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s and the War on (Some) Drugs today.

    In other words, a complete failure.
    In all honesty, the USA really doesn’t have a ‘gun violence’ problem. We have a problem with a violent sub culture in our population. We cite the statistics in order to show that. While 85,000 (deaths and injuries) does seem like a lot; given our population of 305,000,000 is it? That is less than 0.03% of our population.

    Look at the information about where the violence is located and you’ll find it is highly localized to a very few areas. The FBI reports that 50% of all homicides and 85% of all violent crime is related to gang or drug organization activity.

    So how do you change a very small, localized and already probable criminal element to reduce violence?
    That is the challenge.

    The best results come not from ‘gun control’ but from social / economic reform.
    We need to improve our schools (deplorable how bad they are) so that kids are leaving able to go to college or enter the work force. So many now leave functionally illiterate and technologically ill-equipped.

    We need to improve our employment rate; those same neighborhoods are often the worst for unemployment. Many times high than the national average. We can do this by reducing the administrative & legal burden on businesses. They are strangling under the load of paperwork, licensing, inspections and bureaucracy.

    We can reduce/reform our tax code; we employ legions of people just to make sense out of it. Let’s make it simple and fair. Business owners would spend less time telling the government what they are doing and more time actually doing it.

    We need to strengthen our families; two parent families are one of the best ways to reduce violence and crime. Let’s stop making it so easy to replace a parent with a government subsidy check. Let’s stop having generations of people on welfare.

    We need to reform our insane drug laws. The War on (Some) Drugs fills our prisons with non-violence victimless criminals; they come out unable to get decent jobs and go back to prison after committing another crime.

    People on both sides of the debate seem to have dug in and are stubbornly refusing to budge.

    This is one of the biggest misrepresentations going around. Perpetuated by the media and the gun control advocates deliberately. There is no compromise, there has been no compromise from the gun control advocates; just a gradual erosion of our rights. Started in 1964 with the National Firearms act. Then in 1968 with Gun Control Act, 1986 with the Hughes Amendment and on and on..
    Time and time again there has been another chunk out of our rights. And the antis give nothing in return. Time for compromise of that nature is over.

    In the last 20-30 years; more states have implemented Open or Concealed Carry. More people are owning firearms, more firearms are in people’s hands. And firearm related deaths, injuries and crime rates have been trending down during that time. It really isn’t a ‘gun’ problem.

    Bob S.
    3 Boxes of BS

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    1. Hi Bob,
      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful comment; this is exactly the kind of discussion I was hoping for! I completely agree with what I think is one of your main points in that there needs to be more attention, focus and efforts towards improving social conditions rather than try to “legislate” problems away (ie. through more restrictive gun laws).

      You’re right that improved education and employment conditions will help reduce many kinds of crime. But is there an appetite for this in the US? Forgive the question, but the implication we get from most media is that in the US there is a very strong feeling towards individual rights and responsibility rather than the collective. It costs money, invested in social systems, to improve schools and employment opportunities and business tax policies to get people off welfare.

      It seems to me the problem may be that people are allowed to carry their firearms around with them for no reason at all other than “protection”. That is a main difference between the US and Canada – while our possession and ownership rights are similar, people are not allowed to carry their weapons around on their body in the vast vast majority of cases (I think there are exceptions made but it is exceedingly rare and must be approved by the Chief Firearms Officer in the province).

      If people didn’t have their guns so readily available, it seems like a lot of gun crime would decrease significantly.

      While I don’t want to base an entire argument on statistics, I will point out that the numbers I gave were only for handgun deaths and injuries and did not encompass all gun related deaths and injuries (ie. rifles, shotguns, etc). While it still may be a “relatively” small portion of the population, it’s still one of the highest rates in the world. Again, maybe simple accessibility is the problem.

      As you pointed out, if violent crime is decreasing, there should be less and less reason to carry a weapon around for protection, right? And yet the gun lobby touts self defense as a primary factor.

      Sara

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      1. Sara,

        But is there an appetite for this in the US? Forgive the question, but the implication we get from most media is that in the US there is a very strong feeling towards individual rights and responsibility rather than the collective. It costs money, invested in social systems, to improve schools and employment opportunities and business tax policies to get people off welfare.

        That is a great question and the issue comes down to how those programs are implemented. I would argue the ‘collective’ approach seen in the last 30 to 50 years isn’t working. The collective created welfare and reduced incentive to marry and to work. In fact, from personal experience with family members and friends — the welfare system actually penalized people who tried to work their way off the rolls.

        What we don’t need to invest in social systems; we have those coming out our ears. What we have to do is work on making them effective and reducing dependency on them. We need to get the Federal government (Top layer) out of the school system. We need to reduce the legislative burden from the state (2nd layer) and get the attention on the local layer.

        For example; let’s not pay the school district for each child attending but attach the money to the child. A slight difference but important one — if a school district isn’t doing well; let the kids transfer to another — the money goes with the kids. Good school districts will attract attendance forcing bad ones to adopt the ideas to keep going. Or the good district expands to take over the bad.

        As for as the welfare; we can change the rules to let people work while getting support but on a sliding scale — the more they work the less they get in support. And it is capped by the number of children; too many people have kids just to get a few extra bucks.
        We can make requirements like job/vocational training mandatory — the people who were on the rolls can help teach those ON the rolls now. We can also employ some of them as baby sitters/ day care. Only for those on welfare to avoid competing with existing business – but day care is a huge cost.

        Don’t want to work, don’t want to go to school; don’t eat. Take the kids away from parents and take care of them. Harsh but our country is broke and we need to change things.

        It seems to me the problem may be that people are allowed to carry their firearms around with them for no reason at all other than “protection”.

        That is the media perception distorting reality. There are approximately 6 million people in the country licensed to carry firearms. Texas has a program that tracks those who have a license. At no point in the history (1996 start) has the convictions of those licensed to carry — FOR ANY Reason — ever been above 0.50% of all convictions for the year. That means 99.5% of the convictions were from people with no license. Do we really have a problem?
        The current rate is 0.20%

        If people didn’t have their guns so readily available, it seems like a lot of gun crime would decrease significantly.

        It would seem logical at first blush but let’s look at it deeper. If you carried a firearm; would you use it to harm someone? What type of person would?

        The average person doesn’t want to hurt anyone and I think the numbers really reflect that.

        The estimated arrest rate for the United States in 2012 was 3,888.2 arrests per 100,000 inhabitants. The arrest rate for violent crime (including murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) was 166.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, and the arrest rate for property crime (burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson) was 528.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. (See Table 30.)
        That is from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. 3.9% of the population arrest rate — for violent crime 0.16% — clearly very few of the people are committing crime. I’ll reference back to my earlier statement — most of the crime is related to drug and gang. Isn’t it the same in Canada?

        As you pointed out, if violent crime is decreasing, there should be less and less reason to carry a weapon around for protection, right?

        Trends are tricky in one aspect — decreasing overall doesn’t mean it isn’t increasing in certain areas. Yes the odds are small each day but there is an 83% chance during a person’s life of being the victim of a crime. Be around long enough and the odds stack against you. Just when a person is less capable of being physical defense.

        But the more important aspect to self defense is the stakes of being wrong. Being unarmed when the victim of a crime is basically being completely at the will of someone already unwilling to abide by rules of society. How does it make sense to tell people “Trust the criminal; he probably doesn’t want to hurt you”.
        Rory Miller’s book “Facing Violence: Preparing for the Unexpected” is a great resource. He talks about various kinds of violence – the ones that concern me the most are the “Process Predators” — people who get their jollies from the act; rape, torture, assault, murder.

        I wonder what your stance is on fighting back. – Do you think violence is acceptable?
        If so, then each time violence is a possibility; death is a possibility. With a firearm, that possibility is just increased. Of course that increased possibility is what makes it an effective self defense tool.

        I’ll close with this

        While it still may be a “relatively” small portion of the population, it’s still one of the highest rates in the world.

        This chart
        http://www.data360.org/graph_group.aspx?Graph_Group_Id=441

        And this page
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_rate

        Clearly show your statement to be incorrect. Mexico has very strict gun control laws — only one legal gun store in the country for civilians — and a higher firearm homicide rate.

        Availability isn’t the issue otherwise we would see a much higher rate here — honestly 45% of all households (115 Million Households) have a firearm.

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