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.
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.
(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.ca, http://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)).