The Way Of The Gun

Guns, guns, guns.  Everyone’s talking about guns.  Unfortunately most people are talking total nonsense about guns.  I never thought I’d find myself wanting to upload a clip of Piers Morgan – but he does seem to have mustered the only appropriate response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  Anger, frustration and disbelief feel quite normal, especially in the wake of the gun lobby’s recommendations going forward.

Ok so Britain has between 30 – 60 deaths from gunshot wounds every year.  That figure has been consistent for at least the past 15 years.  In Britain, all hand guns, automatic and semi-automatic weapons are totally prohibited.  If you want a rifle or a shotgun you have to pass stringent background checks which include intense scrutiny of your legal and mental health history (a GP must be made available for consultation) which is reviewed every 5 years.  Also, a personal ‘referee’ with an appropriately responsible position in the community must be named (such as a teacher or doctor) – and crucially one must provide a verifiable good reason for needing a gun – self-defence is not accepted as a reason.  So in effect it is not possible to buy a gun legally in Britain.  Not only are our shooting organisations silent on these laws (no review has been called for in recent years) but the general public almost unanimously supports them.  These laws and ‘cultural norms’ result in most people never seeing a real gun throughout their whole lives.  Consequently it is almost certain you will not be shot in Britain, no matter where you live, who you associate with or which places you choose to frequent.

America has between 12,000 and 13,000 deaths from gunshot wounds every year.   Contrary to what many seem to snobbishly imply, it is not necessary to know the finer details of all the different types of guns, all the different gun laws, in all the different States in America (questioning ones knowledge of gun makers and gun laws has annoyingly become the first line of attack for those backing the NRA’s stance, as though that is the real issue) – you just need to know that it is quite easy to buy a whole array of guns legally, including hand guns and assault weapons.  There’s an estimated 1.5 guns for every adult in America.

Consequently, guns are everywhere.  It means that a gun is almost always within reach of someone who is not of a desirable state of mind to be in possession of such a destructive weapon, be it a jilted or jealous lover, a drunk in a bar fight, a gang member looking to gain status or save face, a desperate bank robber who is surrounded or being pursued, or a psychopath intent on mass murder for its own sake, such as at Columbine and Sandy Hook.  The not so surprising result is that thousands of people are shot dead every year – in the supposed beacon of success of the developed world.

The relationship between the opposing laws of Britain and America and their respective annual death rates caused by guns should be so obvious as to make this article unnecessary.  Amazingly however, this is far from the case.  Here are some of the reasons why:

“The assault weapons ban of 1994 – 2004 made no difference.”

Statistically it may be true, but no one should be seduced by the naming of this bill.  There were many loopholes, including for the weapons used in Aurora and Sandy Hook, and it didn’t apply to imported weapons.  Of course also, with the proliferation of weapons in circulation, one might expect significant improvement to take a little longer – and that is if the ban was actually a ban.

“Chicago has the highest rate of deaths caused by guns, yet it has the strictest laws.”

The laws are only strict relative to much of the rest of America.  Guns still proliferate in Chicago and in at case are easily obtainable cross border.  To claim Illinois (or Connecticut) are ‘gun free zones’ as the NRA are relentlessly doing, is phenomenally disingenuous.

“It is illegal guns that are used in most of the shootings, not legal ones.”

Guns are small, expensive and particularly popular with criminals.  Therefore it shouldn’t surprise anyone that house burglars steal them.  It’s a perfect business model; plentiful supply, huge ‘local’ demand, high price tag.  The fact that America manufactures millions of guns every year and sells them legally to its citizens is the problem.  From here, illegal circulation is inevitable.

“Assault weapons cause only 3 per cent of deaths – most are caused by hand guns.”

Yes America, hand guns are the main problem.  So ban them.  Britain did it.  It worked a treat – no one ever gets shot.  Genius.

“The second amendment of the constitution guarantees the right to bear arms.”

Is it possible that things might have changed in the past 240 years?  I mean it’s called an amendment, so the authors of the original Bill of Rights had already conceded they didn’t nail it on the first draft.  Couldn’t there be another amendment, perhaps written by people who live in the modern world?

This is the scenario, or similar, often used to justify civilians being armed:

A gunman walks into an office environment and starts shooting.  Employees can only barricade themselves into meeting rooms and wait for the psychopath to enter, with just pencils and rulers as weapons.

Very emotive for sure, but the idea that ‘James from finance’ will suddenly become the hero with a gun doesn’t sound like reality to me.  To give it some perspective, when was the last time you saw a brave bystander step in when a violent thug began beating on someone outside a bar?  It does of course occasionally happen, but far more likely is that everyone present will be shocked by the sudden outbreak of violence and will quickly remove themselves from the vicinity.  Imagine how much more terrifying it would be if someone walked into a room liberally firing a large gun.  Guns are really loud, not only when fired but also when their bullets hit things (imagine the noise and destruction that would be caused by wildly throwing golf balls around your lounge and multiply by a thousand).  Most people jump at the unexpected bursting of a balloon.  On top of the deafening noise, there is the unfolding carnage – blood spurting and people screaming in pain.  And this is all happening in a matter of seconds.  How likely is it that someone who has not been trained to handle such scenarios (even if they happen to be a crack shot down at the range) will be able to coolly draw, load and fire their gun effectively?

Of course as a matter of fact I have to concede that if the scenario did occur and I happened to be taking cover next to a former marine carrying a concealed weapon, I would be enormously more optimistic about making it home for dinner than if I was only surrounded by people of similar physical capacities as myself, with not a useful weapon in sight.  But the concession is spurious because the scenario is just so unlikely – and for it to even have a chance of happening we would have to create a world where practically everyone walked around with a concealed weapon.  There are no words to emphasise how far away from a solution to gun violence I think this would be.

Gun advocates often produce lists of documented examples of where a ‘good guy’ with a gun has stopped a crime.  Everyone should be suspicious of these lists.  Most of them are recount situations where someone has stopped a non-violent crime by drawing a weapon.  I would argue that, short of serious intent to cause bodily harm, it is not appropriate to intervene with a gun.  You don’t want to shoot someone for stealing a wallet (or risk collateral damage) – and you don’t want to get shot because a thief retaliated when you threatened to shoot them for attempting to steal a wallet. The number of occasions when an ordinary citizen with a weapon has brought down a man who is shooting at people are so few as to be statistically irrelevant.  For one thing, just imagine how long we’d be hearing about this hero on the news.  Can anyone recollect such a story?

I believe that attempting to remove all guns from society is the only conceivable solution – but it does have one major problem – the amount of guns already in circulation.  Some form of permit re-assessment combined with a buy back scheme would seem to be the answer here – for legally held weapons.  For those already in illegal circulation, only time will resolve this.  It might take 20 years for there to be a significant impact of a policy such as this in an environment like modern America.  And as has been seen with other crackdowns, both in America and elsewhere, there may be a short term spike in gun crimes.  But to take the long view, if America is serious about solving the problem of gunshot deaths on its shores, then it must try to remove the guns.