This post covers a few common counter arguments against gun reform, expands on gun reform reasoning as provided by Jim Jefferies and John Oliver, partially examines international gun statistics with a focus on Switzerland, and gives a TL;DR summary of all points made. I’m attempting objectivity here, but it’s obviously coming from an anti-gunner perspective. Note: Suicide is discussed in detail.
Comedian Jim Jefferies on Gun Control
The Daily Show on Gun Control
These clips form an integral part of this blog post, so if you’re reading, things may make more sense if you give them a look. They’re obviously comedic and not encompassing of the entire issue, but the logic is sound.
Forgetting Australia’s success through executive action and the available empirical data; in practical terms, how does possessing a gun really make a person more protected? And how easy do gun-owners think it is to shoot someone? Police officers often have to undergo prolonged counselling from killing violent offenders, and they’ve had years of training and preparation.
To justify shooting someone (and not be considered sociopathic) you need to be in imminent danger: the offender must have a weapon or become dangerously violent or sexually abusive towards you. Many people subsequently believe that owning a weapon will make them safer. The problem with this idea—the cardinal idea around weapon ownership—is that a criminal is more likely to shoot or attack you if you pose a counter-threat to them, and they’re also more likely to pull their trigger first. It was their threat that spiked an adrenaline rush and prompted you to draw your weapon to begin with, and the situational leverage is all theirs. Unless you have the fastest hands in the west and no hesitation, you’re screwed.
For a gun to provide you with any protection at all, you’d literally need to have it on-hand and fully loaded without the safety on, everywhere you go. Only the clinically paranoid in society would ever do this, so it follows that having a gun for protective purposes likely puts a person in more danger, not less.
A common response to this, is that gun ownership is more about the ‘scarecrow’ effect: burglars are more deterred from breaking into homes if the majority of homeowners have a firearm. If that were true there would be data branded all over the place by the NRA showing a negative correlation between gun ownership and house intrusions. No such data exists (will happily stand corrected if it does) as most burglaries are perpetrated by psychotic drug addicts with very little sense of reason. Moreover, the scarecrow deterrent has this problem to contend with:
…between 1999 and 2010, over 8,300 people in the United States were reported as dying from unintentional shootings, including 2,383 children and young people ages 0-21. On average, over 16,000 individuals in the United States are treated each year in hospital emergency rooms for unintentional gunshot wounds, and a 1991 study found that 8% of accidental shooting deaths resulted from shots fired by children under the age of six.
The unsafe storage of firearms is a public health and safety issue in the United States. A 2000 study of firearm storage patterns in U.S. homes found that “[o]f the homes with children and firearms, 55% were reported to have 1 or more firearms in an unlocked place,” and 43% reported keeping guns without a trigger lock in an unlocked place. A 2005 study on adult firearm storage practices in U.S. homes found that over 1.69 million children and youth under age 18 are living in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms. In addition, 73% of children under age 10 living in homes with guns reported knowing the location of their parents’ firearms.
The only thing a responsible gun owner can do in response is place their weapons in a safe, which as Jim Jefferies perfectly illustrates, would completely negate any protection in the first place. Not to mention his other point: criminals aren’t usually coming in to murder you! The likelihood of a weaponised criminal shooting a homeowner actually increases if the homeowner has a weapon of their own. And is it really okay to shoot someone who’s just trying to burgle you? What percentage of burglars are cold-blooded murderers? Having a gun in your home only provides protection against a home invasion if you’re lucky enough to be in the right position (polishing your weapon next to the window), and does so at the expense of family safety, and prioritising the safety of your family and locking your gun away means having no protection to begin with.
Guns either do nothing or they put families (and individuals) at greater risk from inside the home and out.
The rate of gun-related suicides in the US ranks as the third highest in the world at 6.7 deaths per 100,000 population (2013). That’s over 20,000 per year, and accounts for more than all other methods of suicide combined.
Pro-gun proponents believe suicide rates to be constant regardless of method, and that removing guns would only increase suicide by different means. Seems intuitive and straight-forward, but running the logic a little deeper, it’s an idea tragically ignorant of basic psychology. The greater the number of guns in possession and stored in homes, the greater the availability, the higher the suicide rate. And not just gun-related suicides; suicides in general.
The decision processes of self-termination are extremely complex. There’s a lot more to it than having a depression-culminating epiphany and choosing an exit strategy. Though some consider themselves dead well beforehand, the impulse to suicide often undergoes moment-to-moment fluctuations in seriousness. Not to mention, a person’s standard fears of death may limit their options: people afraid of heights are unlikely to jump off a building, for example. Suicide by firearm has a significantly higher success rate than any other variety. It’s simple and perceptibly instantaneous, and to the suicidally depressed, presents a very attractive escape route to their suffering. Not only because of how painless and immediate it is, but also because the depression that precursors suicide is usually infused with extreme self-loathing. Shooting oneself in the head in that circumstance is the ultimate cathartic punishment.
Suicide by firearm is convenient, appealing and immediate, and it stands to reason that restricting access would not only decrease gun-related suicides, but suicides on the whole.
American Culture & Mentality
As shown on The Daily Show, in the 18 years before the Port Arthur massacre Australia had 13 mass shootings, and since then, has had none (depending on whether the wounded are tallied: the Monash shooting killed 2 people and injured several; typically a mass shooting is defined by 4 deaths or more; either way, America’s mass shootings with 4 or more deaths is 30 to 40 per year). There is no doubting the fact that American gun reform would be harder to implement than it was in Australia, but as John Oliver suggests to Paul Van Cleave, saving reform for a strategy that eradicates 100% of a problem is a tad misguided.
The usual means for highlighting how entrenched guns are in America is to juxtapose it to Switzerland, which has the 4th highest rate of gun ownership in the world, yet still has a relatively low death rate:
Gun deaths per 100,000 population:
USA – 10.64
Switzerland – 2.91
America has more than twice the rate of gun ownership, and under four times the rate of gun-related deaths, implying there to be roughly a 30% higher death to gun ownership ratio than Switzerland. When you consider that the Swiss have an easily containable population of 8.2 million spread over a tiny region, the 3rd highest Human Development Index in the world, and a highly unified culture—comparatively speaking—to the United States, the difference is quickly mitigated. It’s further explained by the US having a much vaster geographical region, higher levels of poverty and a subsequently more challenging population to evenly legislate and police.
In the context of a conversation on gun control, the only thing an analysis of Switzerland ends up suggesting is that it would have one of the lowest gun-related death rates in the world if it adopted tighter restrictions.
It’s clear that gun-culture is heavily entrenched in the US consciousness, so it’s also clear that gun reform probably wouldn’t yield the same results as we’ve seen here in Australia. But again, meaningful change doesn’t denote the entire eradication of a problem: it simply means improving it. The real problem preventing meaningful change in the US is the political mentality against gun control; not the mentality around how weapons are used.
- Shooting another person can be extremely damaging psychologically.
- Guns kept on your person potentially put you in more danger.
- Guns kept in the home are more of a threat to families than intruders.
- Guns in your home present a greater risk of suicide, to you and your family.
- Restricting guns means people with mental illness—the main perpetrators of massacres—will find it very difficult to source them.
- Weapons on the black market cost several times what they do in stores if made illegal.
- Suicide by firearm is the most convenient and appealing method, and as such, isn’t meaningfully substituted by other methods.
- America’s cultural fragmentation and entrenchment of firearms only makes full eradication of shootings difficult, not impossible.
- Having a gun for the purpose of fighting a ‘corrupt government’ is insanely archaic, and stupid.
- The only real reason for having a gun, outside of hunting, is because you like them, or enjoy target practice. Every other reason crumbles under scrutiny.
- The 2nd amendment is an amendment: it can be amended!
The notion that tighter gun control won’t reduce gun violence in America is logically, obviously, patently and adjectively untrue.
Why is there a mentality problem?
I used to think this was just a form of extreme right-wing ignorance, but I’ve since observed people from every cultural, political and educational background show passionate objections to reforms of any kind, so it’s apparent this is a much deeper phenomenon.
So what’s causing people to defy reason and common sense so vehemently?
1. A fear-mongering news media over-emphasising the threat of violence in society.
2. A psychological trait in humans regarding defence and weaponry carried over from our tribal ancestors.
3. America being a vast and fragmented society with no sense of cultural unification and a fragile national esteem (something the Bernie Sanders campaign has capitalised on with amazing success).
4. The extreme socio-economic divide and the proportion of people below minimum wage.
Following President Obama’s speech a few weeks ago—perhaps one of the most passionate a US president has ever delivered—the response was, for a large part, amazingly incredulous. So completely defiant of thought and reason, pro-gunners are competing on a drastically different conceptual terrain to the rest of us. Hopefully the saplings of reason will find enough political soil to grow in over time, but until then, this is by far the most frustratingly absurd showcase of pervasive human ignorance we’ve seen in the developed world.