USA: Guns and the National Soul

A gun, setting all superfluous definition aside, is a deadly weapon and nothing more. The right to wield a gun is nothing more than the right to wield a deadly weapon, which is to say the right to the power of life and death. The events of last week speak for themselves.

It is not a right every person should be entitled to, and the sane world has long since gone beyond weariness of this fact in the face of one nation whose rational identity is periodically torn to shreds. There is no valid defence of the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

What an anachronistic relic of the days when a musket for every Minuteman was a sound strategy against British tyranny. Your average gun-toter might spout this line, “The best defence against tyranny is a well-armed populace,” and I shouldn’t have to delve too deeply into that one to point out the lunacy. The self-defence argument is also redundant based on a principle of escalation. A knife is still a lethal weapon but if everyone only carried knives for self-defence it would still be safer than carrying guns. Fists can also be quite lethal and we all usually have them… you get the point. Why insist on being able to kill more things, more quickly?

The deaths of twenty children in Newtown should be the final straw. Every time this has happened should have been the final straw. Newtown wasn’t even the first incident this year.

In February, 17 year old Thomas Lane killed three classmates with a semi-automatic handgun in Ohio. July brought on one the greatest horrors in American criminal history when James Holmes killed 12 and injured several dozen more cinema goers in Aurora, Colorado. In August, 15 year old Robert Gladden opened fire on classmates in Maryland with a shotgun, critically injuring a young man with Down Syndrome. In September, 13 year old Cade Poulus shot himself dead in the hallway of his school in Oklahoma. David Phan of Utah, 14, did the same the following month.

That was 2012 for the American gun lobby. Shall we go further back? Northern Illinois University, Virginia Tech University, Nickel Mines, Weston High School, Essex Elementary, Red Lake Senior High School, Santana, Rocori, University of Arkansas, Lake Worth…. Columbine.

There are far more and Columbine only takes us back as far as 1999. In no half-baked terms, the deaths of these people are on the hands of the defenders of the notion that every American has the right to bear arms. And not just any arms, short of heavy explosive weaponry I’m not sure there is a conventional armament that can’t be obtained legally in the USA. What exactly is wrong with a set of controls which enables only weaponry for hunting and sport? Shotguns and rifles should really be enough firepower for any rural enthusiast and still serve a self-defensive role if you were desperately attached to that argument.

This lobby that has campaigned ruthlessly for its aims has a well-documented entrenchment in American politics. In essence, they bribe politicians not to go after them. Apologies, they make campaign contributions. Potato… potato.

I’m past the point of cultural relativity. Every American who still wants to possess every kind of firearm known to man needs a sturdy smack around the head. It isn’t a question of the 99% of responsible gun owners mitigating the 1% who do terrible things, it is precisely the opposite. In the UK this was determined in heartbeat by Jack Straw in the wake of Dunblane and serious gun control was just about the most excellent thing Labour achieved.

Look at the statistics. There are 3.4 million civilian firearms in the UK of which I’m guessing the vast majority are used for hunting and sport. That’s 6.2 guns for every hundred people. There were 41 homicides by firearm in the last year, 6.6% of all homicides, equalling 0.07 deaths per 100,000 of the population. In the USA there are about 270 million civilian firearms, 88.8 per 100 people. Last year there were 9,146 homicides by firearm, 60% of all homicides, 2.97 per 100,000 of the population.

Any individual who might look at those numbers and not think there is a serious problem that needs rapid correction, is a moron. And yes I as a Brit do have a right to comment on this American affair, the tragic and needless deaths of innocent children reach far and wide.

The gun lobby has been very quiet in the wake of Newtown, it’s the least they could do. But by now, to me the issue is clear. Defend the current system of control in the USA or attempt to fight improved regulation and you forfeit the right to care about the lives of those twenty children and all the teenagers, students and adults who died before them thanks to the most senseless and irresponsible aspect of culture in the modern world.

Best of luck to Obama in the coming months taking this one on.



Filed under Current Affairs, Politics

3 responses to “USA: Guns and the National Soul

  1. Needless to say, I agree with this position. There is clearly no reason why a developed country such as the United States should allow its citizens to possess assault rifles, semi-automatics, and so on. The defence that these weapons would be required by guerrilla organisations attempting to liberate the country from tyranny seems a thoroughly outdated argument. Even if the USA were suddenly transformed into a tyrannical regime, I find it unfeasible that an armed population would prove effective in displacing or even hampering government control. Even more ridiculous is the notion that the possession of a firearm somehow represents an inalienable right that transcends political debate and tragic events such as those repeatedly witnessed in the USA. This would be the erroneous interpretation of of the McDonald vs. Chicago case in which a historically contingent right is elevated to the status of a universal right. McDonald vs. Chicago only established that the possession of a firearm was considered by the Framers (of the constitution) to be a system of ordered liberty. To transpose those considerations into our own time with its radically different model of warfare and comparatively advanced weapons technology would clearly be an abuse.
    Having said this, I do have some reservations about the emphasis on rewriting gun law in America. Is it not the case that, in the debate surrounding the rights and wrongs of gun ownership, we often lose sight of another crucial dimension, namely, the fact that an individual, apparently without motive, decided to kill as many people as they could before ending their own life. I support moves to implement tougher controls on firearms in the USA on the condition that there is also an effort to reflect upon the fact of arbitrary violence itself. I don’t think the violent outbursts of individuals such as Holmes, Gladden, Phan, et al. simply indicate an irreducible madness which society must live with. Nor do I think that mitigating the damage these individual’s inflict through tighter controls on weapons should be our only response. The more difficult realisation is that the explosive rage seen in events like these is itself incubated in America (much in the same way that London’s 7/7 bombers were born and raised in the UK). A proper approach to these events should attempt to deal with the social and psychological forces which drive people to commit apparently senseless acts of violence, that is to say, we should perceive the way in which a violent outburst which appears to be contingent on first reading, can later be seen as the necessary expression of a deeper logic. Tighter gun regulation may mitigate the severity of the violence Americans inflict on one another, but it will not reveal the fundamental tensions which give rise to this violence in the first place.

  2. Ian Jenks

    Of course Obama won’t try too hard because of that other American anachronism – unlimited political contributions. Any politician who votes for any gun legislation will be immediately and very effectively pilloried in his own constituency. Unless they can limit campaign spending an issue like this will simply fade away. However, and it is a big however, there is a bit of me (even if it is in the dark recesses of what remains of my mind) that remembers Wolfy Smith “Come the revolution brother he’ll be first up against the wall”. When society fails, and it is heading that way across much of Europe, I’m rather taken with the idea of being “tooled up”!

  3. Ian, all too true, it’s nigh on political suicide to attack the gun lobby or attempt to effect change to gun controls. Someone has to do it though and maybe some tough political solidarity would work. I don’t recall Wolfy Smith to be honest but I think that the UK will be safe, for at least some time to come, from the rampant outbreak of anarchy, incest and cannibalism that will inevitably consume parts of the continent within 2-3 years. 1-2 if Berlusconi is actually allowed back into politics.

    Jack, you raise a good point and one that lies at the heart of the disconnect between American sentiment and the rest of the world’s perception towards firearms. This notion of the “right” to bear arms is quite alien, and seems like an abuse or gross misinterpretation of true human rights. It doesn’t logically comply with clear issues like the right to freedom, education, free speech etc. In the most macabre fashion I also chuckle at the idea of a scenario you hint at.

    Let’s assume the South secedes under the authority of some anti-federal militia. They would undoubtedly be armed to the teeth and yet it is likely that despite their interpretation of a tyrannical federal authority that requires defending against, they would be realistically annihilated in the blink of an eye by the most advanced military on Earth. The “Best Defence Against Tyranny” argument screams unqualified bravado.

    I completely agree that the focus on these terrible incidents should not be wholly given to the debate about gun control, but I still think that gun control is the overriding factor of concern. Any society will be very broadly be constituted of a great majority of sane, sociable individuals and a small minority of the less so. It only seems fair not to write off that minority and indeed we should always be looking at ways to help those who have difficulties within a societal model. However, I think the easy availability of deadly weaponry changes the calculus of a person with antisocial qualities.

    If a troubled individual is considering the most extreme course of action due to any variety of factors from social exclusion to simple mental deficiencies, gun controls will play a huge role. An agitated teenager contemplating suicide could easily be assumed to hold an intense resentment against their tormentors, and if able to, would probably consider implicating them in a final, desperate measure.

    A lack of access to firearms would make such a measure practically unachievable and the underlying psychological problems could only with great difficulty express themselves in such violent manner as we see in the USA.

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