Gun Control in America

 Posted by on July 29, 2012  Add comments
Jul 292012
 

Should we be surprised at the American obsession with firearms?  Probably not.  After a century of Hollywood pounding the message home, surely we’d understand by now that the gun is the supreme talisman, a sacred object of veneration, the religious icon that trumps all others.

Guns are the American magic wand.  Point a revolver at the bad guy and he’ll tell you all you want to know.  Point an M-16 at  the enemy and all your problems go away.  Build an arsenal of nukes and you’re invulnerable, just like the superheroes who spontaneously sprang up to represent you in simpler times; public-spirited individuals like Captain America, who thoughtfully had a figure-hugging suit made from your national flag.  I always wondered about these super-hero suits.  How did they hide the seams, and what did they do to avoid becoming extremely smelly due to sweat?  Did they have two or three so that one could be sent to the laundry?  What gifted tailor put them together, sewing them so neatly that there was never an embarrassing rip as they tussled with the evil ones?  And did this tailor become immensely rich, or does he have a little back-street shop – Superhero Suits, Reasonable.

Back in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, when this country was the cultural equivalent of Albania, our puritanical governments strove to keep out all corrupting foreign influences, apart from those officially approved.  Consequently, intelligent men (and it was always men), relied for their reading pleasure on endless pulp Westerns by people like Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, who started mythologising the American West as far back as 1912 with Riders of the Purple Sage.

Grown men devoured these novels, not only here in Ireland, but across the English-speaking world, and became infantilised as a consequence  –  a phenomenon savagely lampooned by the great Irish literary iconoclast, Flann O Brien, in his marvellous and puke-inducingly funny At-Swim-Two-Birds.  I was given this book at the age of nineteen and it influenced everything I became in later life. You don’t own it?  Stop what you’re doing right now, go out and buy it or steal it.

But, as they say, I digress.  American tropes.  The Western.

Ah, the smell of the black powder smoke and a stand in the street at the turn of a joke.  Guy Clark didn’t get much wrong.

Strip it down to its essentials and you’re talking about thugs.  Armed, unstable thugs who might take offence at the cut of your jacket of the set of your jaw, and call you out for a showdown.  Or more likely, who might simply shoot you dead as quick as they’d look at you.

It’s a messy business building a vast federation across a huge continent.  Among other things, you have to dispossess the people who already live there and who, understandably, take exception, just as you would yourself if a foreign invader attacked you.  And the truth is that if you want to take the wealth these people own, you’ll have to murder them, drive them off their lands, demonise them and oppress them.  You don’t like that.  It doesn’t sit well with your Christian principles, but guess what?  Those same principles have proved fairly elastic in the past.  Your principles didn’t baulk at slavery and they won’t give way when you wipe out the people who lived in these lands long before you arrived with musket and with drum.

However.  You still need a way to feel good about what you’ve done, since you know full well that it was wrong. After all, you’re not a fool.  Now, if you happen to be the British Empire, you’ll have done this over seven or eight hundred years, and you’ll have the opportunity to build up an old-money scent of righteousness.  You’ll be able to develop an aristocracy out of the robber families who started the enterprise, and you’ll get the space to foster the appropriate languor as you condescend to the natives.

But when you’re a new empire and you want those awkward natives out of the way in a hurry, what are you going to do?  The answer is obvious: you do what comes natural to the guilty human spirit everywhere. You do what every crooked cop, every cheating spouse, every sexual abuser has done:  you blame those you’ve damaged because it’s too hard to face your own responsibility.  Thus, for the USA to legitimise its very existence, it must find some way to justify, to romanticise, even to glorify, violence.

Most Europeans cringe a little when they see Americans stand with their hands on their hearts singing their national anthem.  It’s a Cecil B deMille moment, where you almost expect John Wayne to appear dressed as a Centurion.

Hail, mighty Caesar!

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that this has been stage managed, but let’s go back to the two thugs outside a saloon in Laramie, drawing down on each other in a fit of drunken, psychopathic aggression.  What normal person draws a gun on another to settle a disagreement?  Only a stone killer would do that, and yet out of this mythology, evolved the cult of the gun.

I know it myself.  I absorbed all this stuff just as everyone else did.  The Navy Colt.  The .45.  The Buntline Special.  The Gatling gun.  The Sharps rifle.   The Winchester repeater.  The Henry.  The Springfield.  The sneaky little Derringer.  The Remington.

Of course, glorification of gun culture didn’t stop with the Old West.  It permeated every aspect of Western culture right through the 20th century.  What kid hasn’t played cowboys and Indians, or cops ‘n’ robbers?  It’s that basic, and it comes down to the same simplistic certainty.  Bang, you’re dead, problem gone.

Where would we be without film noir detective stories, and where would the detectives be without their cigarettes and their little 38 snubnosed Smith & Wessons?

Have we not been bombarded with movies throughout the 20th century and now into the 21st, glorifying force of arms?  Have we not seen the very same thing with TV series?  It’s endless, it’s unrelenting and while we in Europe might have bought into the mindset, imagine the effect it had on Americans who are immersed in the unceasing message that guns are good.

It was depressing to see how many Americans reacted after the Aurora cinema shooting.  A dismaying number believe that if all the people watching the movie had been armed, the shooter would have been stopped.  Why?  Because they grew up steeped in action hero movies where nobody dies in the hail of lead except the bad guys.  Many Americans have been thoroughly infantilised by the exciting, entertaining but ultimately mindless propaganda that the media has become in that country.

Somehow, by fantasy, all the people watching a movie will pull out their personal weapons and shoot a killer with an assault rifle, and nobody else will be hurt.

Bang!  You’re dead.  Lie down.

Somehow, by a bigger fantasy, an army can roll into a country that never attacked the USA, and the only people killed are the bad guys, aka insurgents which through the medium of Fox News became a term of abuse.  In most civilised world views, an insurgent is one who rises up, but of course, the danger is that they’d have to think it out and that would never do.  After all, if the Iraqi insurgents were simply rising up against foreign invaders, then where does that leave the Plains Indians, the victims of genocide?  Were they insurgents too?

A mystique of violence is necessary if you’re ever to achieve any sort of justification for violence, and in the overarching scheme, it doesn’t matter all that much if the occasional madman runs loose and murders a few dozen people.  The gun must become part of the culture.  You have no option but to make it a quasi-religious symbol.

What justifies these psychopaths wandering around the West with lethal weapons?  Many things, I suppose, including the fact that the Wild West really was wild, and that the territories they roamed were not part of the United States.  But at the same time, there was always the Second Amendment providing comfort to anyone wishing to carry a lethal weapon.

It’s worth quoting the Second Amendment word for word.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Look at that carefully.  What does it not say?  If you accept what most Americans think it means, which is a blanket guarantee that everyone can have a gun, there’s no need for the first clause.  It might as easily have been written this way:

The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

If the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to have access to weapons, why didn’t they just say it this way?  The fact is that they wrote it in the context of a militia. This provision was devised at a time when people were terrified that the English would return and, like Switzerland, saw the need for instant moblisation against attack.  It was also a time when the States were highly suspicious of central government in a nascent federation, and reserved the right to resist tyranny by force of arms.

You’ll hear much talk by Americans of the need to balance the excesses of central government by being able to rise up and resist Washington if necessary.  Good luck with that.  Last time anyone tried such a move, Washington engaged in a merciless war of utter devastation against its fellow countrymen, a war that laid waste to the Southern States.  If you think any State could rise up today against Washington, think again.  Atlanta was destroyed with horse-drawn cannons.  Today, it would happen with Cruise missiles and Abrams tanks

Forget it.  Forget militias, and therefore, forget the right to bear arms.  This is all nonsense.

Only a few insane survivalists believe they will ever rise up against an oppressive central government, and if they try any such thing, they will be ruthlessly hunted down and extirpated.

Now, combine all these with a storybook foreign villain and you have a recipe for disaster.  The American sterotype of the crazed Islamic terrorist is disturbingly similar to the 1930s German stereotype of the grasping, manipulative Jew, and carries within it much of the same political genetics.

When a nation comes to think of itself as superior to all others, this is the sort of thing that happens and when you combine it with a large section of the population that is utterly ignorant of the greater world outside its shores, this is when the world needs to worry.

The reality seems to be that average American citizens have come to believe their own cartoon analysis of political reality, as fed to them these days by Fox, and it seems that presidential candidates on both sides are content to accept the current, staggering level of gun crime in their country.

The more I compare America with Europe, the less I see in common.  It’s true that we have adopted much of American culture, and that we have been enriched as a result.  It’s true also that we speak a language sharing many common features, and by “we”, I also mean most of Germany, Holland and Scandinavia.  But I don’t detect the same aggressive jingoism among ordinary Europeans.  Nor do I detect the same level of religious fundamentalism.  Even in a country as traditional as Ireland used to be, I can’t imagine anyone being rejected by the electorate for being an atheist, or for being unmarried, and yet, it’s inconceivable that an American president would be either of these things.

What does this have to do with gun-worship?

It’s this.   Religious fundamentalism creates unshakeable certainty.  Political paranoia does the same.  Juvenile, Disneyfied analysis creates the climate in which ignorance can breed.  Introduce a juvenile mindset that believes the gun is the solution to all life’s problems, inject it into the most powerful nation on earth, and you begin to see how we might have a problem.

There are those who say that guns don’t kill people.  People kill people.

That’s true, but if, as seems to be the case, America has more than an average share of potential mass murderers, isn’t that all the more reason to restrict their access to the sort of weaponry that can mow down an entire movie audience, or a whole classroom full of children?  It’s true there will still be the occasional bomber, but explosives are hard to make and transport.   It’s true the nutcases will still be there, but wouldn’t it be better if the only weapon a homicidal maniac could get his hands on would be a club, a rock or a knife, instead of an M-16?

  43 Responses to “Gun Control in America”

Comments (43)
  1.  

    While a lot of that analysis isn’t far from the mark (in that the problem isn’t the guns, but the mindset of those holding them – as evidenced by the fact that many other countries have less strict firearms law than the US but nowhere even near the nightmare scale of the US’s gun violence problem); but the US Supreme Court disagrees with your constitutional analysis, and they’re pretty much the final word on that.

    That said, I think it’s rather tangential to the problem at best. The US’s issue isn’t firearms or the second amendment – it’s far messier and far less likely to be dealt with than that, in that it’s a people problem. The Denver shootings are an example – a quiet, intelligent person, from a good home, with a good education, studying for his PhD in neuroscience, with a social support framework all around him, and even with a psychiatrist; someone like that doing what he did, that’s not a simple problem. But it’ll be dismissed as him being evil, they’ll execute him, learn nothing, give it lots of press coverage despite every psychologist alive knowing that press coverage will only encourage copycats; and in a year, we’ll have seen two more of these :(

  2.  

    You’re quite right about the US Supreme Court being the ultimate arbiter of what the amendment means in US law, but we can all read plain English, and the meaning seems quite simple, no matter what the distinguished jurists think.

  3.  

    I think Mark pretty much put it in a nutshell for me, you can bring in as many gun laws as you want but if you are going to walk in to a cinema or school and start shooting, gun laws are the last thing on your mind. This guy will be executed and everyone goes on their merry way until the next one and the next one…

  4.  

    Do you draw any conclusions from that?

  5.  

    I can’t agree to that sentiment Bock, because if I did, I’d have to agree with every creationist who insisted that evolution was “just” a theory and therefore we should teach “alternatives”.

    Fact is, the constitution is a legal document, it is not plain english (even if it’s easier to read than most documents) and the words have meanings dictated by a context that existed several hundred years ago. So you can’t “just read it” like it was some Mills&Boon pulp novel.

    That *still* doesn’t undermine your argument though. It’s just a side point.

  6.  

    Do you have any views on why the introductory clause is there?

    “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State,”

    Is it superfluous?

  7.  

    My view on it Bock, is that it’s a foreign legal document, and that the highest court in that jurisdiction defines what it means. I’d no more argue with their definition than I’d argue with a court in Switzerland about the what the word canton meant.

    And *it makes no difference*. Your entire thesis is that the gun doesn’t matter; it’s the mindset of the US with regard to gun violence that causes the problem. And the second amendment is at most a footnote to that idea.

  8.  

    I’m only asking your opinion, not inviting you to make a legal judgement. Nobody will arrest you for saying what you think.

    But on the broader issue, I don’t think gun control will make the slightest difference to a country as Disneyfied as the USA.

    Saying that, I also don’t think people should be allowed to purchase AK-47s and I don’t think the constitution confers any right to bear arms more powerful than a musket.

  9.  

    Well, where it reads “militia”, I see the original “mission statement” of the NRA (not the US one, but the original one that started in the UK) and of the archery laws in the UK before them – ie. you’ve got a bunch of ordinary people living at home and they can be pressed into military service, so they’ve got to be (a) armed and (b) able to use those arms. When the document was written, the normal firearm was a musket, yes, but at the time that wasn’t some quaint antique, it was the standard battlefield firearm (and frankly, given that they were firing .50 to .70 calibre rounds which would remove a limb with ease if they hit you, those things don’t have a cute-n-cuddly tag in my mind). Also, when I see “right to bear arms”, I don’t see “doesn’t need a licence”. It’s perfectly legal, in US law, to require a gun licence. You’re just not allowed to take the Irish solution of saying anyone can apply for a licence and then refusing every applicant as a de facto ban.

    As to not allowing the purchase of AK-47s, that’s one of those ideas that *sounds* great, but really, doesn’t hold up to logic very well. By which I mean that all an AK-47 (or an AR-15) is, when you strip out the hollywood image and look at what’s actually licenced, is a semiautomatic rifle with a box magazine (fully automatic versions can technically be licenced, but it’s a much more rigorous licencing procedure). And those have been legal everywhere for hunting for a very long time (they’re legal in Ireland for example). You see them around a lot in the US for the same reason that you see a lot of lee enfield 303s in Ireland – people in their armed services used them and when they went on to go to the range and shoot for fun, they used what was familiar. We just think they’re odd because there are only a handful of them licenced here. But that’s an example of observer bias. Go to Switzerland and Sig-552 assault rifles and general purpose machine guns are common for the same reasons. Pick any nation; their military’s rifles will probably be seen on their target shooting ranges quite a lot because they’re familiar to a lot of shooters, and the ammo’s cheap ‘cos the suppliers are already making a lot of it for the army.

    You want to know what the best kind of gun control is? It’s the kind where you can’t get a licence for a gun until you’ve been trained to use it by someone, because then everyone’s gotten safety training and everyone’s been observed by others for a while. (That’s one of the requirements for an Irish licence, for example). It’s got diddly squat to do with the type of firearm – you want to watch the person, not the firearm, if you want safety.

  10.  

    Well, where it reads “militia”, I see the original “mission statement” of the NRA (not the US one, but the original one that started in the UK) and of the archery laws in the UK before them – ie. you’ve got a bunch of ordinary people living at home and they can be pressed into military service, so they’ve got to be (a) armed and (b) able to use those arms. When the document was written, the normal firearm was a musket, yes, but at the time that wasn’t some quaint antique, it was the standard battlefield firearm (and frankly, given that they were firing .50 to .70 calibre rounds which would remove a limb with ease if they hit you, those things don’t have a cute-n-cuddly tag in my mind). Also, when I see “right to bear arms”, I don’t see “doesn’t need a licence”. It’s perfectly legal, in US law, to require a gun licence. You’re just not allowed to take the Irish solution of saying anyone can apply for a licence and then refusing every applicant as a de facto ban.

    As to not allowing the purchase of AK-47s, that’s one of those ideas that *sounds* great, but really, doesn’t hold up to logic very well. By which I mean that all an AK-47 (or an AR-15) is, when you strip out the hollywood image and look at what’s actually licenced, is a semiautomatic rifle with a box magazine (fully automatic versions can technically be licenced, but it’s a much more rigorous licencing procedure). And those have been legal everywhere for hunting for a very long time (they’re legal in Ireland for example). You see them around a lot in the US for the same reason that you see a lot of lee enfield 303s in Ireland – people in their armed services used them and when they went on to go to the range and shoot for fun, they used what was familiar. We just think they’re odd because there are only a handful of them licenced here. But that’s an example of observer bias. Go to Switzerland and Sig-552 assault rifles and general purpose machine guns are common for the same reasons. Pick any nation; their military’s rifles will probably be seen on their target shooting ranges quite a lot because they’re familiar to a lot of shooters, and the ammo’s cheap ‘cos the suppliers are already making a lot of it for the army.

    You want to know what the best kind of gun control is? It’s the kind where you can’t get a licence for a gun until you’ve been trained to use it by someone, because then everyone’s gotten safety training and everyone’s been observed by others for a while. (That’s one of the requirements for an Irish licence, for example). It’s got diddly squat to do with the type of firearm – you want to watch the person, not the firearm, if you want safety.

  11.  

    Right. People might be pressed into service, and therefore they need to be armed and able to use those arms. That’s my reading of it too. The militia preamble is essential to understanding the amendment.

  12.  

    Like Bock I find it hard to see how such a constitutional provision has given rise to the type of free for all we see in relation to the US gun laws. I spend a lot of time in the US and it never ceases to amaze me how normal everyday people react so viscerally when the subject of gun control comes up. (It’s like the abortion debate in Ireland). Whatever about the way it should be we need to bear the following in mind 1) A very large section of the population in the US feels very strongly about the right to bear arms 2) The law is mostly on their side 3) Even if a constitutional amendment was passed banning the possession of guns/ammo the level of civil disobedience you would see would be off the scale. I think the best we could hope for would be to re-introduce the ban on assault weapons and see how much regulation could be introduced to provide better information on who is buying guns/ammo, how much they are buying, whether they need proof of instruction/certification etc…

  13.  

    I think the reaction to that would be comparable to (if you’ll pardon my stealing your example) forcing the Roe-v-Wade judgement to be adhered to in Ireland.

    And even if you succeeded, it wouldn’t fix the problem, because you’re trying to control the means, not solve the problem, and as has been learned and relearned when studying suicide, controlling the means doesn’t stop the act.

    You’d just end up with another Oklahoma City or another unibomber or another Anthrax attack, or another Ricin attack, or mass stabbings, or rashes of hit-n-runs, or whatever.

  14.  

    To suggest gun control would merely prompt mass murder by other means is not borne out by experience elsewhere, that being the case, it would seem to imply that the United States is a more dysfunctional society than others in the West.

  15.  

    @Ian – I don’t think it implies it but in some ways the US is very dysfunctional. When you talk about experience elsewhere where do you mean? Are there examples of countries that brought in gun laws where guns are so culturally important?

  16.  

    I do like that Mickey Spillane movie poster though. Guns, sex and money are a great fantasy mix of twentieth century movie imagery. Freud couldn’t have made it up – a gun in one hand and a girl in a satin negligee in the other.

  17.  

    And all this in a country which forbids the sale of Kinder sweets

    see

    http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/21/easter-reminder-kinder-eggs-banned-in-the-united-states/

    (Apologies if this is considered trolling but I could not resist the juxtaposition)

  18.  

    Pursuing the sex angle on guns further, take these lyrics from a Beatles number entitled Happiness is a Warm Gun:-

    I need a fix cause I’m going down
    Down to the abyss that I’ve left up town
    I need a fix cause I’m going down

    Mother Superior jump the guns
    Mother Superior jump the guns
    Mother Superior jump the guns
    (BIS)

    Happiness is a warm gun
    ( bang bang shoot shoot )
    Happiness is a warm gun, yes it is
    (bang bang shoot shoot)

    When I hold you in my arms (oh yes)
    When I feel my finger on your trigger (oh yes)
    I know nobody can do me no harm
    Because

    That song wasn’t about guns, but about shooting up heroin during those bad 1970s of lifestyle revolution. Mother Superior isn’t a nightmare figure from The Devils of Loudon, but John Lennon’s beau, Yoko Ono, apparently. But the sex symbolism of guns caused the BBC to ban the song from the airwaves.

  19.  

    A good article from a former Chicago police officer on the shooting and gun law.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/26/opinion/armed-but-not-so-safe.html?_r=1&ref=contributors

  20.  

    Benno — I always thought it was Mother Superior jumped the gun. Not that it made any more sense to me either way.

  21.  

    Canada would share much of the cultural history of the United States and would have been subject to a similar amalgam of movies, books and TV series, but its regulation of guns makes it a considerably safer place.

  22.  

    Mark D — Do you think there’s a greater tendency in America towards multiple killings than there is in other countries? What I’m hearing from you is that Americans will always find a way to commit mass murder and if you take away their guns they’ll figure out some other way to do it.

    Ian — Not to mention its health service.

  23.  

    @ Bock. I’m not sure anyone has the answer to that question. I think the whole situation in the US is very complex. That’s why I don’t think it is as simple as add more regulation and the problem goes away. Without sounding like a bleeding heart I think we need to look at societal factors, social exclusion, mental illness and see what’s driving these people. In addition we need to look at how easy it is for those so inclined to build up arsenals to carry out what’s in their heads…

  24.  

    I’ve been mulling this over, and I don’t think that killing sprees would simply be carried out with alternative weapons. Obviously, there will always be certain lunatics who would commit mass murder using anything that comes to hand, but I really think the glamourisation of firearms on film, and in literature has grabbed the imagination of the American population to a far deeper extent than most others.

    The reasons for that need to be investigated.

    I don’t think most spree killers would be able to live the fantasy properly if they had to use an axe. A lot of these guys are trying to be Bruce Willis, not Freddie Kruger.

  25.  

    @Bock – Well, we’ve seen mass killings all over the world using things other than firearms (though the US seems to lead the way here between weaponised anthrax, car bombs in the world trade center and oklahoma city, mail bombs with the unibomber and every copycat he spawned, and they seem to have more serial killers than anywhere else as well (though that may be more down to them actually publicly discussing the efforts to catch them rather than anything else). Personally, I think that the idea that ready availability of firearms makes it easier for someone to crack and go on a killing spree is a very seductive one – in the sense that it’s not actually true, but looks great at first glance.

    And this is one of those policy issues where it’s nearly impossible to have an objective view, no matter what side you’re arguing, not only because it’s such an emotive subject, but also because of how it’s been reported on and portrayed over the years.

    It’s true, for example, that hollywood glams up the image of firearms in the US, but that’s a coin with two sides; it glams up the image and adds to the problem by encouraging the mentally unstable towards complete mental unhingement; and it also adds noise to the discussion when people try to reason about the problem because we all have an impression of a far higher rate of gun violence than exists thanks to hollywood, and we all think we know things about firearms – thanks to having seen the same idioms over and over in every film, tv show, news report and so forth – but which just aren’t true.

    For example, someone here was advocating a ban on assault rifles, a fairly popular position because who could possibly want an assault rifle except someone looking to commit an act of assault, right? Sounds great, until you realise that there’s basicly only ever been one case of assault rifles being used by criminals in the US (a very famous robbery in Los Angeles, heavily covered by the media, and replicated in every cop movie from Heat to Sledgehammer). And that the ban itself, because it was worded by lawyers instead of domain experts, didn’t cover most assault rifles but did cover a lot of things that weren’t assault rifles. (We have a similar problem with our legislation; under which until 2006, you had to have the same kind of firearms licence for a 50-calibre anti-tank rifle that you’d have to have for a spud gun – because both were defined as firearms under the law). And that assault riles aren’t actually very commonplace in the US because they’re able to fire in fully-automatic mode (or in short bursts of fully-automatic mode) – the rifles everyone calls “assault rifles” are actually semi-automatic rifles, the same as the ones we use to control foxes and hunt rabbits here and in the US, and the only difference between an AR-15 and the more traditional-looking semi-automatic rifles is precisely that – looks. The more traditional looking versions are functionally identical (for all practical purposes). So banning one rifle but not another based on looks (which is how that assault rifle ban operated) was worse than useless – in that it convinced people that they’d “done something about it” and they then continued to ignore the problem even more.

    And that’s the rub – if the social policy decision you take doesn’t fix the problem, it’s worse than useless because it gives a false sense of security.

  26.  

    I’m trying to keep the discussion on a relatively rational level and avoid the simplistic certainties from both sides of the gun-control argument. I can’t call it a debate since neither side will listen to the other.

    It seems more sensible to look at the nature of American society.

    Now, you’ve mentioned anthrax, mail bombs and car bombs, but that seems peripheral since there’s no constitutional right to have explosives, and in most of those cases, the motive seems to have been political, apart from the Unabomber, who was very much a one-off. We’ll never stamp out politically-motivated mass murder, but it falls into a different category.

    What we’re talking about here are crazies who just go on a killing spree, and the real question is this: is America so dysfunctional that it naturally produces a disproportionate number of homicidal maniacs? I don’t know, but if so, is it a wise policy to guarantee access to high-powered firearms in such a society?

  27.  

    Bock, if mass murder attempts are periheperal, then you’re not trying to fix the problem of mass murder attempts; you’re trying to fix the problem of widespread gun ownership.

    Personally, I haven’t much of a problem with widespread gun ownership; I have a major problem with mass murder attempts. So I know which problem I’d rather fix.

    You’re arguing from a position that has already (if subconciously) decided that the problem is definitely being caused by one thing, and that you’ve identified that one thing, and now you have to decide how to address that one thing. But that’s just not something that anyone actually knows, in the “I can prove this with facts” sense of knowing.

    What’s needed here is for the *actual root problem* – ie. violence – to be studied and to find what factors are causing it.

    I mean, if it was caused by guns and guns alone, switzerland would be a bloodbath, along with, well, all of europe and canada. And we just don’t see that. So what are the things that are different between, say, the US and Canada (since they share more societal factors, they probably make a better comparison)? Both have almost equal levels of gun ownership, similar kinds of government, and so forth; so what is it that sees americans run amok almost regularly, while canadians just don’t (or at least, not that often)?

  28.  

    Mark — I’m not trying to fix any problems. I’m just trying to step through the issues one by one in a rational manner, but I am impressed that you’ve managed to understand my subconscious, a feat I haven’t yet mastered. You might let me know the secret.

    If you read what I wrote, I haven’t said that guns cause the problem. Perhaps you’re arguing from a position that has already (if subconsciously) decided that the problem is definitely not guns.

  29.  

    People are capable of anything.
    Guns are a great invention.
    It’s putting both together that gives us the fuck-ups.

  30.  

    Really? So it wasn’t renegade aardvarks shooting people?

    Thanks for setting me straight.

  31.  

    America land of contrasts,so civilized and uncivilized all at the same time.A man on the moon 40 years ago,today the death penealty and females in leg irons working in c.hain gangs on roads

  32.  

    I would never try and defend the American view of gun ownership, but there are a couple of things that occur to me.
    Firstly, what might be termed the “per capita” ratio, of mass killings relative to a country’s population. I haven’t done any count, but I’d guess that our (UK) rate of such things in recent times, i.e. Hungerford, Dunblane and London’s 7/7, wouldn’t appear very favourable, if respective population totals were to be considered.
    The other thing is that most Americans, even the urban ones, do seem to retain that “frontier spirit”. Whilst they can’t all be considered to be Wild Bill Hickoks or William Bonneys,there appears to be lying, not very far beneath the surface of nearly all the ones I’ve met, a longing for the trail, the backwoods, the love of C&W music, the huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’, the camp, the “sports utility” etc etc. Think of “Deliverance”. Think of a supposedly cultured man like Bill Bryson, merely walking the Appalachian trail.
    Cowboys.

  33.  

    There appears to be a belief that firearms can solve every problem, whether it’s taking out a lone killer in a cinema or taking out an entire government in another country. What a success that’s been.

  34.  

    That’s right.
    What troubles me is that they don’t appear to learn. For example, the first reaction from “Mr. President” after the Twin Towers abomination was one of sheer stupidity (the declaration of the so-called war on terror), and blind ignorance of the reasons why the perpetrators had carried out such a thing in the first place. Clearly, what angered these people was the aim of the US in attempting some sort of world in which the American view prevailed– that they were right and everyone else was wrong–eg. Bush saying after the TT that, “You are either for us or against us”. The man was a living, breathing example of the sort of “frontiersman” I spoke of earlier, and was apparently blind to the way in which his ridiculous bravado only poured fuel onto an already raging fire. A fucking cowboy.

  35.  

    Dubya’s probably not the ideal example. Even the Republicans find him embarrassing.

  36.  

    The problem is not “the availability of guns” in itself. That much is provable fact – cf. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1566715.stm

    “…Guns are deeply rooted within Swiss culture – but the gun crime rate is so low that statistics are not even kept. The country has a population of six million, but there are estimated to be at least two million publicly-owned firearms, including about 600,000 automatic rifles and 500,000 pistols…”

    Salient point: 1 in 10 people in Switzerland has an automatic rifle, but they have virtually no gun crime.

    Clearly the availability of military grade guns amongst a civilian population is not the issue. Bock posits that the key issue is the wide availability of guns in an infantilised society, where guns are seen as the be-all and end-all of problem solving.

    However, to me that is also missing the point. The problem is the infantilised society itself without the qualifier about “gun availability”.

    Levels of obesity, incarceration, litigation, education, crime, pollution and general ignorance are all “outside the bell curve” for the continental US as a whole. The move from war as a means to an end, to war as the perpetual state of affairs is already under way.

    An ignorant population fed regular doses of NASCAR, Fox News and mayonnaise sandwiches is easy to keep docile. Yellow Alert. Amber Alert. Another 100 billion for the war on “turrism”.

    It’s like this for one reason and one reason only – the power-brokers inside the Beltway want it like this. They just can’t see the wood for the trees. They’re slowly becoming a global irrelevance. And no matter how bad things seem now when they still have some external power, it will be so much worse in 20 years when all eyes are fixed on China and the US is militarily and financially unable to push its weight around.

    Wild West
    Land of Opportunity
    Boom Town
    Global Policeman
    Irrelevance

    It’ll be some comedown for them.

    sic transit gloria mundi.

  37.  

    Being an American I probably am too close to the whole debate to be entirely objective, but not very much of the debate in the US is objective. In many ways I think it is political theater staged by the power that be to keep the population distracted while the rich steal from the rest of us.

    It’s just one act of a long play with abortion, global warming, same-sex marriage, and Obama’s birth certificate each rousing the emotions of the country so we can feel self righteous about something no matter which side of the debate we are on. Both sides of those issues are pretty much faith-based and the strong opinions held won’t be swayed very much by mere facts.

    What distresses me most is that many of my fellow citizens here think owning a gun is a birthright yet forget about the armed militia part of the 2nd Amendment. In my school days many years ago I somehow got the impression that one important part of the reason for an armed militia was so that the citizens could rise up against an unjust and tyrannical government. The ones who remind us of that are usually written off as nutcases and survivalists and the rest of the country happily gives up our rights and freedoms to the government in the name of fighting terrorism so we can feel safe from large bottles of liquids and nail clippers when we board airplanes.

    I grew up with the movies and TV and books and the cowboys and Indians and the whole culture of armed enforcement of American beliefs. It is a part of me. I can’t change that. It is a part of my country and that scares me too. What scares me more than troubled souls periodically shooting up theaters is arming citizens for neighborhood watch committees so that giving the capability to shoot each other to protect “property” becomes official policy.

    Mass murderers are criminals and tragic and will find a way to act out their crimes. Condoning citizens to become modern day old west posses chasing rustlers is more scary to me because soon that will be ingrained in our thinking also.

    Guns are a wonderful tool for I job I do not do so I do not own any. With my age and eyesight being what they are I won’t even get any if the revolution actually starts. Look for me instead facing down the tanks in the public square armed with a briefcase. Someone did that once before, and that spoke louder than the guns did to me.

  38.  

    Interesting and thoughtful contribution, Mr Terwiliger, and in passing may I say what a pleasure it is to hear from you again after all this time.

    Can I just focus on one point you make? You say “It is a part of me. I can’t change that.”

    I think it’s a part of us all, since the American culture became worldwide, but obviously you weren’t seduced by the fallacy that guns can solve every problem. So what made you different to those who believe guns are the answer?

  39.  

    Thanks for the welcome back Bock, it’s nice to be remembered.

    I think a lot of my beliefs were formed with my radical hippie 60’s liberal anti-war upbringing.

    Before that time I was raised where going to grandpa’s farm there were guns and places to shoot. I went on my share of night time varmint hunts going after the possums and racoons that would raid the chicken houses. I could rationalize killing a bit then. I was pretty good at shooting tin cans and once had the pleasure of firing a pistol into a television set that had ended up on the junk pile. That experience was awesomely wonderful.

    The trigger for me was out on the farm with a relative with his new gun and he was shooting whatever creature he could get in the gun sights just because he could. They weren’t pests, we weren’t going to eat them, it was just killing. From that point on I have done all my wild life shooting with a camera.

    Shortly after that the peace movement gained a bit of traction and living on a college campus as I grew up in the 60s I embraced a more pacifist view than Hollywood tends to show.

  40.  

    What’s your view on my speculation that Americans have been indoctrinated via TV and film?

  41.  

    While TV and film certainly is a major exposure, the rest of the world sees much of the same fare as we do. While America had certainly seems to have led the way with mass killings with guns, the rest of the world is catching up. Last year in Norway a gunman killed school children, yesterday a video went viral from Syria showing rebels executing prisoners, countless killings go on in Africa we never hear about I don’t even know if any of those could be tied to US films or TV.

    I think the problem is one of mindset, of having no compassion for others, and feeling threatened by those who disagree or are different than us. I also think the mindset problem is global, and rather than being addressed by governments, it is exploited by them.

    As example, we have a war on terror keeping people scared, and terror can not surrender so the war will never be won. Guns will be obsolete for governments soon anyway, they’ll all be using drones. Here in the US they will let us keep our guns knowing that when the class war starts the rich can just hire half the population to fight the other half.

  42.  

    Why would they hire half the population when they can hire Blackwater?

  43.  

    That’s the half I was referring too.

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