Every single year, eight times as many ordinary Americans are killed by guns in America than American soldiers that died in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen combined from 2001 to the present day.
I find it interesting that so much of the gun debate in America is still centred around the 2nd Amendment; It’s centred around the ideas and words drafted by America’s founding fathers in the aftermath of the American Revolution.
But it’s also worth pointing out that four times as many people are killed by guns every year in America than those that died in combat during the American Revolution.
If more than 30,000 people are dying every year in modern-day America, you really have to wonder if today’s landscape would even have been within the contemplation of America’s forefathers.
And keep in mind that the revolutionary war lasted for almost a decade. If we’re just counting yearly then for every year of that war, 32 times as many civilians die today than soldiers in battle.
So when we discuss the idea that American civilians need firearms in order to protect their freedom and the American way, I must say I find it odd that the exercise of those freedoms costs more American lives each year than those sacrificed by American soldiers in the last half-century.
In the last few weeks alone we’ve had three mass shootings. That’s more than one per day of the year. In fact, if you changed your calendar so that after each mass shooting you turned the page on a new day, at the current rate, the year would end in October.
Before getting into any debate about if and what gun control measures might be necessary, it’s important to look through the history of gun lobbying and legislation in America.
That pesky second amendment
We’ll start in 1791 – that’s when the second amendment to the US constitution was ratified. “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
That’s usually where the gun debate begins and ends because everyone regards the constitution as the evergreen foundation of American life, but no one can actually agree on what it means. It makes no grammatical sense. Is the comma after free state supposed to be a semi-colon? That’s how republicans read it. The right of the people to keep and bear arms becomes its own clause, and I guess that makes sense.
The Democratic interpretation is to read it all as one sentence, the subject being “a well-regarded militia”. The militia they spoke of was the army that rose up against the British, in which case the second amendment simply means that the US army should be allowed to keep their guns.
I don’t think anyone would argue with that. The issue is what happens when, in 2019, ordinary US citizens have more assault weapons than the military.
A brief history of the NRA
The second important element in the gun debate is the NRA. What most people don’t realise is that it was actually set up by Democrats during the civil war. In 1871 it’s co-founder, William C Church said it was created “to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”
Basically, the civil war kicked off and the Union soldiers quickly realised they were pretty crap at shooting compared to the Confederates. So the NRA would have shooting competitions and fairs so that people could actually learn how to hold a gun so they wouldn’t be a liability when they were enlisted.
This all changed in the 1970s in what became known as The Revolt in Cincinnati. Basically, the NRA had started to move away from gun lobbying – most of its members were buying guns for self-protection because of rising crime rates. And them at an annual NRA meeting in Ohio, the conservative members staged a coup, voted out the old leadership and changed the NRAs direction completely.
DC vs Heller
The next big date in the gun control story was a supreme court case in 2008. DC vs Heller. The case was about whether people could keep guns in their homes, specifically in Washington DC which had the strictest gun laws in the country. The question here was essentially “Is it OK for an individual to own a gun if they’re not technically in a militia?” Washington DC said no. The supreme court said yes.
And so overnight gun sales increased. Within a year they were up 10 per cent and in the last decade, they’ve doubled.
And then we reach the present day where we have more mass shootings than days of the year. In 2018 the Parkland shooting happened and people said: “Never again”. Never again what? What does that even mean? Imagine seeing a rat in your kitchen and then saying never again like that’s going to fix the problem when the rat is still there.
So nothing changed, inevitably more people have died, as is the American way, and nothing much has been done about it.
So we get to the question of gun control.
Does gun control work?
Is gun control effective? It’s honestly hard to say because the answer relies on a complex tapestry of facts. I’ll give you some examples.
Gun controls in Japan
In Japan, gun-controls are super strict. You need to pass a background check and mental health screenings. Then you’ll do a full day safety course. After that, you take a marksman test in which you must score more than 95%. And once you get a licence, it expires after three years and you undergo yearly inspections during that time. As a result, Japan has the lowest gun homicide rate in the world.
Does something like this work in America? Maybe one day, but you’re unlikely to get very far with that now.
Gun controls in Honduras
The polar opposite of Japan would be a place like Honduras. Gun trafficking is rife and firearms are easily accessible. Gun controls exist but the black market run by criminal groups is bigger. Gun control is completely ineffective because the Government has no control over criminal groups and their extensive gun-trafficking networks.
Gun controls in Australia
Then there’s Australia. After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 where 35 people were killed, Australia revolutionised their gun control measures. They planned to get rid of all their assault weapons and part of this was implementing a buyback program. They collected 650,000 weapons over the next few years. Now they have stricter controls and licencing to own a gun. You can still get them, it’s just harder. And self-defence isn’t a valid excuse. Since the Port Arthur massacre gun homicides have decreased by 72%.
I’d think this was a reasonable example for America. The sticking point, however, would likely be the second amendment. That’s where the buck stops for many Americans. The right to keep and bear arms.
Here’s the only answer I can offer
So you can’t take away the right to keep and bear arms, and criminalising all guns is definitely a bad idea because it leads to huge black markets and rising crime. So forget that. But why not just ban production on civilian firearms? I know it’s a crazy idea, but assault weapons were banned in 1994 – it lasted 10 years until it was overturned by Republicans in the Bush administration. During that time mass shootings dropped dramatically. I wouldn’t imply a direct causal link but it was definitely a factor.
I don’t think banning assault weapons does enough though. I don’t think it’s about the type of gun at all if your aim is to tackle gun violence holistically. Almost 75% of all gun-related deaths are because of handguns. The main reason assault weapons like the AR15 are demonised is because most people think they look scary.
Banning the AR-15 won’t solve the real issue
I personally don’t believe assault weapons are the issue and here’s why:
The AR15 has been manufactured since 1952. The patents expired about 20 years later and other manufacturers started making their own versions of it. So different variations of the AR-15 had been in the public domain for almost half a century before one was ever used in a mass shooting.
That doesn’t deny that the guns themselves aren’t deadly. AR-15 style weapons have been used in the most deadly mass shootings in the last decade. But I just think it would be myopic to think the guns themselves are the only issue.
I’ll put it this way – about eight of the ten most deadly mass shootings occurred in the last 12 years. From the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 till today. In this decade we’ve had more deadly mass-shootings than in the history of America. So what changed? Is it video games? I don’t think so. Violent games preceded this time period by quite a bit. Is it the guns? Again, I don’t think so. The exact same guns were already in circulation.
We can’t just blame Trump either
The issue is that something substantial has changed in the fabric of American society. I’m not a magician or a clinical psychologist so I can’t tell you what that is, but today’s America is drastically different to America a decade ago.
And it’s not just Trump either. That’s an easy, politicised excuse. Yes, Trump may have provided for a hotbed of white nationalism to take root, but white nationalists have always existed. In fact, since September 11th 2001, 73% of domestic terror incidents have been committed by white men. So on one level, we should say it’s a policing issue. Police keep killing Black children for having snacks in their pockets when 7 in 10 domestic terrorists are white. This will never make sense.
And when you look at mass shooting incidents, the perpetrators are almost never killed unless they commit suicide. They’re calmly subdued and arrested. They even got Dylan Roof a Burger King on his way to jail.
Politicising the issue is the easy way out. The Virginia Tech shooting was under George Bush, Sandy Hook and the Florida nightclub were under Obama. The issue has persisted. A part of me thinks the Virginia Tech shooting was the genesis of this new era. I think when it happened, the nation was shocked, but nothing changed, so it happened again. And then it happened again. And as more and more bodies hit the ground it became accepted as simply a natural side-effect to the right of American freedom.
Why stop gun production?
So I think you have to stop gun production. Or at the very least, limit it. There are over 400 million guns in circulation already in the US. That’s more guns than people. In my mind stopping or severely limiting production does two things. It reduces the flow of guns – that’s always good. It also introduces scarcity. Demand will still exist but supply has a fixed limit. Guns will still be legal so there’s no need for an extensive black market, but guns will start to become more expensive.
Suddenly, regardless of the criminal element, a gun becomes something that you can’t just go and pick up after work because you had $100 dollars burning a hole in your pocket. Right now you can get a new handgun for less than a Chromebook, and an assault rifle for less than a Macbook. You can pick up deadly firearms with the money left over from grocery shopping. Making price a barrier to entry will have a huge difference on the accessibility of guns, and that’s before you add other layers like background and mental health checks, firearms safety courses, etcetera.
That’s all I have to say on the issue. Americans need to realise that the world they’re living in now is completely different from that of their founding fathers. It’s even different from that of a decade ago. So either you decide that enough is enough, or you give up and concede that, as James Alan Fox proposed in a study he coauthored at Northeastern University, “Mass murder just may be a price we pay for living in a society where personal freedom is so highly valued.”