Lock and Load, Part 1
Guns. Firearms. ‘Heaters’. Whatever name they’re given, whatever shape or size they come in, whatever calibre round they fire, they are simply tools whose ultimate purpose is to maim grievously, and if necessary, to kill whatever is in their path. But hey, we all know what guns are, don’t we? Terrible, horrific devices, responsible for the tragedies of Sandy Hook and Columbine, along with so many other despicable crimes committed each day. And the only way to prevent such crimes? Legislation. And so, as we have seen this weekend, the political battlelines are drawn.
If you want tighter US gun-control, you’re a responsible and rational person, who truly understands the impact such weapons can have on the lives of others. If you don’t want tighter gun control, you’re a crazed and emotion yokel, who’s happy to see children murdered at the hands of psychopaths, so long as you can bring home a machine-gunned elk carcass every Sunday, and have its head stuffed and mounted in your trophy room by Thursday. That, or in Miami’s import-export business.
In the coming weeks, I do believe the US is about to get a visit from the left-wing travelling salesman. His fantastic, must-have, ‘however-did-I-live-without-it?!’ product: a medicine bottle of ‘Legislation: Scientifically proven to cure all social ailments, from a failing economy to a pesky unfavourable press, and even poverty and world hunger!’
Personally, I believe legislation cures very few problems, but then I am a libertarian. What I essentially want to discuss in this post and my next, is how access to guns is not the true cause of US violent crime and mass homicides, and that any legislation will simply treat the symptom of that cause, rather than deal with the cause itself. But I also want to look at why the UK may consider liberalising its current gun laws, and why your ability to own a pistol, or even a rifle, may not be to the eternal detriment of British society.
Firstly, why won’t legislation be the magic cure?
Ultimately, to believe that US violent crime rates will fall considerably simply by controlling who can buy a gun, or what kind of gun, or how much ammunition for that gun, is just naïve. If I’m an enraged wannabe murder, not having access to a firearm is unlikely to deter me. I still want to kill the bastard (how dare he do that to my sister!?), so I’ll just find another way, or another tool of killing. If I’m a desperate druggy, who needs to mug an unsuspecting passer-by to get my next fix, I’ll similarly find another substitute for a gun. Replica firearms, such as $5 airsoft pistol, and a dark alley will suit my intentions perfectly. And if I work for a gang in LA or a ‘family’ in New York, I will likely still be able to get hold of gun regardless of the law (teenagers in South London manage it all the time.)
To tackle violent crime in any country, we have to appreciate the social factors that push people into committing this type of crime. What made the bloke in the first example so angry that he wanted to commit murder? Was he mentally unstable? Should he have been undergoing treatment? The druggy; why was he addicted? How did his life fall so badly apart that he turned to drugs? Who failed to spot the signs and help? Who’s still failing to spot the signs now and help him today? And why did our gangster join his gang? Or the soldier join his family? Or, as increasingly occurring, the Russian immigrant join his brotherhood?
Serious crime is committed by those who society has failed, and limiting their ability to commit violent crime will not limit their desire to actually commit it in the first place.
Furthermore, what risk would the US public be facing if gun-ownership was limited considerably? A US citizen, I believe a resident of Newtown, was interviewed by BBC news yesterday, and made an interesting point. He said that he fully comprehends the damage that guns can do, and never wants to use his own, but that he keeps it with him for that one moment where he has to use it. In a country where anyone has the right to wield potentially lethal force, I don’t really believe it’s wrong to be able to defend yourself from others who also wield it.
Not so long ago, I was speaking to a chap who held a similar position as our fellow from Newtown. He’d lived in southern state (I believe Texas) for a number of years, and where it was perfectly legal for anyone to carry a concealed handgun. Rather unsurprisingly, there was very little violent crime.
While that is admittedly anecdotal, it does serve to prove a point. If everybody is similarly armed (or perceived to be), all but the most hardened organised criminal will be unwilling to risk using a firearm on somebody else. It is the same principle behind nuclear weapons: ‘we have nuclear weapons, so that we they never use their nuclear weapons on us.’ It brutally pragmatic.
This leads on to the chief concern, which is that while gun-control will be observed by law-abiding citizens, it won’t be given such respect by those who wish to use guns for less legitimate activities. What legislation is therefore in effect doing is limiting the ability of potential victims to defend themselves, and thus making them more vulnerable to criminal aggression in the first place.
What also must be remembered is the importance of guns in US culture and history. It often seems absurd to us that the US has chosen to entrench the of citizens to right to bear arms in their constitution, but actually that principle originates from one great British mind. John Locke (1632-1704) developed the principle that government should be rule by consent, and this led to the US founding fathers’ belief in the right to rebellion. They held that a US citizen had the right to rebel against a government which did not act in the common interest, and that by owning firearms, citizens had not just the right, but the ability, to rebel. This was seen to be the ultimate check on dictatorial government.
To many Britons, guns are indeed terrible tools, but to Americans, they represent freedom; the freedom to defend yourself against an attacker, but also against tyrannical governance. I suppose it could be similar to the US perception of the Queen; to them, and unelected head of state is archaic and highly undemocratic, but to us, the monarchy is a part of our national identity.
So, in the coming weeks and months, I do hope that the left-wing reactionaries make little ground, because I truly see little good coming of gun-control. I hope you do too.
In my following post, I will discuss the case for more liberal gun-laws in the UK, along with our current, and surprisingly easy access to them already.