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Living in the Shadow of the Gun

Happiness is a warm gun…



The victims

(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I didn’t write about the American gun culture in the immediate aftermath of the Orlando slaughter because I was too angry. All I could really do at that point was raise points and frame arguments that had been made many times before and which had always been defeated when actual steps needed to be taken to save lives. In the days following the latest and bloodiest American mass shooting, I would have been just one more voice crying in the wilderness. How many times, after all, can the same rationale be raised only to encounter the same half-baked defenses of unfettered and unrestricted access to firearms by US citizens? There seems to be no upper limit.

Nevertheless, it has to be done. So let’s look at the story that just came in through my morning newsfeed here on the usa_orlando_shooting-1west coast. In Washington, while I slept, the Republicans, almost exactly along party lines, voted down a proposed bill that would impose a 72 hour waiting period on those on the terrorist watch list who wish to buy assault rifles and other firearms. That’s right; a waiting period for people already on the terrorist watch list was too much to consider. Does that decision not make it absolutely clear that the Republican Party is in favour of selling guns to the terrorists they maintain are the greatest threat to the nation? The proposed bill was one supported by over 90% of the country, including gun owners. Among American citizens, there is no opposition to the safety measure. The objection, of course, comes from the NRA which has donated baskets of money to those Republican senators. In Mitch McConnell’s case, almost 1 million dollars for his last election campaign. How can those bought-and-paid-for hypocrites justify such a blatant act of influence peddling?

They don’t even try to be original in their sophistical talking points. I actually heard one of those gun-culture-sodden senators repeat the immortal mantra: “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” How does a normal person respond to such an inane remark? Very simply: “Exactly right! Now you’re getting it!”  That’s the whole point. Outlawing guns means that if you retain firearms in spite of a hypothetical weapons ban, then you are in violation of the law. Then you can be arrested and your weapons confiscated and the world will be a marginally better place for having dealt with you. Outlawing guns would be precisely and specifically a measure to make outlaws of gun owners.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that no one is pushing an agenda to outlaw guns; the whole argument is a straw man. What we were talking about was a three day waiting period for terrorists to endure while they stockpile weapons with which to kill you and your families. The whole paranoid mantra of gun safety measures being an attempt to disarm the most heavily armed civilian population in the world is breathtaking in its dishonesty. Safety regulations are not government overreach; they are the bare minimum a responsible government can do…and this NRA sponsored congress won’t even do that.

I also heard the hoary old favourite this week: Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. That stunningly idiotic stupid gunownersdefense of the right of everyone, including terrorists, to purchase and own weapons, even semi-automatic weapons with high capacity magazines, was actually dusted off and trotted out for an airing his week. As far as its attempt at a sort of faux zen logic is concerned, it’s partly right. It’s not the gun that kills; it’s usually the bullets that the gun shoots that actually do the killing. And yes; it’s people who kill people. But far too frequently people use a gun to shoot bullets into other people to kill them. And to help stop people from killing other people, we’d like to make it a lot harder to shoot those bullets into other people. We do that very simply by making it a lot harder for people who want to kill people to get their hands on a gun with which to do it. And again, the vast majority of US citizens, including gun proponents, are in favour of common sense gun safety legislation. The only opponents are their Republican representatives who accept over 23 million dollars per year in campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association.

I think my favourite NRA sponsored talking point this week has been their packaged response to gun control advocates who rail against the number of firearms in civilian hands in the US. When a gun control proponent mentions that civilian gun ownership in the US is far and away the highest in the world and that the numbers of deaths by gunshot reflects this, the party line and prepared response is: Look at Switzerland; everybody has a gun there and there’s practically no gun violence. We are apparently supposed to take that to mean that gun ownership and gun violence have no causal relationship. And, yes, I actually heard that one today.

That one has so many holes in it that it’s hard to know where to start. In 2007, the US had approximately 112.6

Yes! Please let's try the Swiss model!

Yes! Please let’s try the Swiss model!

firearms per 100 people. That is more than one gun per person, man, woman, and child in the country. Switzerland had 45.7 per 100 people. That difference alone makes the comparison of the two countries unworkable[1]. And even more importantly, the Swiss number includes weapons owned by militia members who do not take their weapons home. But the real objection is this: Switzerland has among the most rigid and restrictive gun ownership regulations in the world, and everyone who owns a weapon must be trained in its use, its safety and storage, and the law regarding its use, transportation, storage, and maintenance. This article is worth reading before we ask gun proponents if they would consent to laws similar to Switzerland’s. Would they consent if it was certain to reduce death by gunshot? I doubt if the NRA would want to go there. Nevertheless, whenever the Swiss model is mentioned by the gun lobby as proof that gun ownership or access to weapons is not the cause of gun violence, I find it worth responding that I’d be wholly in favour of even wider gun ownership in the US – if gun legislation was modeled on Switzerland’s. The fact is, most Americans couldn’t even imagine thoseStephen King guns kinds of restrictions.

Assault weapons have one purpose only. They are designed for the purpose of killing as many human beings as possible in the shortest amount of time and with the least inconvenience to the shooter. They simply should not be in the hands of civilians; the simple possession of one of these weapons should be seen as prima facia evidence of an intent to commit homicide. The ban on those weapons ought to be a no-brainer. Ditto for the high-capacity magazines for all auto and semi-automatic weapons. Some legislative effort at getting to that simple and obvious level of common sense should be made immediately and with very little argument; most Americans favour these measures. And yet, the Republicans absolutely draw a line in the sand: no legislation imposing any regulation of any sort is acceptable.

But, as long as we’re wishing for seemingly impossible things, what ultimately needs to happen is a national conversation about the confusing and vague language of the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment. The Supreme Court needs to clarify once and for all whether the preamble, the part that reads: “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” means that states may raise militias, or whether it means that every citizen should have completely unregulated access to any kind of weapon they can afford. And if SCOTUS opts for the latter, the NRA’s self-serving interpretation, then clearly the Constitution needs to be amended yet again.2nd-Amendment

If, as many extremists believe, the Constitution guarantees every American the right to own and carry lethal weapons, then the Constitution is wrong and needs to be changed. The Founding Fathers couldn’t have foreseen the technological developments that resulted in the lethality and capacity for killing that modern firearms use as a selling point. But most of all, what the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen is that far too many of their descendants would lack the intelligence, character, and maturity to be trusted with a pointy stick, let alone a high capacity, rapid firing, lethal weapon.


[1] It’s also worthwhile noting that these figures are taken from studies and reflect the numbers in the year 2007. In the years since then, the US numbers of gun ownership has increased significantly, while Switzerland’s have decreased. The estimate of Swiss-owned guns per 100 people in 2014 is 25.



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