You Americans and your Guns…

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Before I begin in earnest, let me state first and foremost that I know not every American will feel the same way about this issue, and this article is certainly not intended to tar every American with the same brush. This piece is by and large, a response to some of the more vitriolic outbursts I’ve seen on the web, concerning President Obama’s plea for America to reexamine her gun laws in the wake of yet another tragic shooting.

Now, before I can look into the comments (which include, among other things, the suggestion Obama wants to change the laws to tighten his party’s grip on the country and deny people their freedoms), I wanted to see how US gun crime relates to other countries. As of 2012 (a little out of date but by too much) the US has the highest rate of gun ownership as recorded by this Guardian data (with 70 to 100 people out of every 100 people owning a firearm). To offer a comparison, here in the UK, that ratio is 0.1 to 10 people out of every 100. In France, it’s 10 to 30 people for every 100.

It should come as no surprise then, that according to the same source, 60 to 80% of homicides in the US involve firearms, compared to 1 to 20% in England, and 1 to 20% in France.

So, America has higher rates of gun ownership, and therefore perhaps unsurprisingly, higher rates of homicides where guns are the weapon of choice. What about the average homicide rate in general?

This interactive map, developed by a Brazilian think tank, is based off data from 2012 again, which makes it comparable to the data above. The USA experienced a homicide rate of 4.7& per every 100,000 inhabitants – the UK rate was 1% (albeit that data is from 2011), and in France that rate was 1%.

What are the gun ownership rules like for these three different countries?

Buying a gun in the US is very easy. From huge department stores to local family businesses and gun fairs, firearms are readily available, pretty much across the entire country. Whilst background checks take place when guns are purchased from stores, these are not required at a gun show where guns are sold privately between individuals, and the background check itself has a successful pass rate of 99%. The link also explains the apparent ease of passing a background check, even with previous convictions and proud flaunting of racist symbols on Facebook.

What about the UK? The laws concerning firearm ownership are much stricter, but despite popular notions that guns are completely banned here, this is not true. Since 1997, anyone seeking to buy a handgun or automatic weapon must provide two references, and obtain a licence from the Home Office. There are strict laws around purchasing other weapons as well, ensuring that anyone who does buy a gun has been properly vetted.

How about France? French gun laws are complicated arrangement that places different types of gun into different categories and requires anyone wishing to purchase a gun to undergo regular medical evaluations to ensure they are mentally fit to own a gun.

What does it all mean?

It would seem that the UK and France, with much tighter gun control laws, have a lower gun-related homicide rate than the US. It would also seem that these laws are the most likely reason why this is the case.

So, given that the US has considerably laxer gun control laws, yet a higher percentage of gun-related murders, surely introducing tighter controls on who can own guns would be an improvement on the current situation.

Why is this not happening?

The National Rifle Association

What began effectively as a social club back in 1871, the NRA has grown into big business, and nowadays the majority of its income comes from the gun industry. It stands to reason then, that part of the reason the NRA (which has always advocated gun rights over gun control) will not yield on tighter gun control is because tighter gun control might impact upon its income.

I can only offer my personal opinion that the NRA refuses to change because it would damage their self-interests, despite evidence that tighter controls on guns can impact upon gun crime.

EDIT: I suppose it’s unfair to say money is the chief motivator behind a refusal to alter gun control laws. I would certainly consider it a factor, given the income that the NRA gets from gun manufacturers, but there is also a strong ideological issue here. The intrinsic right to bear arms is deeply ingrained upon the US, and perhaps more so upon NRA members, for whom the gun is a way of life and a symbol of freedom. Attempts to regulate guns are seen as attempts by the government to erode peoples’ rights. The income the NRA gets is not necessarily lining the coffers of NRA members, but it does serve as a useful tool for furthering the NRA’s agenda – which is to maintain the status quo (something which undoubtedly helps gun manufacturers).

Thanks to Long Live HFC of Big Footy for challenging my notions with this.

Why are attempts to introduce new laws so controversial?

Guns are enshrined in American culture in a way that simply isn’t the case in Europe. The right to bear arms is part of the Second Amendment, though is debate within the US as to what exactly was intended by the amendment. Generally speaking, it is felt that Americans have every right to possess firearms, and that this right should not be infringed. Naturally, there is the argument that tighter gun control laws would represent an infringement of this right.

Yet, is it right that someone can purchase a gun having not undergone any vetting process, any means of check to see if they are mentally sound enough to own a deadly weapon? Is it likely that the Founding Fathers would have intended for the Constitution to be applied in such a fashion, without any responsibility toward safety and security of the country’s citizens? Did they envision a culture where corporate profit was placed ahead of prudence?

What makes things worse is that opponents of those attempting to bring in tighter controls are making their enemies seem like pariahs, interested in stricter laws because they want to gradually strip citizens of their rights. In a country so polarised as America is, there are unfortunately people who genuinely believe such rhetoric. Hopefully, the knee-jerk reaction brigade will, eventually, cease having influence.

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