Gun Control: A Viewpoint

Three things happen when America hosts another gun massacre. Firstly, the rest of the world groans, “Really? Again?”, secondly, the NRA races to a media podium to declare that guns aren’t the problem, and thirdly, sensible people speak up and acknowledge that something needs to be done. Of course, what makes discussion particularly difficult is that gun control is an issue we automatically judge with emotions, but which needs objective analysis.

Most of the time, nothing happens. The ruling president will announce his sympathies and mutter that action must be taken to protect the innocent Americans, and then it’s business as usual. Newtown, however, seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, as President Obama has announced that he will be taking action. Pleasing to many, the decision has also upset the NRA and many pro-gun folk, on the assumption that this is Obama showing his true self of wanting to oppress the American people and, so the hyperbole goes, essentially frog-march the people to concentration camps for Holocaust II.

We are told that the Jews were disarmed first, and thus, by default, if Americans can keep their guns they will remain safe from their government; that the government and military are unable to take the people over if they have their guns. The necessary logical fallacy here is the huge disproportion between what weaponry the Nazis had compared to modern day America – after all, the American military is the biggest in the world (a fact that America is always boasting), and its job, for which the soldiers are, ironically, routinely praised by the military-phobic public, is to take over other countries and fight armies. I wouldn’t imagine the nation with the crown of the World’s Fattest is going to stand much of a chance, M4 or no M4. The American military has drones, stealth bombers, tanks, rockets, Kevlar and, well, basically the tools and training to engage in warfare to succeed at the end-goal – which means the American public would have no chance of surviving a takeover if the government truly wanted it, with or without guns.

There also seems to be an attitude of defeat in the minds of many Americans; that yes, these massacres are tragic, but nothing can be done about it. As someone told me after Newtown on Twitter: “If Jesus could’t [sic] stop from being crucified then the world will always have nut jobs No law will ever stop a psychopath”. We’ll sidestep the theological problem, that ‘Jesus was sent to earth to die, and in doing so fulfilled his purpose’, and instead rebut with two simple facts: countries with gun bans suffer almost no gun deaths, and America has more guns and more gun violence than any other developed nation.

Those facts are swept aside much of the time though, and the party line from the pro-gun side of the debate is that if more people have guns, less people will use guns. The logical mind would simply assert that actually, if the criminal is pointing a gun at your face, he isn’t going to permit you the opportunity of getting your own gun out of its holster to protect yourself. In other words, criminals will always pull their guns first, and the law-abiding innocent will always be on the back foot. Indeed, if the country became one where everyone had guns, criminals would just aspire to be the most aggressive, the most heavily armed people on the streets – by their very nature, criminals will be willing to go further than the common citizen and they will always exist; America’s Gold Rush and prohibition history tell us that criminals exist and operate even under threat of murder by other criminals. Nonetheless, there was a loud declaration post-Newtown that teachers should be armed, and they can then kill any would-be mass murderer. Aside from the obvious difficulties that would pose, is turning back the clock to America emerging once again as the Wild West really what people want to see? Should children have to go to school with an omnipresent reminder to fear violence and death each and every day? There is an inherent problem with the idea that only “crazy” people shoot people: the reality is anyone can snap – and that problem is exacerbated when a gun is at hand. What happens if one teacher (and of the millions in America, the odds are strong that it will happen) shoots a child, will the Republicans be rallying that children themselves carry guns, so they can protect themselves?

The pro-gun side is also quick to say that overall gun violence has decreased over the past decade, but, of the 12 deadliest shootings in American history, six have taken place within the past five years. Since Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson in 2009 there have been 65 mass shootings; there were 10,000 firearm murders in 2011 – at a rate on the increase – and most of the developed world’s worst mass shootings have occurred in the USA. Figures like that would suggest to any reasonable mind that the situation needs amending, but instead we’re greeted with this line: “Anyone who wants to ban guns supports the rape and murder of women and children.” Of course, one could easily respond with, “Anyone who doesn’t support gun control supports the near-constant firearm homicides and injuries of innocent people, as well as the slaughter of children.” Both statements represent extremist views.

Surely the answer lays somewhere in the middle, but we’re told to reject any measure, because it is all a slippery slope to total eradication of firearms held by the American public. There’s no denying that there are groups who want a gun-free America, but the NRA is one of the biggest lobbying groups in the nation. That means that eradicating guns will not be as simple as some people seem to think it would be – because the opposite is big, rich, and powerful. What most people in the gun-control camp really want is sensible restrictions – and in a country where an assault rifle is cheaper than an iPad and less restricted than car ownership, there are numerous options that can be explored.

The pro-gun side often points to Switzerland as proof that a well-armed country has lower crime rates (although Switzerland could equally point to the USA as proof that a well-armed country has higher crime rates), but what isn’t taken into account is how Switzerland regulates its guns. For instance, most men are conscripted into the military at the age of 20, as Switzerland has no dedicated army it is formed by the civilians. Time in the military includes weapons training, as well as psychological tests. To purchase a firearm in a shop, buyers need weapon acquisition permits, with which a buyer can purchase three guns. When buying a gun from an individual, Swiss rules state that a permit is still required, and the seller is expected to establish reasonable certainty that the buyer is of a sound and stable mind. There must be a written contract between both parties, detailing the weapon type, manufacturer and serial number, and both parties keep the contract for a decade. Automatic and selective fire weapons are forbidden except to those with a special permit, obtainable by the cantonal police, and it can be acquired only when additional requirements have been met, such as owning a specific type of gun locker. In addition, every gun needs to be marked with a registered serial number, and a gun carrying permit is necessary to carry a loaded gun out of the home – and these are usually only issued to people working in such occupations as security. Switzerland also requires State agencies to maintain records of the storage and movement of all guns and ammo.

In short, Switzerland does not freely allow the purchase of guns but instead goes to great lengths to ensure that owners are responsible and able to own a gun properly. In America, there is no limitation on private sale, weapons training is not necessary to own a gun, no tests are undertaken to prove the person is of a sound mind, there are no records of the movement of weapons, and no lockers or safes are required in the home. Any of these provisions would be “gun control”, but may help to reduce the number of firearm murders and mass shootings. There are weak rebuttals to the idea of controls as being “unconstitutional”. That same argument overlooks that it is already illegal to own such things as tanks, rocket launchers and automatic weapons, and would mean it is unconstitutional to have the age restrictions and background checks already in place, but would many Americans truly feel comfortable removing those provisions? And if not, if it’s agreed that those measures are warranted, then there is no reason why a few more cannot be enacted – because ultimately, Switzerland shows that strong provisions work, and its gun ownership is not particularly restricted, rather the government knows who has what gun at any moment in time, and the owner must be mentally stable. That seems reasonable enough to a rational mind. Constitutionally, the right is to own guns, and all the while Americans are able to own at least one type of gun, the Constitution is not being overruled.

Guns do not need to be banned entirely, and the pro-gun camp is probably right that at this juncture in American history, there are too many guns on the streets for the average citizen to want to give them up and still feel safe from criminals. However, by borrowing some sensible precautions from Switzerland, America will be able to enjoy gun ownership and a higher degree of personal safety from those with guns. But if there is one stark fact, it is that the NRA and its advocates need to be bringing suggestions to the table; the ground is shrinking beneath their feet and each time they declare there is no gun problem in the wake of a massacre, they further alienate their stance. The line that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, may be factually true but it is simultaneously dishonest. The reason being that guns make it so much easier to take a life, or multiple lives, and other weapons – a knife, for instance – lack the same potential for disaster. That statement was demonstrably proved accurate on the same day as the Newtown massacre, when a man stabbed 22 children in school. Not one of his victims died, but each and every one of Adam Lanza’s Newtown victims were killed, thanks to the efficiency of firearms. That stark fact alone should be enough to demonstrate a need for change.