Wednesday, 15 January 2014


Every so often I prove that I'm either brave or stupid by writing about something highly controversial. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but I do expect them, if they read it, to read it properly, and not object before they've finished. Today I'm going to tackle the gun thing.

I'll start by making one thing quite straight. I'm not anti-gun, and alas, I'm not a pacifist. I'm a bit too pragmatic for that. I do own a gun, and I am quite a good shot. I once belonged to a rifle club, and I did manage to shoot myself there. I have also shot someone, thankfully right in the buttock, but that's what happens when bored teenagers have access to guns. So there's a few factoids for you.

The argument goes that you are safer if you own a gun. I think that's debatable.

I read a story this week of a man who was shot dead in a movie theatre for texting on his phone.

Now, while we probably don't have the whole story here, I think a few things are obvious. One of them concerns the mental state of the killer. Something is not right when a person gets that angry, that quickly, and resorts to such means to deal with it. In other reports (I don't know if this is accurate) the deputy sitting beside this incident was armed, and this did not prevent the shooting. It happened very quickly. But perhaps the saddest thing about it are the comments on a number of the sites where people show approval of the killer's actions. That is to say, they believe it was justified.

What has happened to a society that it believes such a thing?

In the United States any conversation on "gun rights" tends to bring up the Second Amendment to the Constitution, the right to keep and bear arms. Americans are notoriously protective of this, and oppose any effort to change it or moderate it. The fact that it is an amendment suggests that changes can be made to the constitution, or to its interpretation, and indeed in 1876 there were limitations applied to this, and there have been ever since.

But at the time of the original amendment, 1791, it was a very different world anyway, and the whole point of this was to provide a standing army to defend the nation, not to pick off one another. I am absolutely certain, that nobody at the time ever intended it to be used to settle a petty argument.

Of course, we know from the history of the "Wild West" it soon fell to that, but you'd think in 2014 people would have collectively evolved from frontier mindsets. No. There is still an idea deeply rooted that there is an innate right to shoot someone because he annoys you. Mindsets cannot be changed by laws. That said, laws can and do help speed up the process of changing cultural attitudes. When you grow up in a society that restricts the use of guns, it seems normal, it seems right, and generally it is accepted. Therefore, placing restrictions on gun ownership does help reduce tragic incidents like the one above.

Now, there's a cute idea going around in the gun control topic where a man's answer to "guns kill people" is "spoons made me fat". It's funny. It's a silly analogy though. As this one keeps cropping up, I'll spell it out why it doesn't actually work like that.

The comparison is delivery systems. A spoon is a food delivery system. A gun is a death delivery system. That's pretty much where the comparison ends.

You see, a spoon can easily be substituted. You can use a fork, serves the same purpose, and if the food is too runny, just sup it straight from the bowl. If all else fails, use your hands. It's a bit messy but it does the same job. Food is necessary for survival, so it must be delivered, one way or another. What makes you fat is too much of it, if you restrict the quantity it won't happen.

A gun substitute is harder to find. You could use a knife, but it requires close contact. Unless you are good with a throwing knife, or possibly a spear, or a bow and arrow. A cursory glance at the history of warfare will demonstrate the superiority of the gun as a means of delivering death, even with very skilled and brave opposition in large numbers. Delivery of death is not usually necessary for survival, except in times of war, or other situations of self-defence, and indeed even then, it is sometimes possible to avoid it. And you can't have a partial death. Either the gun kills or it doesn't. And there are no diets that bring people back.

So, no, a spoon is not like a gun.

So if guns are efficient, then doesn't that prove we should all have one. Well, no, not really. Because they are only useful in one very clear and precise set of circumstances, as follows:

1. The threat you face is seen coming, giving you time to react.
2. You have a clear shot, and you are skilled enough to get it right first time.
3. Your gun is loaded, and in your hand.

How often does that happen, in reality? Usually, the threat catches you by surprise, you don't have time to react, and in any case you can't, because your gun is locked away, or simply elsewhere. Even if it's in a holster on your person, how fast can you draw, are you Billy the Kid?

And if you really are that good, are you sure it's the right thing to do? What if you discover afterwards that the "threat" was not real, that the other guy was unarmed, and it was all much ado about nothing?

I have heard women tell me they keep a gun in the drawer beside their bed to shoot rapists who break in. It's one reason boyfriends get accidentally shot in the dark. It's also a way for very quiet burglars to acquire guns. I would also ask, are you sure you could pull that trigger? Some could, some couldn't. Could you hit him, if you'd just woken up, your hands were shaking and he was moving towards you? Or would you miss, or panic, and give him an opportunity to grab the gun off you? Until you've been there, you don't know.

Still, I do understand a woman doing that. Humans live in fear of one another.

It's not just Americans though.

In Switzerland, another place where every citizen is required to own a gun to defend the nation if need be, the rate of death by gun "incidents" is also very high. Yes, in peaceful old Switzerland. It's higher than any other European country. It is 16 times higher than in the UK, for example. In fact if you study the relationship between gun ownership and gun deaths around the world, with a few exceptions, there is a close correlation between availability and use. Possibly more importantly, in places where gun control has been put in place, deaths by gun do tend to reduce as expected. It's not 100%, because obviously illegal weapons still exist. Nevertheless it's shown time after time to be a worthwhile thing to do.

The problem really, in trying to demonstrate whether you are safer with more or less guns around, is that it is easy to count deaths by guns, and not so easy to count deaths from lack of a gun. Would the texting gentleman in the movie theatre be alive if he'd had a gun? Maybe. But it's utterly impossible to say. It's possible that the dead man would simply be the one who drew first. This does not reduce deaths, it just changes the names. Possibly both of them would have been killed. Possibly bystanders too. Nobody can say, because it wasn't what happened. It's so easy to second guess an event, and much harder to make accurate predictions.

Having considered all of this and more, it seems clear to me that there are too many guns, and many of them in the hands of the wrong people. I don't believe we can do away with them, at the very least police officers, soldiers, zoo keepers, farmers, and certain other people need them. In an ideal world it would be restricted to these. But it's time that restrictions were in place for the general public, it is far too easy to legally obtain weapons and ammunition and use them in a hissy fit.

But it doesn't end there. We have a society that is broken when this is happening. When onlookers cheer. When killing is seen as justified. I agree that the people holding the guns are the real problem, and I don't see ANY efforts being made there.


  1. I don't own a gun. I would like to say that if I had one and needed it I would hesitate to shoot because I am more on the side of pacifist. I can't really say that is true because I haven't really experienced the power a gun can bring. I could end up like the main character in the movie "Falling Down". I am not anti-gun either. I have no real answers. I know where I would like things to start, but that isn't going to happen in my country any time soon.

  2. I prefer to be positive when it comes to guns and firepower, but the fundie extremists are making it so very difficult. I have purchased 'a' firearm in my life, but have not shot anything more than a b-b gun at carnivals. Killing happens without guns, clearly. While you are equating arguments, it is almost the same as abortion rights--something that needs to be there for survival, health and safety reasons, but not everyone is going to take advantage.

    We have no problems with licensing motor vehicles, which (in a way) is just as much of a death-producer, depending on the skill of the operator and various outlying circumstances. As with autos, guns depend on the ability of the person 'behind' its use. As someone who works closely with people who live with mental illness, I would argue for the rights of certain individuals to have access, as not every mental illness carries the same sense of 'instability.' Oh, but they carry 'fear' out the wazoo until people learn otherwise, that's for sure.

    The 'groupthink' aspect of cheering on death does not sit well with me, either. IS killing ever justified, really, even if groups 'desire' it, or is it more our own 'rationale' for its occurrence? Death does happen and is inevitable, even without our hand in the mix. It leads ME to think that, in our obsessions with fear, we are no longer seeing the "other person" as a fellow human being. Talk about sad and disconnected! :( ~ Blessings! :)

  3. I did not know about Switzerland. Interesting. Otherwise, shrug.

  4. Don't own a gun; have never owned a gun. Live in a metropolis and never needed one. Don't see the point. The problem here is, the people who feel the need to own a gun and I'm not talking hunting rifles, are, in all probability, the same people who should not be allowed to tie their shoes without a guardian.