More on American Gun Control

In the summer of 2000 I found myself sat at the counter of a small bar somewhere on the coast of Virginia, USA.  The barman, a man in his 40s with long hair and a beard, was friendly enough and we were chatting (the place wasn’t busy).  I don’t remember what we talked about and I would have otherwise forgotten being there were it not for one thing he said regarding Britain:

“Well, you guys just need to get the fuck out of Ireland.”

I wasn’t particularly annoyed by the remark – dumbassed comments on the Northern Irish situation were common enough back home – but it remained with me as a perfect example of somebody passing a remark on a highly complex and protracted foreign situation which revealed almost total ignorance and should best be ignored.  Which is what I did.

I was reminded of this episode last week in the wake of the shootings in South Carolina, when herds of British and Australians, led by that idiot Piers Morgan and backed up by the comedian John Oliver, took to the internet to launch both criticism and advice at America which can be summed up as follows:

1) Americans are stupid.

2) Ban all guns now.

When it comes to foreigners talking about American gun laws, there seems to be an inverse relationship between passion and knowledge of the subject.  Many of those foaming at the mouth, who confess they consider this issue to be the gravest America faces, were unaware that gun laws vary considerably from state to state.  Others claimed the issue of gun control is one that has never been debated in the US, leading one to wonder how the Federal Government, 50 states, and the District of Columbia managed to pass legislation on the subject.  As Wikipedia tells us:

Policy at the Federal level is/has been governed by the Second Amendment, National Firearms Act, Gun Control Act of 1968, Firearm Owners Protection Act, Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, and the Domestic Violence Offender Act. Gun policy in the U.S. has been revised many times with acts such as the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which loosened provisions for gun sales while also strengthening automatic firearms law.[94] At the local and state level gun laws such as handgun bans have been overturned by the Supreme Court in cases such as District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago.These cases hold that an individual person has a right to possess a firearm. Columbia v. Heller only addressed the issue on Federal enclaves, while McDonald v. Chicago addressed the issue as relating to the individual states.

No debate or control, indeed.

The prevailing opinion appears to be that everyone and anyone is able to carry any kind of weapon freely, and hence they have all these shootings in the USA.  They think that these shootings are less common in other countries because they have tighter gun control, hence the solution is to implement a nationwide ban.  What advocates of a ban rarely acknowledge is that even European countries have not banned handguns: ownership, although subject to obtaining a permit and other heavy restrictions, is not illegal in the UK, France, Germany, Norway, and Italy (at which point I stopped looking).  Regarding France:

France has no limit on magazine capacity and no assault weapon ban, other than that you need a permit for category one semi-automatics.

And Italy:

All private firearms must be registered at the local police department within “72 hours”, as specified by law, after purchase or transfer, although this limit goes from the time the firearm is actually taken to the place where it is to be registered (for example, the firearm may be bought at a time and withdrawn after a week from the retailer; only then the weapon will require the registration).

Citizens are allowed to own:

  • up to three common firearms (usually handguns, but all firearms not using hunting calibers fall into this category, such as 10-gauge shotguns, or some .22 rimfire pistols and rifles);
  • up to six weapons that have been classified as manufactured for shooting sports by the National Proof House;
  • an unlimited number of hunting weapons (both rifles and shotguns);

A concealed carry license allows a citizen to carry a handgun for personal defense; this license is usually much harder to obtain than the other two firearm licenses, must be renewed yearly (while the hunting and shooting sports licences are valid for 6 years), and the applicant has to provide a valid reason to carry a concealed gun (e.g. a salesperson of valuable goods such as jewelry).

The fact that gun ownership is permitted across Europe is something rarely acknowledged by those Europeans who want to see American guns banned.  How many commentators do you hear saying “there is absolutely no reason for anyone to own an assault rifle” in the context of American gun ownership, but never once mention France?

In short, the gap between America and Europe when it comes to gun control laws is wide, but not half as wide as gun control advocates make out.  When it comes to actual gun ownership, the gap is indeed very wide, which may be because of the restrictions in Europe but is more likely to be because, for reasons related to culture, history, and geography, Americans simply want to own more guns that Europeans.  It does not follow that by introducing European-style gun laws that Americans will turn their backs on guns, and their number decline amongst the law-abiding.  So what a lot of the criticism comes down to is that Americans are stupid for wanting to own a gun, because Europeans don’t see a need for them.

Nevertheless, the complete ban solution, so the narrative goes, is so obvious that only morons cannot see it.  Hence we get Facebook posts along the lines of:

3,000 people killed in 9/11 = war

32,000 people killed per year by guns = NOTHING

Which gets reposted by what appear to be adults.

Gun deaths in the US, or anywhere else, can be broken down into separate categories:

  • General criminality
  • Killing sprees
  • Self-defence
  • Accidents
  • Suicides

According to Wikipedia, there were 8,855 firearm related homicides in the USA.  I’ve not been able to find a breakdown of this figure which would show us how many of these are attributed to general criminality, but despite the regularity of noodle-armed omega males going on killing sprees in the past decade or so, the numbers killed in these events do not run into the hundreds, let alone thousands.  Ditto for self-defence.  Therefore, most firearms homicides in the US are a result of general criminality.

Now the homocide rate is very high, probably for two broad reasons:

  1. America is awash with guns.
  2. A combination of stupid drug laws, gang cultures, and inner-city deprivation.

The above two set America apart from most other civilised nations, who either have one but not the other, or both but on a far smaller scale.  If you’re looking for a reason why there are more homicides by firearms in the US than UK, for example, then look no further.

So how are harsher gun controls supposed to help with this?  As TNA pointed out in the comments of my previous post:

1. I don’t believe those with malicious intent will pay any attention to gun laws.
2. There are loads of guns already out there and they are non-biodegradable.

A lot of foreigners, particularly Australians, point to the Australian gun buy-back scheme which was set up as part of the new legislation after the 1996 massacre in Port Arthur.  This netted 631,000 firearms, turned in by law-abiding owners.  However, as the same linked Wiki article tells us:

Low levels of violent crime through much of the 20th century kept levels of public concern about firearms low. In the last two decades of the century, following several high profile multiple murders and a media campaign, the Australian government co-ordinated more restrictive firearms legislation with all state governments.

So the Australian government managed to gather and destroy a lot of legal firearms from a population that had, by and large, not been using them to kill each other very much.  Leaving aside whether this was necessary (although Australians point to their lack of recent massacres to vindicate this policy), it is hard to see this working in the US: criminals are criminals, and are not likely to hand over their guns.  In short, Australia and the US are at very different starting points with the main difference being the armed, criminal element in Australia was pretty low.  As it was in the UK around the time of Dunblane.

Even assuming law-abiding Americans hand over their weapons instead of going through the embuggerance of complying with European-style gun laws (which I very much doubt), this still leaves the vast swathes of gun-toting criminals who would in all certainty hang onto them, and in all probability be delighted that they are now the only civilians who will be armed.  The Australian scheme simply isn’t going to work in the US and remove any more than a handful of guns from circulation.

And that’s by far the biggest problem facing America when it tries to grapple with its sky-high homicide-by-firearm rate: there are a lot of violent criminals, and they all have guns.  If you want to tackle this problem, the starting point would be a severe examination of their disastrous war on drugs, but nobody will touch that with a barge-pole.

However, nobody really cares about the vast majority of homicides which are dark folk shooting other dark folk.  Certainly the Europeans couldn’t care less about inner-city gang violence in the US.  But they are quite happy to use these statistics whenever there is a shooting spree.  Shooting sprees are terrible events and create harrowing storylines, but statistically they are insignificant, hence the overall gun death rate must be held aloft when the bodies are still warm in order to advance the agenda.

There is an argument that increased gun control might prevent some shooting sprees (although not all of them), which was put to me by a Texan friend.  The type of loser who goes on a shooting spree would probably lack the balls and the social connections to get hold of illegal weaponry, and so picks up a legal one from the nearest shop.  Without this option, he might not be able to arm himself.  I’ll not dismiss this argument because it does make sense in theory, but increasing gun controls is unlikely to eradicate all shooting sprees as anyone determined will arm himself one way or another.  But more importantly, I don’t think shooting sprees have much to do with gun controls anyway: it is more an issue of mental health diagnosis and treatment, and the quirk of American culture which for whatever reason throws up delusional, attention-seeking assholes who would do anything for a few minutes of notoriety – be it on a reality TV show or by committing mass murder.  Addressing these two issues would probably go a lot further to reducing the number of shooting sprees than making people obtain gun permits.

Finally, what annoys me a lot about Europeans and Australians when they comment on America’s gun laws is they are completely dismissive of 1) the constitutional structure of the USA and 2) the opinion of millions upon millions of American citizens.  We saw this when the Kyoto Protocol was roundly rejected by the US senate by whopping 95-0 because, rightly, they saw it as a massive stitch-up for the American way of life.  Europeans reacted with disbelief and insults, seemingly astonished that an American government is unable to just enact whatever laws it likes in order to fall into line with what the rest of the world wants.  The way Europeans sneer at the American constitutional right of its citizens to keep and bear arms betrays a deep-rooted ignorance and snobbery which Americans have detested since the Boston Tea Party.  Secondly, Americans have been time and again asked whether increased gun control laws are a price they are willing to pay to reduce the number of gun deaths in the USA, and each time they have come back with a resounding “No!” based on:

1) The fact that they have a constitutional right to own guns, and the government does not have the power to infringe this; and

2) The quite understandable idea that restricting their right to own a firearm would not make a blind bit of difference anyway.

America has serious issues with guns and gun deaths, but these will not be solved by their listening to foreigners who are breathtakingly ignorant or utterly dismissive of every historical, cultural, societal, political, and constitutional aspect of this highly complex and divisive topic.

(With thanks to the commentators on my previous post.)


14 thoughts on “More on American Gun Control

  1. I agree with you about guns. I have, however, one nit to pick with you: “a deep-rooted ignorance and snobbery which Americans have detested since the Boston Tea Party”. Do not believe the standard American account of the Boston Tea Party. What happened was that parliament had imposed a high duty of tea imports (in an attempt to get the Americans to pay any bloody tax at all towards their defence bill). There were howls of protest. So parliament backed down and reduced the duty to next-to-nothing. But that left the tea smugglers in trouble – they couldn’t make a living from smuggling any more. Which is why a gang of them went a-rioting to tip tea into the harbour.

    There’s three long-standing parts of the American tradition – a reluctance to pay tax, a ready resort to violence, and a dedication to lying about their own history.

  2. Quality post there, Tim. Articulates my views perfectly.

    I challenge anyone who has visited South Africa recently and knows about the prevalence of fatal home invasions to explain how making it harder for the non-malevolent, law-abiding citizens to own a handgun is logical.

  3. @ dearieme,

    You are right, of course. I referred to the Boston Tea Party more as a timeline reference than an event which characterises the feelings I describe. But there can be no denying that Americans do not take advice from snooty Europeans very well at the best of times, even if Americans can at times be equally snooty.

  4. Very well articulated, Tim. The left-leaning media and pseudo-intellectual comedians haven’t got a clue. They just lump together statistics from (as you point out) states with wildly differing gun laws, homicide rates and gun ownership – which varies from 3% to 60% state to state. Result: “Herp derp guns need to be banned, lol”.

    Another European example for you: In Czech republic, not only are handguns permitted, but with the appropriate license you can carry them concealed. The Czechs have a gun homicide rate a fraction lower than that of Australia.

  5. Agree with your point about the psyche of the country being the most important factor in how gun ownership will play out. In my favourite little Eastern European country citizens are allowed to own handguns and semi automatic weapons provided they carry the correct permits. Also, they can carry their arms in public which has them labelled “the Kentucky of Europe”. My uncle is the district bear hunter and has an arsenal room which would make Rambo weep. Gun crime is vanishingly low, as is crime in general. Perhaps because people have a good outdoor culture and plenty of wine, beautiful women and song to keep them busy.

    Well done for using ’embuggerance’ in a sentence. I’m going to see if I can craftily work that one into a meeting this week at my little O&G company.

  6. @ PeterC and BearBait,

    Thanks for the input, you both highlight a key point that gets missed: there is probably little difference between the subsection of American gun owners who are hunters/gun enthusiasts and gun owners in the Czech republic and BearBait’s ancestral lands. I expect you would find that the homicide rates are very similar between the two, and perhaps also the suicide and accident rates as well.

    The difference in overall homicide statistics is due to the subsection of American gun owners who are *not* hunters/gun enthusiasts (i.e. criminals and the occasional nutcase) which these other countries don’t have (at least in so many numbers). So targeting the hunters/gun enthusiasts with tougher legislation is likely to have little effect, but will make like more embuggerated for the law-abiding.

  7. I suppose the single recentish incident where gun control might have saved a lot of lives in the US is Waco. But that would have meant controlling the guns (and indeed tank) in the hands of the forces of Law’n’order.

  8. Some random clarifications on French gun laws because “you need a permit” makes it sound like you just pop down to the town hall and ask politely:

    – Front-and-centre for me is that a doctor has to sign your licence every year (I haven’t asked, but I guess they won’t sign if they’re not sure!)
    – Everything requires a permit (not just semi-auto).
    – You have to be a member of a gun club and go at least three times a year.
    – You have to pass a test (and it isn’t easy – what I’ve seen is that most people fail at least once. Also, you have to wait two months before re-taking).
    – I don’t know how representative this is, but my club requires that you do a month of supervised practice before they’ll let you use an air-rifle on your own (and they even test you on that – but I think this is mostly aimed at developing good habits) and then another 2 months of practice before you can use live fire and then another 4 months (at least) before they’ll give you permission to ask the town-hall for permisison to buy your own.
    – You can only buy 500 bullets (per gun) every year. Not sure what that’s supposed to achieve…

    All this seems to do a very good job of weeding out the lunatics, so I don’t mind the inconvenience. Most of the gun deaths that I hear about are crime-related, like you say, or are related to hunting, which operates under different rules.

    All this without wishing to particularly disagree with you, except to note that Europe isn’t as free-wheeling as many parts of the US, so you can’t completely disregard the “availability” argument.

  9. “or are related to hunting”: what, they carry guns when they go hunting? Doesn’t the noise upset the horses?

  10. @ Hiberno-Frog,

    Welcome, and thanks for the comment.

    Yes, you’re quite right: the point I was trying to make was that gun ownership is still very much legal in Europe, even if their ownership is more restricted. So the whole “Why would anyone need a gun?” argument falls rather flat.

    All this seems to do a very good job of weeding out the lunatics, so I don’t mind the inconvenience.

    I’m not entirely convinced: the Charlie Hebdo murders, although very different in terms of perpetrator and motivation from the American spree killings, cannot be classed as general criminality and were identical in terms of result. The killers got their weapons from somewhere, and I suspect most of the American spree-killers would too if gun restrictions were imposed.

    But your final point I agree with, one cannot disregard the general availability argument.

  11. Hey, Tim.

    Another thing to think about is the definition of homicide, and whether it is always a bad thing. The way the FBI record national homicide stats is to include every case of a human killing a human, including self-defence. A lot of that is crime, yes, but describing it as such gives the false impression that it’s all criminals killing victims, which feeds into ignorant anti-American stereotypes. But in a lot of cases, it is innocent victims killing criminals. Which is great. That’s the key thing to remember about the raw numbers: a lot of those deaths should be celebrated, not mourned. A lot of those deaths are something we outside America should be aspiring to achieve.

  12. @ Squander,

    Yes, I did consider mentioning the issue of self-defence killings winding up in the homicide statistics, but I suspect their numbers would be too low in relation to the criminal shootings to make much difference to the argument. But it would probably be the case that, should gun ownership be made more restrictive in the US, any decline in the homicide rate may well come largely from a reduction in self-defence killings. Which we don’t want, but when you listen to Europeans, some seem to think it’s better to just stand there meekly while being murdered by a burglar.

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