Culture Editorials

Gun Culture and Gun Violence in the US – How Can We Change Both for a Better Future?

So, let me get that soapbox of mine once more and let us talk about gun control.

Oh, I know that this is a very touchy subject here in the United States, but it is something that has been brewing for some time. Long before the tragedy of last week in Las Vegas, long before the nightclub in Orlando, long before San Bernardino or Sandy Hook or the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado or Virginia Tech or even Columbine. Gun control has been a debate that has been put off for far too long in this country. And why? Because a gun lobbying group known as the National Rifle Association has poured millions and millions of dollars every year to make it so. Let me make one thing clear here: I am not against people owning guns. I like guns, I’ve owned a gun before. I would like to own again in the future. My family has owned guns and I grew up in a house with guns in it. I am not for forcibly taking people’s guns. But I am for the passing of “common sense” gun laws that are fair and are meant to protect people from senseless gun violence.

The fact of the matter is that guns are viewed differently in the US and this has led to vastly differing regulations on gun ownership in this country than in the rest of the world. As such, we romanticize the gun. We view the gun as a noble tool that helped the US expand and reach the scope of its destiny as it helped conquer the “savage” Western Frontier and is our first line of defense in this country for us to defend our homes. But put that love of the gun aside and look at the realistic numbers behind guns and violence and how the US compares to the rest of the world when it comes to guns and responsible owners.

According to CNN and BBC reports, gun deaths in the US are 10 times greater than in the rest of the world. Countries like Japan and South Korea have close to 0 gun related deaths a year compared to 30,000 in the US, according to the American Journal of Medicine. That same organization also has produced studies that state that the rate of deaths as a result of gun violence is nearly 41 percent greater in the US than in the entirety of the European Union. 41 times greater! This is a result of gun ownership in the US being that of 15 times greater than that of the EU per capita thanks in large part to much looser restrictions on gun ownership between the US and the EU, according to the same reports.

Some critics of these reports would state that it is the sale and maintenance of illegal guns and the use of those guns by criminal elements such as gangs that attributes to those high numbers. But according to both Mother Jones and The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the states with the highest percentage of legal gun ownership and looser gun ownership restrictions have among the highest number of gun related deaths – and vice versa for the states with the fewest number of gun owners and harder restrictions on gun ownership. Even when considering the threat of gang violence in states like California, Illinois, New York, Florida and Georgia (because of the perception of cities like Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, New York City, Miami, Atlanta and Philadelphia), the states of Alaska, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Montana have higher gun related deaths per capita. Take a look at the chart below to see what I mean:

Firearm Mortality Rates by State

Alaska – 23.4 deaths Georgia (Atlanta) – 14.1
Louisiana – 20.4 Florida (Miami) – 12.0
Alabama – 19.6 Pennsylvania (Philly) – 11.4
Mississippi – 19.6 Illinois (Chicago) – 9.5
Wyoming – 19.6 California (L.A./Oakland) – 7.7
Montana – 19.2 New York (N.Y.C.) – 4.2
*per 100,000 citizens (CDC)

According to the CDC, the six states on the left of that chart, where more people own firearms legally and can obtain them with fewer restrictions in ownership, have higher gun mortality rates per 100,000 citizens than the states on the right side of the chart that have cities which are perceived to have a high number of violent crimes committed by illegal street gangs. And, while even I concede that more studies are needed to track and better calculate these rates, the NRA has made that virtually impossible.

You see, a legal amendment sponsored by the NRA (the Dickey Amendment, 2.4 MB PDF) is blocking CDC and other groups from researching gun violence and public policy in US for the past two decades. Authored by a Republican member of the US House of Representatives named Jay Dickey, and sponsored by the NRA, the bill essentially puts a stranglehold on money meant for CDC studies (approximately $2.7 million) should they put out reports that “may be used to advocate or promote gun control”. In essence, in the modern year of 2017, we have a ban on scientific research and irrefutable truth that could lead to an inconvenient outcome for gun owners because of our romanticizing gun culture. The banning of scientific research is baffling enough, but for it to be so hard to be stricken down is equally as perplexing.

Of course, there are some small fixes we can do in the meantime that could stem the number of deaths related to gun violence until true change in the gun culture of the US can be enacted. Universal background checks for everyone wanting to buy a gun, the banning of military style weapons sales to the civilian populace, a ban on selling weapons to people with a history of criminal violence, substance abuse, and/or mental illness. These are steps, that have been supported by both Democrats and Republicans, that could immediately and drastically lower the number of gun deaths in the US within the next several years.

The biggest step, Universal Background Checks, is one of the hardest to get majority support for, but it could make the biggest difference in the long run as it would directly affect the other two steps I listed above. Having everyone wanting to buy a gun go through a vigorous and extensive background check before they can legally purchase a gun would drastically affect who can legally purchase and own a gun. I’m sorry to everyone who this might adversely affect, but if there is going to be gun ownership in the US, I want the most responsible and well-natured of the citizenship to be the ones allowed the right of owning them – even if that would eliminate me from ever owning a gun in the future as well.

The other controversial step but easily the most logical in terms of gun violence and the damage it can cause, is the banning of military style weapons to the greater populace. You see, while I am all for the owning of guns in the US, I also fail to see why an ordinary citizen would need an assault rifle like a Colt AR15, Armalite M-16, Heckler & Koch G36, or any other military style assault rifle in their personal armament cabinet. Likewise, why would someone need a .300 Winchester Magnum or a Barret M82 .50 caliber sniper rifle for their private use. These are highly lethal, military sniper rifles meant for killing enemy soldiers. I am all for the owning of hunting rifles, but these kinds of rifles are more than overkill.

Lastly, and the one that can easily get support from both Republicans and Democrats, is the banning of sales and ownership of guns to people with violent and criminal offenses, people with a history of substance abuse, and people with a history of mental or psychological illnesses. And this is just plain common sense. Would you trust someone who has a record of beating his wife or kids with a gun? Would you trust an ex cocaine junkie with a gun? Would you trust someone that has been diagnosed with depression with a gun? I know I wouldn’t because the predisposition for harming others or themselves has already been set. Giving these people the rights to a weapon is like handing the codes for a nuclear weapon to an agent of ISIS in that there is a high possibility that the decision will come back and bite you in the ass.

And this is where these regulations would also come and adversely affect me. You see I have been diagnosed with depression. And, if I were to follow the same kinds of steps that I am advocating, it would eliminate me from owning a firearm in the future. But I am okay with that, because I have been diagnosed with a psychological disorder that would have me predisposed to hurting myself… and I should not be in possession of a weapon with those kind of background factors in my profile. But the reality that is today’s world is that I could easily go out and legally buy a gun because as it pertains to current background checks, I would easily pass those test with no other problems. But if I wouldn’t trust myself with a gun, why would I ask others to do the same. And why are we doing so for hundreds of others who currently own guns who wouldn’t pass the criteria I have listed above. But the reality of today is that we do and these people have access to these lethal weapons.

I am not trying to deny what the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights as part of the Constitution of the United States says. But there is no denying that the wording has been reinterpreted numerous times over the years. Initially the language of Second Amendment stems from the American Revolution ideals of civilian militias battling back against centralized Imperial power and lingering anti-Federalist notions within the citizenry. After the American Civil War, the NRA founded by ex-Union soldiers, and they sought for more individualized rights for gun ownership for protection because of circumstances that arose from Civil War, with some battle lines initially taking place between neighbor and neighbor. Whereas the vision and ideals of the Second Amendment before Civil War dealt with a more group minded effort, after the Civil War it became indicative of a more militarily and individualistic vision of ownership.

In 1960s, during the vigorous upholding of various civil rights and the Warren Court Revolution, the NRA took advantage of the times and the courts claiming that if they were going to vigorously uphold the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and other Amendments of the Constitution, they had to also recognize the rights of individual gun owners per the Second Amendment – and the NRA was correct in its assertion of the law. Yes, the courts had to defend the rights of gun owners as well. And that is why I am not denying that people have a right to bear arms – but there has to be a fine line drawn between the rights of the gun owner wanting to own his forearm versus those who want to feel safe from the worries of guns as weapons.

And therein lies the biggest change that is needed for there to be true gun control in the US – what is needed is a complete social change in how the US sees gun culture before you can truly change gun laws. There is this popular perception that everyone in the US is all for the owning of gun in the US when the truth is that 78 percent of Americans don’t own a gun of any kind. 78 percent is a vast majority of the population that feel that they do not need to own a gun to feel safe in their homes. And then you have this frightening number that 3 percent of the total US population own more than 50 percent of the guns legally registered in this country. 3 percent! That means that in a country with an estimated total population of 325 million people, nearly 9.5 million of those people are responsible for owning more than 50 percent of the estimated 350 million guns in the country (an estimate by the US Department of Justice). That is a severe and absurdly disproportionate number by comparison. That comes out to around 18 guns per person in that statistic.

No one needs that many guns to “protect their homes” in this country. Hell, no one needs that many of anything – that is taking excessiveness to a whole new level. By comparison if someone were to own 18 dogs or cats, people would question the sanity of that pet owner. But if a person owns 18 guns, they’re not a nut, they’re an enthusiast. Hell, my friend owned more than 18 porn DVDs at one point and I thought he was insane. If you own 18 guns or more, you have a problem. But that’s just my own opinion on the matter. Even the hypocrisy of these people who claim to be gun enthusiast surprises me because these are the same people who claim they respect law enforcement and speak of supporting the troops, yet they feel they need to own guns because they feel that those same people in law enforcement and the military are going to one day come into their homes and snatch away their guns. … … …

Back to what I was saying, there needs to be a change in the overall culture of guns in the US – and it can happen. Australia is a prime example of that. You see, after a mass shooting in 1996, Australia changed their gun ownership laws saw drastic drops in gun deaths and suicides in the immediate years. And that was with Australia having a very similar view gun ownership as the US has today – but they decided that those 35 deaths were the tipping point and managed to completely change their cultural views virtually eliminating the ownership of semi and fully automatic weapons, as well as high powered rifles, but still allowing for ownership of handguns and shotguns for the individual. In a country that is arguably more conservative than the US, no less. As such, in the 21 years since the Port Arthur Massacre, Australia has had no mass shootings in that timeframe and the overall deaths from gun violence in the country has been cut in half since the reform passed in 1996. To simply that number, in the 238 reported homicides in Australia in 2015, only 26 were caused as a result of gun violence.

Australia has set a precedent that the gun culture can change in a conservative country, but they populace has to be willing to say that enough is enough and demand that the people making the laws enact the kind of change that is needed to stem the number of deaths in their country – the kind of movement we need to enact here. Because, and I am sorry for my arrogance here, but I always thought that the US was a better country than Australia. That the US cared more for its citizens than Australia. That the US was a leader in civil and social rights when compared to Australia. But apparently that is not the case. I love this country with all my heart, and I am proud to be a citizen of the US – despite some of the sins of the past it has committed – but it is hard to defend sometimes when the politics of money outweigh the politics of doing what is right and fails to protect its citizens from needless and senseless violence. I truly hope that we can change this for the better in the near future, where we stand to protect the safety of the innocent as opposed to the rights of gun owners. But where money is the main motivating factor, I fear that change won’t come soon enough.

Because how many more senseless, violent deaths of the innocent are we going to accept before we stand up for real change in this country?

 

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