The Elephant Gun in the Room

When the Britons and the Americans communicate with each other, a huge subject that is hard to address is America and the 2nd Amendment.  Guns.  All I can attempt to do is try to explain my interpretation of what is going on here on this side of the Pond, the role of individual rights, and why just simply adopting a British level of gun control would not work within American culture.

I feel nothing but anger that I live in a nation where guns fall into the wrong hands far too often.  I can’t make any excuses, nor am I going to try. The wrong hands are not necessarily the ones you think you know, and I will explain what I mean further along.

Let’s go back to the beginning, the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment.  The text reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  As you can read, it is very open-ended and emphasizes the right of the individual to bear arms.  In fact, individual rights are what we value here in the United States, and our Constitution reflects that.  Most of our arguments usually revolve around which individuals’ needs take precedence under which circumstances.  This is very important to keep in mind as you read the post.

First of all, I am more of a moderate when it comes to gun ownership.  I have also lived in urban, suburban, and rural America, so I have a general idea how guns play in each setting.  As I said before in other posts, I am a veteran, so yes, I have shot a gun, though I have never shot anyone.  I have also done skeet shooting under the watchful eye of experts.  I understand that there is a place for guns out there, even though I am not a hunter.  There are the people who understand and respect guns, who use them for what they are.  They are not just weapons, but they are tools too.

I am not going to deny that we have people who mishandle guns and use them as the weapons they are to kill and injure.  Nor am I going to deny that people just do plain old stupid things.  The news is full of stories of people telling tales of such things, so I don’t need to provide evidence.  I just want to give the other side of the story to say that guns in the United States are not all about people opening fire in movie theaters.  I am trying to give the moderates a voice, since they seem to get lost in the arguments.

I am writing about the responsible hunters, and, contrary to what a lot of people would like to believe, they do not drive off for a weekend in their pickup trucks to take potshots at squirrels.  Nor do they have $50,000 to fly off to Africa to kill national treasures to assuage their egos.  They eat what they shoot or donate the meat to food banks.  These hunters are worth their salt and put time and care in what they do.  They would not dare poach or hunt endangered species.  These hunters also motivated by conservation purposes.  This is also something that is happening in the U.K. under The Deer Initiative, only they call them deer “stalkers”.  We just have a lot more land and wildlife to cover.

It is also a matter of understanding rural living.  That buck will save a ton of money and give your family valuable protein during those long winter months.  And the “just don’t eat meat” argument will not work for someone who is poor and lives a 45 minute to an 1 hour drive away from the nearest grocery store or food bank, and the car is riding on fumes.  Oh, and there is no public transportation.

As far as the danger, mechanical mishaps are very rare when using firearms.  When people get injured or killed during on a range or out hunting is usually when someone does not follow the safety protocols.  This is why when using any firearm, you have to take the time to educate and train yourself with reputable marksmen, and the vast majority of gun owners do just that.

There are even cases where open carry is acceptable.  Believe it or not, a lot of dangerous critters still roam this enormous country, and many of them will attack you.  Coyotes and bears will not introduce themselves before they will maul you or snack on your entrails.  And, let’s be honest.  Usually in deep rural America, people are usually few and far between too.  If there are cases where you may need police assistance, a squad car is not going to be handy in the matter of a few minutes.  You may be the law until the police arrive, and you, as you would be making a citizens’ arrest, would be bound to the same rules as a uniformed law enforcement officer.  And if you elect to live remotely, the onus is on you to be properly trained with the firearm, or you will have to live with the consequences of misusing it.  I am not saying it is the Wild West, but different communities have to have the flexibility to be able to use the tools they need for their own environments.  And if a gun is one of those tools, so be it.

We can also get into the matter of gun collecting and target shooting.  There is nothing wrong with either of these activities because we have the room in this large country to shoot guns safely on gun ranges and on private land.  If the guns are stored safely (gun in locked cabinet, ammo stored elsewhere) and well-maintained, and the owners are showing proper responsibility, why should we penalize them because of the actions of others?

So, remember when I said we live in a country that is based on individual rights? We have so many individuals with different needs and desires, and we are trying to juggle all of these balls with an open-ended amendment trying to accommodate everyone in the process.  We just can’t arbitrarily have a blanket government mandate across the board with a strict ban because it goes against everything that we value.  Each state has to decide on their own gun laws.  If we want to take drastic measures, we have to go through the process of amending the Constitution, and that is something we have to decide together as a nation.  And don’t think this idea hasn’t been suggested.  If you want to read more, John Paul Stevens, retired associate justice of the Supreme Court, poses and interesting notion of his own.

If we are talking about individual rights, where do the people who are not comfortable around guns fit into all of this?  Don’t they deserve to have a place without a gun flashed their faces?  Yes, they do.  And I will be honest, I do not think we are doing enough to find places to accommodate them right now.  I am thinking about where I live in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago.  This place is pretty good regarding violent crime.  Let’s put it this way, chances are, if someone is going to attack you, you are going to know the perpetrator and why that person has a beef with you.  I, personally, don’t see the need to pack heat to go to the grocery store or take the Sprog to the park where I live.  Meanwhile, Illinois became the last state to pass a conceal carry law, and an individual would have to go on a 16-hour training course in order to carry a license.  There is a whole laundry list of places where licensees can’t take the weapons (including schools, hospitals, daycare facilities, places that serve alcohol).  But individual communities do not get to opt out.  Just individual establishments.  The 2nd Amendment is so poorly worded that the right to bear arms has turned into the right to flaunt arms.  I agree the balance is off, and we need to get things back on track.

The National Rifle Association is part of the reason for this legislative shift.  I have to explain what is going on with them.  It’s the higher ranks and their policies, lobbying, and backhanded political deals (with the Republicans and Democrats) that are causing the problems.  They are catering to the gun manufacturers and the 2nd Amendment extremists that you hear so much about.   I am angry at all Americans, including me, for allowing them to get so much power, but my wrath is especially targeted at the moderate members of the NRA and the gun owners, for not doing more for combating what the upper echelon of this organization does.  The NRA on the ground level does a lot of work with gun safety and education, and a lot of its members cringe when Wayne LaPierre opens his big fat mouth, but they do nothing.

I don’t want to take tools away from the people who need them and know how to handle them just because the extremists are ruining everything.  But the moderates can’t hitch themselves to organizations like the NRA and the gun manufacturers who finance them, as powerful as they are, because their extremism is only going to hurt the gun owners’ cause in the long run.  Because the NRA is really reacting to the anti-gun extremists, and the anti-gun extremists are just as zealous as the NRA.  The general public is lumping the moderates in with rest of the extremists, and the moderates are losing credibility very quickly.

OK, now that I got that out of my system, I need to address gun violence.  Gun violence does not happen in a vacuum, so I have to address the problems that go along with it.  Like the U.K., we have a poorly funded mental health system and a culture that does not understand how to handle people who do have mental illness.  In 2013, 63% of firearm fatalities were the result of suicide according to the Center for Disease Control.  21,175 out of 33,636 to be exact.  We are losing people we should not in more ways than one, and the gun provides a quick way to make a permanent decision.  If I may go back to the NRA, if they were smart, they would promote a mental health advocacy campaign like, “Gun don’t kill people.  People are killing themselves.  Let’s work together to stop suicide.”  It would certainly take the wind out of some of the anti-gun extremists.

We also have the problem of poverty and with that drugs.  And mixed in with all of that we have the problem of systemic racism.  To demonstrate what I am talking about without telling the whole history of the city of Chicago, I can get a sampling of the statistics.  We can thank the good folks at Hey Jackass! for bringing us some interesting data and infographics from the Chicago Police Department and other reputable sources.  (Be sure to check out the Shot-in-the-Junk-o-Meter.)

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85% of these deaths are from gunshot wounds, and, you can see for yourself who is killing whom.  If you look at the map below, the neighborhoods that are maroon are where most of these homicides are happening.  Those are also where the poorest neighborhoods are. And I need to make another point.  Through a painful history of government policies and social constructs, Chicago itself is heavily segregated with the African-American community on the South and West Sides and the Hispanic community to a smaller extent in the Lower West Side.  Of course, there are plenty of good people in these neighborhoods who are struggling to make it, but the crime does not help.

city_map_2014

Drugs, especially heroin, are a huge problem in Illinois, and the Chicago PD barely scraped the surface with its recent drug bust.  You can also take a wild guess where they are too.  In fact, we can thank the El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel for Chicago’s gang problem at the moment.

So all that we hear about shootings, Charleston, Chattanooga, and police killings, as horrible as they are, the national press overshadows where the vast majority of the gun violence really is.  We have suicide.  We have systemic racism, drugs, and poverty in isolated pockets.  Gun violence is not the cause of any of these issues.  It is a by-product of deeper problems.

Now, people can look at these problems and think the solution is to implement a British system of gun control.  Let’s just say we do that, but we don’t address the core issues.  Because we wouldn’t because we can’t legislate away deeper problems.  What will we have left?  Well, we would something similar to the U.K.  Because the U.K. has its own problems with anger, mental health, racism/immigration, and substance abuse, namely the drinking.  It’s a different culture, of course, so the reasons for these problems are different.  However, there are similarities.  I bet some people would think that is wonderful, if the guns were strictly controlled.

Not so fast, my friends.  Let’s look at some stats.  I am going to use England and Wales as the examples for my point.

I have a report from CIVITAS who compiled international crime data from the U.N. affiliated European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control.  The latest numbers I could get was from 2012.  All numbers are in cases per 100,000 in population.  Now I will take the lashings for my country.

3rd in Intentional Homicide with 5 .0 compared to E & W’s 22nd ranking with 1.1

10th in Vehicle Theft with 258 compared to E & W’s 14th ranking with 215

Punitivity Ratio (Sentenced incarcerated persons/Persons convicted)  – We’re #1 with 1.471 vs. E & W’s ranking at #27 with 0.049  (I am sure you like this stat, U.K., as far as FIFA is concerned.)

It is what it is.  I’m not proud.

It looks like we are close as far as rape (US is #4 and E&W is #5) and robbery (E&W #7 and the US is #8).  Let’s give each other a high five for that one.

We are now left with assault resulting in serious injury.

Congratulations, England and Wales, you won the bronze on this table with 730 cases per 100,000 people.  The United States is 16th on the list with 262.

A lot of Britons turn around and call the United States an uncivilized country because we like to kill each other, but the Britons like to beat each other to a pulp.  Yes, the victim hasn’t died, as far as the violence is concerned, but it is very hard to call a nation civilized when the rate of maiming is that high.  By the way, Scotland came in first with 1487.  Look at the report for yourself.  I am not making this up.

I could certainly do what the sensationalized form of media does right now.  I could add up all the violent crime stats (homicide, rape, and assault) from England and Wales vs. the U.S.  I could say, “Gee, there were 758.8 per hundred thousand people who were victims of a violent crime vs. 295.6 people who were victims of a violent crime.  What is wrong with England and Wales?   It’s so violent over there!  I know! I should list all the solutions the Americans have implemented to keep their violent crime rates down and impose them on another country regardless of their cultural values, including suggesting that they increase their incarceration rates and arm themselves with guns.  Perfect!”

Of course, I won’t do that because I am not that big of an asshole.  I understand the U.K.’s problems are complicated, just like ours are.  That’s why I can’t entertain a reductionist solution from anyone.  Even if we take away the guns, the violent urges of the people are still going to be there.  I don’t know if the guns happen to act as a deterrent to more widespread crime.  I am not a criminologist who studies these things.  If they do, I would rather let them be until we can actually implement proper long-term solutions to the underlying problems like mental health care, poverty, racism, etc. rather than potentially create different problems by something that seemed like a good intentioned idea on the surface.

But this is what it is like when someone points a finger from across a border with all the answers to America’s problems.  The United States is country filled with people who left or descended from people who left their countries of origin because they could not conform to those original societies’ morés.  We are one of those Land of Misfits with a relatively new system of government with which we are still working out the kinks.  Like it or not the 2nd Amendment is one of those huge kinks that we are working out, and having our countries of origin shouting, “You’re doing it wrong!  Do it our way!” is what made our ancestors (and people like the Boffin) want to leave in the first place.  And I will be the first to say that the United States is also guilty of imposing our solutions on others, and that doesn’t make it right when we do it either.

So America is left with a quagmire.  It is not within us to punish the whole class for what a few kids who have misbehaved have done, unless it is a last resort.  So we are left with each individual state throwing out various levels of carry permits and regulations while we get understandably upset over mass shootings.  As tragic as they are, and I am not trying to minimize those loss of lives one bit, our panic and upset glosses over deeper, underlying issues behind what is really going on that we aren’t really addressing.  We have to dig into some really ugly parts of ourselves to get to the bottom of the problems.

In other words, if the solution were simple, we would have implemented it already.

34 thoughts on “The Elephant Gun in the Room

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. This is one of the best discussions of this issue that I’ve ever read–informative, supported with facts, balanced and even-handed, and focused on increasing understanding and stimulating discussion rather than criticism and blame. Well done. I’m an American who strongly favors stronger gun control in our country, and I think I will view the issue from a broader and more nuanced perspective because of your article. I hope you might consider writing a similar piece on the role of alcohol/drinking culture in British society because this is something I’m interested in understanding better and which I think is not deeply understood in the US….Really enjoy your blog!

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    1. Thank you so much. The post was really difficult, and I am glad you could see that I was trying to give an overall explanation of the problem rather than some high-handed agenda piece. I really appreciate the compliments on this one. Truly, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Rebecca.

      I am not sure if I could do a piece on the drinking culture in Britain justice being that I don’t live there anymore. It might be a great topic for a guest post from somebody else. I have a couple people in mind I could ask. Hmm…

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  2. Great post, so well written. Having grown up in Michigan’s northern areas I am used to being around guns and hunting. Frankly, everyone should own a gun. An armed society is a more polite society. The gun grabber left wing socialists in America would have the entire world believe that everyone here has a gun and is killing everything in sight.

    I totally agree with you in saying most gun owners are responsible law abiding citizens. I had a concealed carry permit in Michigan but let it lapse when moving to Nevada, by choice. There is time for that. I enjoy shooting pistols and want to purchase more soon. We have some great shooting ranges here in Las Vegas.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, John. I was really nervous posting this because it is such a contentious issue.

      I don’t think everyone should own a gun because the last person who should carry a gun is a person who is nervous around guns. But I think more gun education is important, so they are not seen that these scary things that will instantly kill people the moment you lay your pinky on them.

      And like I said in my post, guns do not fit in every environment in America. Not every town needs people to conceal/open carry. The police force is enough. I did read that conceal carry permits are increasing in the city of Chicago in the higher crime areas. I can’t say I blame them. Things are getting more interesting there.

      It’s about how do we get this to work with all Americans.

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  3. This was really, really good. Very balanced. We need more discussion like this.

    I think for a variety of cultural reasons, there needs to be a strong presumption towards individual liberty. I did see an argument somewhere that said that it would be egregiously problematic to put more mental health and domestic violence limitations. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try; it may mean it’s not an efficient use of resources, but we should at least give some basic guidelines a little bit of thought. A common suggestion is to not allow gun ownership for people with a history of domestic violence, but I’m leery of that one, too, because I know from experience that a savvy abuser can stack the evidence so it appears to be the other person’s fault.

    I’m 100% with you on the 2nd Amendment being a kink we are working through!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. (Hugs) regarding your experience with DV. I wish I had the perfect words to say.

      Thank you so much, Athena. Like I was telling the others, I was really nervous putting myself out here regarding such a contentious issue.

      I think the main question I have regarding mental health and domestic violence limitations is would the funding and resources be of better use going toward the core problems rather than going toward the gun screening? I would really like to see an analysis of that before I would commit to that sort of idea. And we also have to think about the long-term costs of untreated mental health conditions and domestic violence when we factor this in too.

      I am not saying it isn’t feasible. I would like more info.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree – in all things we have to keep in mind what is an effective use of limited resources, both short term and long term.

        A bit related, but it seems to me that a lot of the political dialogue lately comes down to, “Well, don’t you think education is important? Don’t you care about children?” (for example) when the consideration ought to be whether we can spend money more effectively (as opposed to just spending more money).

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        1. The good old ad hominem attack. Direct the argument against the person instead of using reason in stating your own case. It is a great way of deflecting people away from the bigger problems, and politicians have been doing it for years. We are just getting bombarded with it more from the various forms of media. I can dig out examples all throughout our history of various campaign blather.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent discussion, from all sides. Well done…

    It sounds to me as if you, at least, have learned how to use a human’s most valuable too/weapon, i.e.. your mind…. I couldn’t agree more with just about everything you said; I particularly liked how you didn’t try to overwhelm any readers with too many statistics. They’re too easy to manipulate, but, as you used them, can be useful to illustrate. I also admired the way you didn’t judge any of the people or organizations involved, while also acknowledging our own part, in creating what is now a very sick culture….

    Kudos!…

    Now, if we can get anyone in the mainstream to hear any of it, maybe the chaos will decrease a mite…

    gigoid

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, gigoid. I know I tried to be as explanatory as I could, but I can’t be completely objective. A lot of us have just completely lost sight of where the problems really are because we are panicking over the sensational events, and there are groups who are using our fears to further their own agendas.

      Living here means we live in this patchwork of shades of gray where black and white solutions will not work.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, so much covered, so much to say – but so often the discussion devolves into tribal chest-thumping. I spent a good part of my career gathering and reporting crime numbers for the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

    All I will say is here are a few fun-facts and observations.

    1) Whenever someone quote homicide statistics, ignore them. The difference between a homicide and an aggravated assault is how quickly the victim makes it to the ER and how effective the ER is at treating gunshots. The marginal difference in homicides due to this or that policy is more than obscured by the trip to the hospital. Aggravated assault statistics are a more meaningful measure of violence.

    2) Prior to the “Concealed Carry” law, the BCA conducted a study by running handgun permit holder records against records of felonies. Permit holders were found to be the most law-abiding demographic in the state, competing only with newborns. 🙂

    3) People like to blame the NRA for the radicalism of gun-owners. IMHO, that is like blaming Hugh Hefner for porn. In the last 70 years, society has gone nuts over the concept of “I can do any damned thing I want whether it be drugs, porn, loud music, nasty things on TV…whatever….”. Gun ownership has simply followed the same course.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Exactly, and so many of them cross the line from public nuisance to aggravated assault (on the ears). My daughter (bless your heart, girl) was the worst offender. She could clear a room with one scream. Always got us to the head of the line.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. How fascinating and informative. I’m from Ireland, and I knew nothing really about the gun legislation in America. It’s frequently heard here that ‘sure, all the guns should be banned.’ I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, though, in saying gun crimes are the result of deeper problems, namely, poverty and the mal-intentions of the drug groups you mentioned. I’ve heard it frequently said in university (in Ethics) ‘concentrated poverty breeds vice.’ Your post and the graph you provided of the Chicago area reflect that. If only ‘the world’ would address people’s needs rather than pouring money into destruction. Thanks again. Tony.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, thank you, Tony, for reading and keeping an open mind. I lived in England, married one of their own, and keep up with the news, so I understand the rhetoric regarding guns across the Pond. I wish we put our resources into caring for each other rather than destroying each other too. We have to work on shifting the focus to help those who really need our help.

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      1. We can all do our little bit and it is important to do just that, as it makes a difference to some people’s lives. However, it is nations that have to have a change of heart, and while those who only crave power for the perks it can bring are running the nations, the focus will always be on greed and looking after themselves, I think.

        Liked by 1 person

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