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23rd February 2015

America and her rampant gun addiction

It is a remarkable task to make Piers Morgan appear rational, but he isn’t wrong about gun control in the USA

It is a remarkable task to make Piers Morgan appear rational; it is even harder to make him seem anything akin to a moral compass. Despite this, resident gun nut and ardent republican Alex Jones was able to simultaneously achieve both in 2013 when he appeared on CNN’s Piers Morgan Live.

“Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns… 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms.” As convincing an argument as this is, I think we all essentially agree that Jones is somewhat deranged. What is concerning, however, is that his views don’t serve as a binary to the mainstream.

Set this to the backdrop of the shootings of three young Muslims in North Carolina by self proclaimed ‘gun-toting atheist’ Craig Hicks, and this becomes quite disconcerting.

Statistics tell us that the United States loves its firearms. Take, for example, 100 Americans; average statistics dictate that they will possess between them 88 weapons. Taking into account collections—one person owning multiple arms—that is still a hell of a lot of ‘gun-toting’ civilians.

That’s a high percentage of normal people, like you and me, who possess an efficient and completely legal means of disposing of human life.

The argument still stands that, “guns don’t kill people, humans do,” but this is surely undone when considering as an example the War on Drugs: Drugs, which were already illegal, were clamped down on by the Nixon administration with a iron fist, and perpetrators of drug-related crimes were locked up.

While its successes are still somewhat hazy, it was essentially the intent to take away what we, the population, couldn’t be trusted with. The basic equation for the War on Drugs was that drugs ruin lives, and that as the public couldn’t regulate their use of drugs, they were ‘taken away’.

Agree or disagree with the outcomes and the need for a war on drugs, this is at least a consistent train of thought. Compare this to the US’s problem with guns however, and the failure of response is staggering.

In 2010, 9960 people were murdered with a firearm in the US. In the UK, this figure was 39. Murders with firearms account for 60% of all murders in the US, while the number of murders in the UK as a whole is 58% lower. The land of the free has a huge problem when it comes to violent crime.

Without too heavily hammering the statistics, 4.5 deaths per 100000 in the US is caused by a firearm. To put that into context, the US has a higher gun-related death rate than Pakistan, and is just 0.7% behind the Democratic Republic of Congo. Arms-related deaths in the US are not that far behind a country feeling the aftershock of civil war, where democracy is something that remains completely unfulfilled.

On a microcosmic level the issue becomes even more shocking. In a graphic published by The Atlantic online, Detroit was evidenced to possess the same murder rate as El Salvador. This becomes all the more incredible considering the fact that in 2012, El Salvador celebrated its first ‘murder-free day’ in three years. Detroit has the same murder rate as a nation where the armed forces are required to control the streets.

It is true that the US does have some regulation surrounding firearms. Unlike the certainty and coherency of the war on drugs however, the manifesto designed to control arms is nonsensical. Seven states have regulated the possession of an assault rifle, while, paradoxically, 30 states have regulated the possession of a handgun.

This evidences some progression for example in New York and New Jersey, where assault weapons have been banned outright. The paradox however is that a large number of states have assessed their gun laws and come to ridiculous conclusions. What rational individual would consider the regulation of handguns an issue worthy of dealing with, while allowing the perpetuation of lax licensing of assault rifles?

The clue is given away in their name alone. Assault rifles are designed with assault firmly in mind. How the possession of heavy duty weaponry like that is compatible with a safe environment seems lost on almost the entire world.

The popular response of gun advocates, such as Charlton Heston, is that Switzerland is never rebuked with such criticism. Despite all men between 20 and 30 storing their personal weapons at home the country was host to just forty homicides in 2010 related to firearms. Likewise they have one of the lowest homicide rates of any country.

A strong response then from the pro-gun campaigners. That is until you consider that all men in Switzerland are armed with a firearms in accordance with their conscripted military service and training. These are not arms bought and sold in Wal-Mart. These are trusted to those trained in their use and considered responsible enough to hold them in their homes.

An argument leaning on the Second Amendment is likewise as deeply flawed as Alex Jones’ capacity for reason. The conservatism that dominates American thought has a detrimental effect on the progression of their society away from widespread arms ownership. While the Second Amendment does declare the rights of all men “to keep and bear arms,” the Constitution must be considered an evolving document.

The originalists in American politics would disagree. Those such as Jones, who consider the Constitution a static document of prevailing truth, would, it would appear, have the right to bear arms maintained in the face of any objection.

This pseudo-religious treatment of an antiquated document cannot be shaken. A two-year-old child shooting his 12-year-old sister dead in Philadelphia cannot dampen the belief of such dogma. This is a system of belief so deeply entrenched that it cannot be deconstructed by statistics.

It must feel impossible that a society can progress in the face of such backward attitudes. Guns are totally incompatible with the suppression of aggression and the improvement of safety. Despite the seemingly irreversible attitudes prevalent in the US, widespread acknowledgement of the clear flaws in American gun legislation is making a difference. The world’s media is beginning to rebuke such ideas and, as already mentioned, there has been some progression.

What remains to be seen, however, is how contagious this progression can be.

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