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Europe doesn't have the answers to our gun problem

March 14, 2018

In the aftermath of tragedy we often look to the international community’s efforts on gun control, as though they have the answers. From banning the sale of certain modifications and weapon types to more extensive background checks including histories of domestic violence, not to mention waiting periods, thorough mental health checks, exams, and interviews at multiple levels; the numbers show success. In Europe, Japan, and elsewhere these are undoubtedly effective countermeasures against gun violence but in the US I fear they’ll inevitably fall short.

 

Not because their laws are ineffective but because our situation is too unique and too extreme for them to be effective here. There are at least 320 million firearms owned and in circulation in this country. There’s an unparalleled ease of access to an astonishing amount of guns, they’re everywhere. If we completely banned the sale of guns today there would still be a gun for every single person in the US and then some. 2017’s Gallup Poll and Pew Research survey results show that over 40% of the US population lives in households with guns.

 

Purchase one, borrow one from a friend of family member, or just use one without permission; steal it from the safe, the garage, or under the bed. Cat’s out of the bag. The total amount of available firearms has to decrease alongside implementation and enforcement of more stringent requirements for gun ownership. Without steps in the direction of confiscation or mandatory forfeiture and registration, I don’t have much confidence in the ability of currently proposed gun control laws to impact gun death rates.

 

Does that mean anything short of confiscation goes in the trash? Of course not. While notions like confiscation or total bans aren’t politically or legally tenable, as a nod to the success of our international counterparts any measures short of that should still be put into law. Given that the vast majority of mass shooters legally purchased their weapons, increased difficulty of attaining a firearm can absolutely be enough to deter a wouldbe killer. By that alone we have a moral obligation to put whatever policies we can into action. At the same time, at their current level these policies specifically here are really just a bandaid on a wound - not taking into full consideration the history and culture which have enabled it to balloon to these proportions.

 

It’s important to understand that mass shootings, while arguably the most shocking and heinous part of this, are barely a drop in the bucket compared to the total amount of gun deaths in the US. Of 2017’s nearly 40,000 gun deaths over 60% are suicides, followed by homicides committed by young men against young men, usually street violence, followed by homicides committed against women, usually domestic violence. These policies may well see their impact most in the prevention of future mass shootings, but do little to directly address the circumstances leading to the deaths of the majority of victims.

 

There are no comparable nations of lower gun death rates which also reflect a culture and history with firearms similar to the US. In many of these countries gun homicides and gun ownership were low to begin with, usually due to the existence of strict laws from the beginning or a lack of guns to go around. Take the UK as an example considering the right to bear arms is included in English Common Law; the modern political history of their gun control can be traced back to the early 1900s, but efforts stretch back even further. Firearm homicides have ALWAYS been a relative rarity in the UK regardless of the fact that laws have become consistently more restrictive.

 

Similar circumstances are reflected in most member states of the EU, with Switzlerland as a notable exception having one of the highest per capita gun ownerships in the world. While Switzerland maintains the laxest gun laws in the EU, their gun homicide and crime rates are still exceptionally low and their laws are still fairly restrictive in comparison to our own. Its gun culture is tied to a belief that foreign nations would invade the country at any moment, a possibility reasonably tested well into the 20th century, warranting the placement of gun in the home and compulsory conscription that they as a nation may be perpetually prepared to stand against external threats.

 

In the US it’s different. The 2nd Amendment ensures the right to bear arms to form a well regulated militia contextually against largely internal threats, eg tyrannical government or insurrection. Yes, repelling invasion is of course also a function of a well regulated militia, but that has ultimately proven to be the least of our worries. I always find citing the militia thing as a reason for the 2nd Amendment’s upholding interesting because our government has selectively encroached on our freedoms for decades without any real trouble, sometimes even with public support when it comes to issues of freedom versus safety regardless of whether or not that threat is minimal or statistically insignificant.

 

Perhaps the prospect that the enemy is on the inside took on a different meaning for many when the population fractured, creating a need for self-defense not as a part of a unified force against tyranny, but individually against individual fears.Threats like Native Americans, freed slaves, settled immigrants during the World Wars, or even Communist sympathizers on US soil - they’ve always been and are still all right here.

 

There’s been a centuries long shift away from the singular threat of government and more toward perceived threats; affronts to a way of life like increased diversity or differing ideologies. Can’t trust your countrymen, can’t trust your government, only your gun.

 

While the rest of the world has seen war and external enemies within their borders intent on their occupation or destruction, the US historically and still today has largely nothing but its own population to handle internally. How well it’s managed depends on who you ask. I am to the Left of the issue, as I am with most things. My support for gun control measures holds despite my conclusion that in their current form and in the current context of the situation impacts will be of limited reach. Rather, it is of a moral obligation that we do what we can, because doing nothing has no impact at all.

 

The problem can’t be violent video games and movies, can’t be insufficient parenting or mental health issues, can’t be a lack of God in our schools or bullying because of these things exist in the EU and elsewhere in the world but yet here we are, alone in this. I don’t have the answers, but it’s disingenuous to consider a situation from any angle if you’re not being complete in your comparisons. This problem is unique to the US not just statistically, but culturally and historically, and as such needs novel and specific solutions that no other nation’s formula can fully provide.                     

 

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