America’s Love Affair with Guns

The US does not have a gun problem. It has an ego problem.

It simply amazes me that the US, as a whole, has done nothing of significance to curb gun violence despite the numerous mass killings that have tragically included children, and regular incidents it encounters on a daily basis. To an outsider, it appears that the US is collectively blind to the fact that there are too many guns out there. Guns that easily find themselves into the hands of terrorists (for that is what they are: people who sow terror in others by killing large numbers of individuals in a single event regardless of what their religious or political beliefs are). There are articles (just google them) that cite the fact that there are at least two shootings per month involving children, that is children shooting another person. Children, happily, cannot own guns but if the incident occurs that frequently, then you really do have a problem. Worse, there are articles that say there are at least two incidents per year where animals shoot people! It is said you shouldn’t do a movie with kids or animals. They should also say don’t leave guns around them. Children and animals can accidently cause a gun to discharge. Some children think it’s a toy. Carelessness kills and, yes, I’m looking at you, the gun owner.

Nobody is saying Americans should not be allowed to own guns. It’s in the Second Amendment of their Constitution but no right enshrined in the Constitution, least of all an amendment to it, can ever be absolute. Even a person’s right to life, liberty and property is not absolute. How can the right to own a gun be? You look at articles comparing the US with other developed countries and gun deaths in the US is clearly disproportionate. There are mass killings in other countries too but not in the frequency that occurs in the US. The difference between the US and everybody else is in the way they regulate gun ownership: while everyone else have strict rules on how to apply for, buy, and keep a gun, it’s practically non-existent in the US. Other countries see gun ownership as a privilege, not a right. The US, through the benefit of the Second Amendment, claims it as a right and the most rabid claims that said right is absolute. It’s insane. No one is saying get rid of the Second Amendment (although that wouldn’t be bad either), just have better gun controls.

Gun advocates provide numerous justifications but, seriously, none of them can ever be enough to justify doing nothing on gun control. The first argument goes “good people (with guns) stop bad people”. There are articles that show that there have been occasions when people who are licensed to carry firearms were able to stop someone who just shot someone. It is not clear in some of those situations whether or not the perpetrators were out on a rampage (that they would have continued killing after killing their initial victim) but it should be conceded that this is a good thing. Again, people who are licensed to carry their firearms should be able to use them in defense of self or others. It should be noted that in one incident, a gun owner whipped out his gun when he witnessed a violent crime transpiring and opened fire missing the perpetrator and hitting an innocent man instead. He is now on the run from the law. In most of the cases, the licensed gun owner didn’t need to fire his weapon.

The problem here, however, is in the fact that the bad guy had a gun to begin with, and, in another study, most mass killings were not stopped by a good guy with a gun but a good guy who tackled the bad guy and pinned him down long enough until the police arrived. In other cases, of course, the bad guys just shot themselves. The fact is that these incidents just supports my point above: licensed gun owners intervened; and there are too many guns that bad guys can get them too, legally or otherwise. To argue that since bad guys have guns I should have them as well merely feeds the beast that is the gun manufacturing industry. Chillingly, there is always a surge in gun sales immediately after a mass shooting in the US. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that only worsens the situation.

The other problem is that not all gun owners, licensed or otherwise, are responsible. They buy a gun, lose it, then buy another. Some buy guns, lose interest and sell them to whoever, or, God forbid, throw them away. It merely adds to the proliferation of guns. In other countries, you need to qualify to own and keep a gun. They give you tests before you are able to acquire one, and they keep testing you to check whether or not you should keep your gun. The result, there aren’t too many deaths from gunfire whether crime-related or accidental. In some US States, it seems all you need is an ID to prove you’re over 18 years of age and, voila, you can get one.

One other problem with the “good guy” argument is that today’s good guy can be tomorrow’s bad guy. All you need is one bad day and things get ugly pretty quick. Police officers train regularly to handle their weapons and they still get it wrong sometimes. How much more for weekend gun owners?

The other focus should be on the type of weapons that should be available for civilians. Handguns I understand. Shotguns even but assault rifles? Why on earth would you ever need one? These are weapons intended for the military because they need to be able to deliver a lot of fire in a given situation. What situation in civilian life could ever justify letting loose with an assault rifle? None, except if you’re a terrorist intent on doing harm to others. Think about it: even if a bad guy gets his hands on a semiautomatic handgun, the death he can cause is less than that by one armed with an assault rifle.

The other argument says guns don’t kill, people do. True, a gun needs a human agent to function but a gun, by itself, is an instrument of destruction. You can use a car to kill another human being but the car is basically a mode of transportation. A gun, whether it is a hunting rifle, a shotgun or a handgun, was created for a human being to use to kill for food or protection. It is said that the .45 handgun was invented to stop the jurementados of Muslim Mindanao when the then current weapons of the US military proved unable to do so for lack of stopping power. Soldiers would hit the berserker but he won’t go down. They needed a weapon that would stop the man on his tracks.

The Second Amendment allows for an armed militia but under the current global political landscape, with the US probably the only superpower in town, why would you need one? They already have a formidable armed forces and the National Guard. Why allow civilians to carry military-grade weapons? The only reason for it that I can think of is in case there is a Zombie Apocalypse, and what’s the likelihood of that?

And this is where the ego comes in. Americans love the image of the gunslinger. Unfortunately, they were “in” during the the Wild West era. Psychologically perhaps, Americans feel they just grabbed the land of others, the American Indians in particular, or maltreated slaves for so long, that they forever feel they are on the defensive, and to defend themselves against those who would take back what was theirs, Americans need the biggest baddest guns available. Enter the assault rifle. It seems that no matter how developed they’ve become, Americans feel insecure. The insecurity now seems so irrational that it includes their own Government. That insecurity is feeding the gun industry. A lack of leadership is not helping. You look to them after every mass shooting and you see people spouting the same arguments in defense of gun ownership, and poo-pooing arguments for gun control. It’s just disheartening in the face of so many deaths.

Again, no one is saying they can’t own guns. They don’t have to threaten their own Government that it can only take away their weapons “from [their] cold, dead hands”, something I heard Charlton Heston say for the NRA. They have to work with Government to keep guns and gun ownership in a very favorable light. People who oppose such a principled stand are condemning their fellow citizens to more violence. They must themselves be advocates of gun control; otherwise, they will be seen as advocates of the culture of death.

As an outsider looking in, one would want the US to succeed in gun control. One has heard so many great things about America from family and friends that you’d want them to be safe there. I myself have been fortunate to visit earlier this year. I felt safe there but could not also forget how an acquaintance was gunned down in a train some years ago. It bothers me. How much more for those who actually live there?

The US must rationalize gun ownership within its borders. They have to shed the macho image of the gunslinger and be more realistic. It has to define the Second Amendment if not get rid of it entirely. They have to do these, and soon, for them to be able to secure their citizens. Either that, or they spiral down into an ever widening culture of death with so many cold, dead hands…