I’ve seen a number of articles suggesting that the problem with gun control in the US is that, while a majority of people support better background checks at time of purchase, congress is so worried about the loss of NRA funds that they refuse to pass any real laws that might restrict gun ownership. One of the best articles I’ve read, entitled “We’re Just Haggling Over Price“, suggests 90% of Americans support the enhanced checks, and that the changes would only delay purchasing by a few minutes.
While some may consider it to be a step in the right direction; I don’t. I’m sorry, but a law like that would be just another lame compromise, a bit like the Affordable Care Act was a massive compromise. Of course, the difference between the two was that the ACA was passed, but gun control laws fail every time they are proposed, no matter how many people are killed.
Basic Human Right
What the US needs is an outright ban on all gun ownership. There, I’ve said it. All the claims that bans don’t work, or that people need guns to protect themselves (or their families) are nothing more than excuses to keep on owning guns because some people like them. No matter where it is written down, gun ownership is not a basic human right. How do I know this? Well, consider these points:
- Humans survived for tens of thousands of years without them before they were invented. In fact, the human race has existed for longer before the invention of the firearm than since.
- There are plenty of countries in the world where private ownership of guns is not allowed, or heavily restricted. Many of those countries have higher overall quality of life ratings than the US (no, I’m not saying banning guns leads to higher quality of life, just that not having them apparently doesn’t make a high quality life impossible, so they can’t be a basic human right).
- Countries where guns are banned or seriously restricted have much, much lower rates of gun-related deaths and injuries. Not owning a gun makes it much harder to use one in anger, or to accidentally shoot yourself or another family member.
Being able to walk around without fear of being shot by somebody, accidentally or on purpose, should be a basic human right. Owning a firearm, much like driving a car, is a privilege. And those can be taken away at the individual level, or for everybody if it benefits society to do so.
I am as shocked about the statistics on police shootings as anybody, but think about it this way: If you know that almost anybody you stop to talk to could in theory own a firearm, and be carrying it at the time you stop them, how nervous would that make you? And if you have a firearm too, wouldn’t you be more tempted to want to get the first shot in when that person makes an unexpected move? Remember that basic human right of being able to go about your business safely, without risk of being shot? It applies to the police too. Why should they feel that doing their job and stopping the car that just forgot to stop at the stop sign might get them shot?
Now, I am sure some are abusing their position too, but removing the guns from most people makes it safer for all. Indeed, in some countries the average police officer doesn’t carry a firearm; they simply don’t need to. And if they don’t have one, they can’t use it inappropriately.
Bans Don’t Work
“The criminals will still be able to get guns” – probably true, but when they are not available legally several things change that make everybody safer:
- The price goes up dramatically. Perhaps 10x or more. The gun that you could pick up in Walmart for $1000 now costs you $10000. In cash too, not on the credit card.
- Being caught with one becomes an offense in itself; no need to wait for a more serious crime to be committed. The police can arrest somebody for just having a gun, and confiscate the gun too.
- Finding somebody who can sell you a gun gets much harder. The people who sell guns illegally don’t advertise online, or in the classifieds and they don’t have stores in malls. Some of the people who have caused massacres in recent years probably wouldn’t have been able to buy a gun from these people even if they had the extra cash available to pay 10x the price.
And remember, when you ban the guns you also remove the need for stores to sell ammunition, so the price of that also increases, finding the sellers gets harder and being caught with ammunition also becomes an offense in itself.
One argument made by the pro-gun ownership side of the debate is that they need their guns for protection. Both their protection and their family’s protection. Really?
- Having a gun in the house increases the chance that there will be a gun-related accident. It must, since if there are no guns in a house there is no way a gun-related accident could occur.
- Safe gun codes recommend that firearms be stored unloaded and in locked cabinets. In the middle of the night, when awoken by an unexpected sound, with adrenaline suddenly pumping, an unloaded gun locked in a gun safe is not going to be very useful for protection. To be useful in that scenario, it needs to be next to the bed and loaded. An accident waiting to happen.
- Outside the home, when attacked by a mugger, the chances of being able to react quickly enough to use a gun are slim. And if the attacker believes you have one, they will be more likely to shoot first (they have the advantage that they knew what was about to happen too). If an armed bystander tries to shoot at the mugger, they just start a gunfight in a public place, increasing the chances of innocent people in the vicinity being harmed. Oh, and that gun safety code suggests that guns be carried unloaded too; not much use for protection like that.
So, let’s be honest here. They’re not for protection in most cases (unless you’re a trained bodyguard or work for the secret service).
Another frequent argument is that the second amendment to the constitution protects their right to “bear arms.” Indeed it does, but the original constitution didn’t. It required an amendment to add that, and another amendment could remove it again. The mere fact that amendments exist suggests that the constitution was meant to move with society. I’m pretty sure the authors of that amendment would be horrified by the number of people killed in the US each year, and would probably want to do something about it. They were clearly not afraid to amend their constitution when they felt it was needed.
Of course, there is another way to keep within the constitution, and in fact perhaps even closer to its wording: simply require all those who wish to bear arms to sign up as reserves in the military and undergo proper military training. As well as being ready to be called up when needed. That way they can honestly say that their right to bear arms is so they can be part of the “well regulated militia” that is necessary to protect the state.
The Swiss are often held up as an example of a country where private gun ownership is more common, but gun crimes are rare. There are some good reasons for that though. Firstly, many of the guns are owned by those who are in the reserves (military service is still required in Switzerland, and after leaving the active portion of that that they remain in the reserves for a number of years). Secondly, they don’t have ammunition at home; just the guns. Ammunition is issued when needed for active service, or can be purchased for private use at ranges. When purchased though, it must be used immediately, not taken home.
So, regulate the ammunition, ownership of which was not explicitly listed as being a right in that amendment. Allow people to have their guns, but they can only get ammunition at well regulated locations, like shooting ranges, and they must use all that they buy at the time of purchase.
The Greater Good
Sometimes society needs to regulate something, or even ban it completely, for the greater good. I’m pretty sure the writing is on the wall for driving as self-driving cars prove they are safer than human driven ones. Guns should not be treated any differently. While some may like owning and using firearms, sometimes we have to accept that it is necessary to sacrifice a little to save a lot.
Of course, US politics, and especially the right side of that spectrum, tend more towards the every person for themselves ideal. Fall off the ladder? Don’t expect to be saved; the people below are all racing to fill the space you just vacated. It is no longer about society as a whole, it is about the individual. The Constitution and its amendments weren’t written to benefit individuals; they were written to protect everybody. Somewhere along the way that has been lost.