Gun Control: No Room For Compromise

When it comes to guns, the United States is exceptional. We have the highest civilian gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns per 100 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. 

The U.S. gun lobby sometimes cites Switzerland as an example of a country that has many privately owned guns and little violent crime. (Their  argument seems to be guns don’t kill people; only lunatic Americans kill people.)

In fact, ammunition kills people. It is true that  Switzerland, like the United States, has a strong gun culture with many shooting clubs — but it also has a mass citizen militia. Members of the part-time militia, in which most men serve, are allowed to keep their weapons at home, and the country of less than 8 million people owns at least 2.3 million weapons, many stashed under beds and in cupboards. But while Swiss homes contain guns, ammunition is largely kept under lock and key at local military depots.

                                       American “Exceptionalism”

 Someone once described Canada as “a country in North America where everyone has health insurance.” The same pundit defined the U.S. as “a country in North America where everyone has a gun.”

For years, people have argued: “You cannot  tell Americans that they shouldn’t  carry guns. Not only is the right to bear arms enshrined in the Constitution, it’s imbued in our culture. It’s part of our history of “rugged American individualism.”

Many of the same people have insisted that we cannot expect the U.S. to adopt some form of government-regulated “universal health coverage.” It wouldn’t work here, they said. “The U.S. is different.”

Yet, it’s happening.

And finally, it seems we may be ready for  gun control. The massacre in Connecticut forced President Obama’s hand. (I was pretty confident that he would speak out on gun control sometime during his second term. After all, he no longer has to worry about being re-elected, and it is clear that, as a father, he is deeply moved by the slaughter of innocents.  I expect that he will do many things during this second term that will confound his critics.)

2012: A Turning Point

I believe that ten years from now, when we look back, we will realize that  2012 marked  a pivotal moment in U.S. history, much like 1980. Except now, we are turning in the opposite direction.

Consider this: the all-powerful National Rifle Association spent at least $12 million in its effort to oust President Obama from the White House. They failed.

The pro-gun rights organization invested $300,000 in each of the Senate races in Ohio, Virginia and Florida, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive politics– and lost all three.

Meanwhile, after many years, the gun control movement is beginning to show signs of life.

I realize that we won’t ban hand-guns. But buy-back programs like those in New York City, New Jersey, Cleveland and other places could greatly reduce the number of weapons floating around in this nation.

Meanwhile, I believe that the majority of Americans are now willing to ban semi-automatic, and automatic rifles and shotguns. No one except the military needs assault weapons.

                                            The Stakes Are Too High

As I suggested in an earlier post “gun control” is one of those areas where liberals cannot compromise with conservatives. 

When what is at issue is money, that is one thing. We can split the difference. But when we talk about guns there is  too much at stake. We’re not talking about money, we’re talking about blood.

On the face of it “compromise” sounds eminently reasonable. Very often, it is appropriate.  But sometimes we can’t meet in the middle. Some values are not negotiable.


10 thoughts on “Gun Control: No Room For Compromise

  1. One of the counter arguments raised by gun advocates, and sometimes referred to even by progressives talking about the issue, is the role of video games and media violence in encouraging gun violence and atrocities. It turns out that the evidence shows the argument does not hold water. If you are interested, Aaron Carroll at “The Incidental Economist” has a detailed discussion of the evidence here:

    Other arguments about issues like mental health management, parenting, divorce, and so on also fail to hold water.

    In the end, the big difference between us and everyone else who has a much lower rate of both gun violence and major atrocities is just one thing: guns. If we want to do something about the problem, we have to do something about the guns.

  2. Pat S.–

    All true. The number of guns floating around out there is what makes us different from everyone else. Countries that have reduced the number of available guns have reduced both murders and suicides. (And no, you don’t see a rise in murders and suicides by other means.)
    I urge everyone to read Carroll’s piece.

  3. Actually, there are over 30 countries with a higher suicide rate per 100,000 of population than the United States. Japan’s rate is nearly twice as high as ours, for example. See this link:

    Regarding guns, I’m all for licensing, registration, background checks and all that. I also don’t see the need for high capacity ammunition clips. When I was in Viet Nam in the late 1960’s our M-16 rifles used 20 round ammo clips. On full automatic, it took all of 1.5 seconds to fire all 20 rounds. Nobody needs that other than the military.

    At the same time, I can see a conflict between urban and rural America on this issue and I can understand the desire for guns when you’re miles from the nearest sheriff or police station. That still doesn’t justify the need for assault weapons, though I suspect that hard core criminals, including drug dealers, will always find ways to get them.

  4. They are only assault weapons when they are fully automatic. AR15’s are not assault weapons. Do civilians need them? Probably not, but they are available for the ego!

  5. Barry–
    A higher suicide rate in other countries has far more to do with religious beliefs and values than with guns.
    In Japan, suicide is an honorable act.
    By contrast the Catholic church (and probably at least some other Christian religions) considers it a mortal sin.
    Also, in the U.S. suicide is a crime, anyone who assists you can wind up in jail, etc.

    In the U.S., thanks to the number of guns floating around children are the most frequent victims: According to the Centers forDisease Control and Prevention, each day in the United States, fourteen people under the age of 19 die in gun-related incidents. The rate of firearm-related deaths for Americans age 14 and younger is twelve times that of children in other industrialized nations combined.

    On the urban/rural difference: in rural areas, people hunting and enjoy it as a sport. Fathers teach sons, etc. But hunters don’t normally use hand guns.

    And when it comes to needing guns for protection, the danger of someone breaking into your house, armed and ready to shoot you, is probably greater in urban areas than in rural areas.

    As for the sheriff being far away–if you live in a city and call 911, it may well take the police about as long to get to you as it would for a sheriff in a rural area. (A recent report on responses to 911 calls in NYC showed many errors; frequently police go to the wrong address.)

    The notion that having a gun in your home will protect your and your family is a myth. If you have a gun at home the odds are that the person who will wind up being shot will be either a child, or a loved one–not a criminal. An article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that for each homicide that was committed in self-defense in the home, there were 37 suicides, 1.3 accidental deaths, and 4.6 criminal homicides. (domestic squabbles that turned violent.)
    If you have a gun in the house and don’t want a child to be hurt, it is important that you keep it unloaded– and store the ammunition in a separate place. Experts say that the gun really should be kept in a safe.
    Now imagine that you wake in the middle of the night and hear someone breaking in. . .What are the odds that you will be able to get to the gun, open the safe, get to the ammunition, and load it in time?

  6. Henry–

    The notion that men need these weapons to boost their egos is a sad commentary on the state of the male psyche in the U.S. I really don’t think that many men are that insecure.

    • The desire to have a gun is very closely related to fear. Fear is on the rise in this country, partly stoked by racism, xenophobia, sensational news, and increasing personal isolation. Guns are promoted and desired as a way of combatting this fear. This is why that despite decreased numbers of households with guns the number of total guns owned is increasing rapidly — fearful gun owners are stocking up on their chosen placebo to the point of overdose.

      This is, of course, despite the fact that the country is actually becoming safer — violent crime is declining rapidly — and, as Maggie notes above, guns actually increase risk rather than decrease it.

      Part of the problem is the old devil “common sense.” As in health care in general, “common sense” is often the enemy of good results in public health issues like guns. Common sense shows we should stop relying on common sense and start relying on science, but the gun folks have passed laws preventing research about gun epidemiology at both the federal and state levels.

      • Pat S.

        What you say about “common sense” vs. science is so true. (When I think of common sense,
        I think of the “conventional wisdom.” So often it’s wrong.)

        For instance, most people think that there are more dangers out there when, in fact,
        as you say violent crime is declining.

        Meanwhile, in NYC suburbs, children are not
        allowed to play in their front yards–and are driven to school– because parents fear that
        they will be “snatched.”

        Didn’t know the gun folks have passed laws preventing research into the epidemiology of
        gun ownership. . . But it figures. All part of the anti-science, anti-research,
        anti-experts ethos.

        A post on fear would be nice.

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