Guns in America – Part 1: The Current State of Gun Violence

With thousands of Americans dying from gun violence each year, it seems that such stories are in the news so often that – paradoxically – it’s rarely ever news anymore. However, high-profile cases such as the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado has brought gun crimes back into the media spotlight. The response to this event has in some ways been predictable, and in other ways mind-boggling. There’s no telling what it’s going to take for Americans to have a real debate about gun control, but it’s important for everyone, because American guns have a way of affecting people outside the country as well.

Guns Are Instruments of Peace

Indeed, guns can help keep the peace, and I understand the argument of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” There was also a TED talk called “Why I Chose a Gun,” in which Dutch speaker Peter van Uhm referred to it as an “instrument of peace and stability.” So believe me – I get it. But when will gun-loving Americans wake up and realize that arming civilians does more harm than good?

People shouldn’t have the ability, let alone the right, to kill someone on a whim – like when you’re angry about the volume of music that’s blasting during a party next door. But indeed, that’s the kind of thing that happens in the US. In fact, this exact case occurred a month ago, leading the angry shooter to evoke the “stand your ground” defense, after killing his neighbor at that party.

Owning a Deadly Weapon

Guns Should Come With Warning Labels

Americans are – according to the documentary Waiting for Superman – the most confident people in the world. Give a gun to a confident person, and they’ll probably believe that they know how to use it. But there are a few things that need to be said about owning a gun.

First, when you buy a gun, the chance killing someone you love, like a family member, dramatically increases. Americans die every year because of misuse – such as a child finding a gun and playing with it, or someone accidentally firing it when they didn’t know it was loaded. And obviously gun usage is not something inherently wrong with Americans. One Canadian, 40-year-old Dale Whitmell, was in the news recently when he accidentally shot himself in the face while trying to kill a mouse (don’t ask). He’s now going to court; not because Mickey is suing for attempted murder, but because he was careless with a deadly weapon.

According to statistics gathered from 2005, there were around 800 unintended deaths from guns. Intended deaths reached over 9000 in 2009. Ultimately, the only positive thing to report about America’s gun-violence rates is that the number is gradually lowering.

…To be specific, 2009 saw over 9000 deaths, whereas 2010 only saw almost 9000 deaths. Ah, that satisfying sense of progress.

Second, far too many Americans feel that they should take matters into their own hands instead of waiting for police to come. Obviously this depends on the situation, but if a deadly weapon must be used, it would be best to leave it to the professionals, because most people have no idea how to use a gun. They don’t practice, and they don’t learn much about it – they just buy it for protection, just in case. “After all,” one might think, “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to fire a gun.” Right… but when almost a thousand people die from guns unintentionally, I’d say they’re doing something wrong.

Defend or Die

You’ll always find stories about guns saving the day, because they make for such better news than the headlines that read “Sixty more people died from gun violence around the country today, down from sixty eight the previous day.” For example, there was the recent case of the 14-year-old boy who shot a few armed intruders who were trying to get into their house, thereby protecting his younger siblings. But if no one owned a gun, this incident may not have happened in the first place. That’s essentially why this next comic fails miserably at its attempt to shed light on why gun control is bad.

“If no one owned any guns, how would we protect ourselves against people with guns??” Brilliant.

In fact, if we look at gun ownership studies, we can see that possessing a gun actually increases your risk of harm, not decreases it. When guns are brought into the home, there is a significant increase in the likelihood of suicide or homicide, and statistics indicate that there is no deterrent and essentially no protective effect.

Honestly, it doesn’t take much to imagine what life would be like without guns, because there are many countries who don’t allow or encourage civilians to own them. According to StressHacker:

Guns are the most commonly used weapon in over 65% of domestic homicides. When a couple owns a gun, the risk of partner-on-partner homicide is five times as great.

Three times as many women are killed in homes where a gun is present than where no such weapon was available. Children fare no better: 5,285 American children were killed by gunshots according to the 2005 data published by the Centers for Disease Control. During the same year, no child was killed in Japan, 19 were killed in the UK, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, and 153 in Canada.

For another perspective on the “guns don’t kill people” argument, see English comedian Eddie Izzard at work:

What if America Had No Guns?

There’s also the argument that if guns were taken away, another weapon of choice may be used. Obviously the concept of murder predates the invention of guns… but guns sure made it a lot easier to murder. And it also made it a lot harder to take someone down when they have a gun and you don’t. One thing Selwyn Duke from EnterStageRight mentions in his piece on gun control is:

The apocryphal saying, “God made some men big and others small, but Samuel Colt made them equal,” gets at the point here.  Whether it’s a smaller person or group, firearms tend to even the odds. They help create parity, and that’s not what criminals want—they want easy prey.  Thus, like a predator in the wilds that generally won’t attack a creature more than half its size, even if a criminal is armed himself, he’ll be reluctant to tackle a target that can target him back.

Being able to defend oneself against a much bigger opponent would be beneficial, of course, but this presupposes that it’s actually the malicious criminal who is the big guy. But does anyone really believe that the majority of gun users are large people? It’s precisely this equalizing quality that makes gun ownership dangerous – anyone can use a gun.

And if you’re going to take it to the next step and ask “well what are you supposed to do without guns? What if you’re attacked by a large person when neither party possesses a gun, and you need to defend yourself?” Well there are hundreds of risks people take every single day – walking anywhere on the sidewalk, a car might swerve and hit you, for example – so we can’t live our lives in fear of the unknown and unexpected.

But for those who are genuinely scared of bodily harm, the best thing you could do is get serious with martial arts. For example, taking classes that ensure you’ll not only feel safe, but that prepare you to fight if/when necessary. That means conditioning your body to give and take hits, as well as training your mind to react appropriately. After all, people who pull out guns are generally not reacting appropriately, or even thinking rationally, because they’re scared (so scared, in fact, that they pulled out a gun). But unlike a reflexive punch, a gunshot can kill someone instantly.

So before you start asking “what if the shooter does martial arts?” you have to remember that, once again, there is a potential for everything. If someone aims a sniper at your from a mile away, it doesn’t really matter how many firearm permits you’re carrying in your pocket – you’re going to be shot at. But take comfort in the fact that people who use guns tend not to practice martial arts. In other words, martial artists tend not to use guns, for a few reasons.

First, the philosophical principles of most martial arts include a restriction on violence unless absolutely necessary. But also, good martial artists simply don’t need guns, because they use their bodies as weapons. Take the case of two martial artists who stopped a robbery in a hotel in America a few months ago. The following news report shows actual footage of the takedown:

But this is obviously rare. In most cases, even the weakest criminal can kill the best physical fighter in the world.

This Should Not Be Happening

Here is a quick story that I found astonishing, from the Ottawa Citizen.

Ghawi was a pretty, blue-eyed redhead who moved to Colorado about a year ago. She had survived [the] June 2 shooting at a Toronto mall that left two dead and several wounded.

She blogged about the experience, writing that it reminded her “how fragile life was.”

“I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath,” Ghawi wrote.

Ghawi was there at the Aurora movie theatre, but unfortunately she didn’t live to tell about it. She survived one, but not two instances of gun violence. This should not be happening. And it’s not just an American issue, because guns don’t have borders. It’s a bigger issue, and it can affect non-Americans all the same. For example, there were the two British tourists who were shot to death after partying in a club in Florida earlier this year; or there was the marine who was killed in 2010 by American-made guns supplied to the Mexican drug cartel. Aren’t we sick and tired of reading these stories yet?

I don’t know what it will take to reduce the number of innocent people killed, but if politicians are serious about it (and evidently, most are not) then they had better have a real discussion about it already. Between the shooting in Tucson in the beginning of 2011 and the recent shooting in Aurora, there was clearly never a “good time” to talk about gun control, according to people on the pro-gun side of the debate. In fact, if it was up to them, there would be no debate at all.

Either the current state of gun violence is acceptable to Americans – in which case nothing needs to be done – or something has to change. In my opinion, it’s totally unacceptable. But since I live in Japan, it’s not as big a part of my life as it is for other Americans. So how many people have to die before everyone agrees that it needs to be discussed?

Part 2 will look at gun violence outside of America.

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