The world has been shocked by the news of the shooting in Newton, Connecticut. Although we don’t have all the details, it 28 people (20 of whom were children) were shot. What makes this massacre particularly tragic is that it occurred in an elementary school for children aged between 5 and 11. I was horrified and like most Europeans I wondered if America would now do something about its serious gun problem. It seems that every couple of weeks there is a new gun rampage and massacre. To those who say we should not politicise this event, let me say that we must learn from this incident so that it never occurs again. If this isn’t an event to make America re-examine its laws, then what is?
America and guns looks very strange from an Irish perspective. Over here, guns are extremely rare. Only farmers and hunters have guns (and hunting is not a large pastime like in America). There are no gun shops or clubs and even the police are unarmed (a system that works very well despite what you might think). It would be highly unusual for someone not on a farm to own a gun, especially if it was just a hobby. So America seems a whole other planet with its casual relationship with guns. It seems quite obvious that with more guns, there are more shootings and more deaths. But this is a message that the NRA hasn’t got.
The simple fact is that guns make killing people a lot easier. Regardless of which way you want to measure it, research by Harvard found that more guns = more homicides. This is true whether you compare across states or across countries. States with gun control had lower homicide rates that those that did not. Interestingly, even do shootings are often blamed on the insane or drug dealers, this study found no link between homicide rates and either mental illness or illegal drug use. America’s murder rate is between 10 and 20 times that of the developed world. Do you want to know what one major difference between America and the rest of the developed world is? There is almost one gun for every single American, while guns are strictly regulated in the rest of the developed world.
Two thirds of murders in America are committed by guns. Yet gun advocates claim “Guns don’t kill, people kill.” Yes, but guns make it an awful lot easier. You can’t massacre a large amount of people with a knife, only a gun has that firepower. You can outrun a knife or struggle with the assailant, but with a gun anyone can slaughter a crowd. Others point to the fact that many mass murderers have mental illness. Again, this is true, but guns make them far more dangerous.
People claim that guns keep people safe. But in fact you are four times more likely to accidentally shoot a member of your family than you are to shoot an intruder. In fact the person you most put in danger by owning a gun is yourself. A gun in your house is 22 times more likely to be used to shoot either yourself or a loved one. The thing about suicide is that it is often a spur of the moment idea that comes in waves, not a constant thought. Studies show that having a gun in your house makes you less safe.
The problem with guns is that they lead to an arms race. If a criminal pulls a knife but you pull a gun then you win. However, it doesn’t end there. If criminals know civilians are armed then they will get guns to. If everyone has guns, then gunfights erupt, which leads to more deaths (including from people caught in the crossfire). There is a direct correlation between the use of a gun in a robbery and the chance of the victim dying. What gun advocates forget is that the assailant always has the element of surprise, the first move. So they can attack before the victim has time to reach for their gun if they armed. In fact, a gun puts the victims life in danger because they are now a threat to the criminal who may fire to protect themself.
Gun advocates try to suggest that guns protect women from rapists. Even ignoring the fact that gun owners are disproportionately male, guns harm women more than they help them. A gun is the weapon most commonly used in domestic homicides (by the aggressor not the victim). In fact, three times as many women are murdered by their husbands/boyfriends using guns than by strangers using any weapon. Studies find that access to firearms increases the risk of domestic homicide by five times compared to situations without guns. It was also found that abusive men who had access to guns were even more abusive. For every one woman who used a gun to kill their partner in self-defence, 83 were murdered by their partner using a gun.
I am not going to even discuss the idiotic notion that if everyone had guns and could bring them everywhere, mass shootings would not happen. Nor the idea that not saying prayers in schools caused it (the religious right are already making this argument). (This does raise the question of what sort of God would stand by while innocent children were being massacred and do nothing, but that’s an issue for another time.)
Gun advocates claim the Second Amendment protects their right to a gun. What it actually says is: “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Now this clearly is a reference to a militia, not individuals. At the time, there was a genuine fear Britain may invade or that there would be conflict with the Native Americans. A militia was cheaper than a standing army so it made sense for people to keep guns. But the world has changed since the 18th century, there is no longer a threat of invasion. The Second Amendment has got to be the most (deliberatively) misinterpreted parts of the Constitution. It does not offer the rights its advocates claim, instead it is a dated and obsolete right from another era.
Some claim that prohibition won’t work, that if guns are restricted, then only criminals will have guns. The NRA wants all law abiding citizens to have guns. The problem is that the day before the shooting, most mass murderers were law abiding citizens. Most murders are not committed by hardened citizens but by regular people who get pissed off and express this anger with a gun. If you reduce people’s access to guns, you limit their capacity for killing. Europe is a prime example of this. In most countries, few people have guns. Instead of being overrun by criminals, they have a lower crime rate than America. In Ireland, almost no ordinary people have guns and neither do criminal gangs (they use knives instead, which are much less dangerous). Gun control makes it harder for everyone, including criminals, to kill. The ideal situation would be to get rid of all guns, but this isn’t politically feasible so any gun control would be a good start. Obama, it’s time for action.
America has a serious gun problem that it can no longer ignore. It is far too easy to get hold of guns and far too many people are dying as a result. Guns do not make people safer, they create an arms race that leads to more deaths. They are a threat to us all. Unless America learns from the tragedy in Newport, Connecticut, it will be doomed to suffer it again and again.