Thursday, June 26, 2008

Guns in America

I no longer try to understand the American acceptance of well over 30,000 gun-related deaths a year.  No other country comes close - though it should be noted that over half are suicides, in other countries people may just kill themselves in different ways so the total gun death figure may be misleading. Either way, the weird complacency remains. After today's decision, gun death acceptance seems to be as embedded in law as it is in the psyche. The bad guys have guns, people argue, therefore the good guys should have them. This is not a bad argument, though it would be refuted if the government seriously decided to remove guns from society as a whole. Others say it's not guns that kill people, it's people that kill people. This is a terrible argument for reasons that are so obvious I shan't bother to rehearse them here. Gun culture remains one of America's greatest aberrations. It baffles other nations. But there you go.


  1. It baffles people in THIS nation too. It's so obvious in the inner cities of America where gun deaths are the norm (and those are homicides, scores of them every day across the U.S.) and most of the ended lives are those of young people, especially young men.

    Then there are the whack jobs -- one yesterday in Kentucky got mad, killed his boss, three other coworkers, and himself. Now, back in the day, when all he would have had easy access to was a baseball bat, he might have dones some damage, but it wouldn't all be fatal.

    The gun defenders will say, "Hey, back in the day he would have had his daddy's shotgun or hunting rifle, so he still could have killed 'em all." And there's something to that. I grew up with a rifle myself. So perhaps it's that people -- Americans anyway -- are crazier than ever. Still, it's the guns that kill people. The lesser weaponry might wound, but it wouldn't be so invariably fatal.

  2. I'm pretty baffled by Britain's censorship laws. No guns, no freedom of speech either. What's up with that?

  3. I think it's worth pointing out that on a per capita basis the gun death rate in the USA is far from unrivaled. South Africa, for example, has a substantially higher rate of gun death per head of population. The rate of gun deaths in the USA is also highly variable dependent upon demographic grouping and geographic location. It is not in any way clear to me, for example, that a relatively heavily armed citizenry in, say, New Hampshire, represents a social problem worth wailing and gnashing your teeth over. Move into inner city Detroit and it's maybe a somewhat different story.

    There's a lot about US gun politics I don't get. But then, there are lots of things about the current state of British politics I find pretty bizarre, illogical and unfathomable too.

  4. Yes Anthony, I was reading only this morning of a trip that the director Richard Eyre made to Jo'burg a few years ago and, during a car trip across the city, was warned by the driver not to dangle his arm out, as 'they' cut your hand off at the wrist - for your watch. Can't see that happening here, or even in Detroit. I would add that, for the last few years, driving in central London most days as I do, I carry a baseball bat in the car with me. I have never 'used' it, unless you count brandishing it a couple of times. It comforts me to look down and see it lying there, just in case

  5. Let's ban cars instead. We'd solve the energy crisis and save more lives than with banning handguns.

    You Brits don't still drive cars do you?


  6. Complacency? That assumes we'd just as easily give in to gun control as not. We won't. There's no complacency. We want our guns!

    Brits owned guns once, and the murder rate was lower than it is now. You didn't give up guns to solve any crime problem. Your government just didn't trust you.

    Neither do your laws make you feel very safe.

  7. Ultimately, it would have been very cheeky of the Supreme Court judges to pretend that the 2nd Amendment does not mean what everyone has understood it to mean since it was written. I see however that four of them were indeed willing to subject the text to just such a post-modern re-reading. That was very cheeky of them. I note meanwhile that the handgun ban in DC active up until this ruling was a rip-roaring success reducing crime. Apparently it's really safe there.

  8. well I don't get it either. when I went to the states on holiday I was most disappointed because I was told everyone has the right to bear arms and to find that nobody did, apart from the police! I thought I'd be stepping off the plane onto the scene of Westworld, I'd be handed a courtesy gun and holster at immigration with my ''have a nice day!''. Nix.
    So what happens with the self-defense argument? ''Oh, can we do this another time? I don't appear to be armed at this time. I have the right but, you know, what with one thing and another...''
    It's a load of bollocks. After that I thought of going to Afghanistan where they really know the meaning of the right to bear arms. Safest country on the planet, apparently.

  9. The self-defence argument is clearly tosh, unless you carry a loaded weapon around with you at all times and sleep with it under your pillow. Aren't they mostly all locked up in the garage or at the range anyway?

    All the pro-gun arguments are just a front for the crux of the matter, which is that Americans think guns are cool and they like the feel of shooting them.
    The gun-lovers do get very hooked on these transparently silly arguments though - Duck for example has been driven quite mad by this issue.

    Brits don't have a problem sacrificing this particular inalienable right because we think guns are toys for strange loners with wax macs, wiry moustaches and flasks of weak lemon drink.

    Having said that, most gun deaths are just serial criminals killing each other, and most domestic murders could probably happen anyway.

    What's interesting is the extent to which Americans are prepared to put up with the madman rampages and high school massacres, when apparently normal people with a legal arsenal in the basement decide to flip.

  10. To get a sensible figure to debate the question of firearms legislation, we need to subtract the suicides and also the deaths by illegal firearms. Banning guns won't get rid of the illegals, after all. I think Americans are, generally, sensible enough to realise this. See Peter Mosko's Cop in the Hood for a serious discussion of why the anti-gun movement in the US is really just empty posturing.

  11. "After that I thought of going to Afghanistan where they really know the meaning of the right to bear arms."

    That's not such a silly comparison, actually. If you had to live in Afghanistan for the next couple of years, would you REALLY feel safer if you were forbidden to carry a gun? I'm not sure I would.

  12. As an ex-practitioner (UK) of the sport of competitive pistol shooting all my licensed pistols were taken from me over 10 years ago. This has 'taken guns off the streets' we were told. Doesn't seem to have worked. Plan B, according to the latest legislation, is to ban things that look like guns! When I listen to the inadequates in Parliament, and the media commentariat I am constantly reminded of my childhood reading of Lewis Carrol's works. Which will no doubt be also banned just as soon as someone runs a CRB check on him!

  13. who said it was a silly comparison, John Meredith?! And do I have the right to shoot them in self-defence?
    The answer to the hypothetical question (I wouldn't go) is I would feel more comfortable without a gun. That is the point. Carrying one would do nothing to alleviate the fear of being shot but not having one relieves me of the burden of having to shoot someone.

  14. If i lived in America, or any country were firearms were legal, i would feel obliged to own one. It would be foolish not to.

    i'd probably also wear kevlar if i could get hold of it.

    i think one would be best with a fairly light handgun, something you can carry, draw, and shoot with easily. You'd only need a bigger gun if you were firing at great range or your targets were in kevlar.

    Having said that i wouldn't say no to a Heckler & Koch submachine gun, though i don't suppose they're legal.

  15. A shotgun would be pretty cool to keep in the house, too.

    i don't think there's any call for assault rifles, though. That would just be silly.

  16. Well, i suppose an assault rifle might be okay if it was a bullpup design. And it might be useful if for some reason you needed to take down targets at ranges of over about 50 metres, i don't know, maybe you'd see them coming a long way off and decide 'better take them down now'. Then you'd be glad you brought your Steyr Aug along.

    But there's no call for bazookas, that's really going too far.

  17. On further reflection, a bazooka might be useful if, say, you were out walking your dog and someone in an armoured vehicle tried to do a drive-by on you. i suppose, in those circumstances, a bazooka could become the perfect dog walker's accessory, along with treats and a whistle.

  18. But getting your own tank would be going too far.

  19. Unless it was the ABRAMS M1A2, obviously. With oil going through the roof an engine that can run on diesel, petrol, avgas, kerosene, etc., would clearly be an advantage.

    If you think about it, actually, in this day and age a tank is really an essential purchase.

    But obviously i wouldn't go so far as to buy my own nuclear submarine.

  20. Having said that, if i can get a pay rise i might consider a Borey-class nuclear submarine, as long as it comes with Bulava ballistic missiles and has a dingy and those cool red lights. In an uncertain world, it's no bad thing to pack a fourth-generation strategic nuclear submarine - just in case.

    But obviously i wouldn't get my own Death Star. That would just be silly.

  21. Ok, that's enough. Send in a CTU Tac Team to set up a hard perimeter around elberry.

    I want complete lockdown on all exit routes within a 2 mile radius. Patch the schematics of his building through to my PDA.


  22. Heh. And we're the crazy ones!

    Brit, worrying about gun rampages makes as much sense as worrying about stadium bleacher collapses.

    But as we learned recently from our friends the Japanese, a crazy man with a knife can do almost as much damage.

  23. Collapsible stadia aren't worth worrying about?

    If you're sufficiently nutty can do a bit of damage with a knife, certainly, but come on... if guns weren't significantly more effective killing devices your self-defence argument wouldn't work.

    Just stick with your real argument - you love guns and you're willing to pay a certain price to retain the freedom to own one. It's a valid argument - works for cars.

  24. All arguments about self defence and whatnot are a red herring. It's in the constitution, which is the sacred document upon which America as an idea and nation is built, and that's the end of the story. Meanwhile the right to bear arms is the 2nd amendment, so it's more like one of the ten commandments than some obscure passage of Leviticus about expelling women on their period to live in a tent for a few days. The argument for and agaionst then breaks down to a question of scriptural exegesis- the traditionalist wing holds that the 2nd amendment means what everyone has understood it to mean from day one and what, in fact, it obviously says; versus the liberal wing, who are akin to sandal wearing C of E Bishops who find in the Bible a YHWH mainly concerned with pollution and mindless consumerism. By the way elberry, I was at a gun show in Austin last year and found AK47s and even an anti aircraft machine gun on sale. Apparently since they were made before 1979 they were 'antiques' and thus kosher. Alas, I was a bit short of ca$h that day. Would have looked good on my compound.

  25. "The Constitution is just a bit of damn paper!" (the current President of USA).

    AK47s are said to be very good weapons if kept on single shot. i've never fired one but i hear you can drag them through sand, swamps, never clean them, and they still shoot straight, but the recoil is apparently so heavy if you put it on automatic you'll end up shooting yourself.

  26. Plus, as the Soviet school system so aptly demonstrated, any kid can be taught how to dismantle and reassamble one in under a minute. Even the thickos.

  27. Elberry, are you the guy Javier Bardem based his character on in "No Country for Old Men"?

  28. Collapsible stadia aren't worth worrying about?

    Not if it keeps you from attending football games. The point is that mass shootings are statistically so rare as to not being worth worrying about. There are a great many causes of death that we should spend more time worrying about, but since they aren't spectacular, we don't. As Nicholas Nassim Taleb points out in "The Black Swan", we are very bad at assessing risks.

    And if the self-defense argument were indeed tosh, then why are British citizens twice as likely to be victimized by burgulars while they are home?

  29. Funny you should say that, Susan, as when my hair is long, it sometimes makes me resemble Chigurh. Usually it grows straight up but if i get caught in the rain i do look like the man.

    As regards weaponry one must consider:

    1: How much maintenance will it require?

    2: If something breaks, how easy is it to fix?

    There are tales of Marine platoons being wiped out by VC because the Marines were equipped with the new M16s which famously jammed if not cleaned every 15 minutes. In any war the soldier will most likely have to improvise to some extent, so matter how good supply chains are. A low-grade AK47 which never jams is a better bet than a Belgian FNC 5.56 mm.

    The Soviet and NATO forces had different rationales for weaponry; the USSR assumed their soldiers would be operating far from base and would have to 'make do'. They also relied on overwhelming but not necessarily accurate firepower, so Soviet troops would each carry massive quantities of ammo.

    In truth when armed with an automatic weapon it is hard to resist the temptation to go full auto and 'spray and pray'. But unless your fire is purely suppressing it's far better to go for single shot, whatever the weapon.

    In Nam the average bullet-kill ratio for a US soldier was 50,000: 1. For snipers it was more like 2: 1.