Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Some more thoughts about gun violence in the USA

The issue of gun violence continues to plague the USA.  Many so-called "gun rights activists" refuse  even to consider the possibility of enhancing gun control legislation.  For them, it's a black and white issue:  any proposal to increase the controls on guns is immediately resisted vigorously and rejected out of hand with no possibility of compromise.  No civil discussion is possible.

I've discussed certain aspects of this problem here and prefer not to raise those points again.  Recently, in some e-discussions, certain additional points have been raised and I want to discuss them.  It's pretty clear that those already engaged in crime (drug dealing, gangbanging, burglary, organized crime, etc.) can obtain firearms without any regard for gun control laws.  They're already breaking laws, so what concern would they have for laws governing legal access to firearms?  For sure, no laws will prevent them from arming themselves.

But what about gun violence perpetrated by people with no obvious prior connection to criminal activity?  These are "responsible" gun owners, with nothing on their record to suggest that they would use guns irresponsibly or to commit a crime - until they do so.  Someone I know has indicated that if they commit a crime with a firearm, they were "criminals" even before that criminal act!  This is incomprehensible illogic - how can they be criminals before they commit a crime?  The idea reminds me of the movie Minority Report!

So if we exclude from legal gun ownership the usual suspects:  convicted felons, diagnosed psychotics, children under some reasonable age (say, 18), known terrorists, gang members, organized crime members, etc. - then what we have left are people who have not yet forfeited the right to keep and bear arms legally.  Of course, some percentage of those not excluded will, in the future, commit crimes using firearms.  By what means might we identify such people before they go outside the law and obtain one or more firearms, ammunition, and other paraphernalia associated with using firearms for a criminal act?  Short of the pre-cognitive capability of those in the sci-fi movie Minority Report, the simple answer is, unfortunately, we can't.

Even if we somehow could prevent them from obtaining firearms, they might use some alternative weapon to cause bodily harm:  knives, bricks, baseball bats, hockey sticks, poisons, martial arts, etc.  However, guns clearly are brutally efficient killing machines.  The likelihood of killing someone you've attacked goes up considerably if you use a firearm rather than any of these alternatives.  Guns are tools and by themselves are mostly harmless (save for the relatively rare accidental discharge).  Thus, the usual argument is "Guns don't kill people.  People kill people."  But when people use guns to kill (even accidentally), they're far more likely to kill than with other weapons.  Suicide attempts with firearms are much more likely to be successful.  For me, at least, to say guns don't kill people sounds weak when you read how often people are killed with firearms in the USA.

I don't know the percentages, but I think it's safe to say that those responsible people who'll go on to commit a violent crime are in the minority.  Hence, I believe that a majority of people will, in fact, obey gun control laws, precisely because they're law-abiding people.  If we make gun control more strict, the net result will be to reduce/limit gun ownership, of course.  One of the many ways criminals in the USA can obtain guns is by stealing them from others or by buying them from those who steal them.  The widespread ownership of guns in this country means that thieves can obtain guns to sell on the black market in the process of burglarizing many homes where guns are kept.  Guns are a high priority for burglars precisely because they command good money on the black market, where many criminal potential buyers do their "shopping".  When a homeowner's guns aren't kept in a locked cabinet, they're readily accessible - thieves know where people usually hide their firearms and search efficiently for hidden weapons.  I know this personally, because thieves have stolen guns I owned.

The argument that law-abiding people arm themselves in self-defense against gun criminals makes it more likely that criminals will be armed!  In turn, this can convince even more people to own guns.  A society where most people own and bear arms is not a peaceful society!  It's a society, like that of Afghanistan, dominated by violence and death.  More gun ownership cannot possibly be a solution to gun violence, regardless of the claims of the gun rights activists!  Even arming the police is not a solution, in part because criminals can use equal or even greater firepower against the police, and police are known on occasions to use deadly force inappropriately.  Armed police (and armed citizenry) simply encourage criminals to be armed!  This is the logic behind the lack of firearms among most British police, in a nation with very strict gun control laws.

The prevalence of gun ownership in the USA also means that thieves are usually armed in the process of burglary.  They don't want to be cornered and captured by some homeowner with a baseball bat or a gun.  Thus, even the seemingly nonviolent crime of robbery is closely coupled to the threat of gun violence.  Personally, if gun ownership was even more tightly limited by new gun control legislation, I would gladly give up my guns.  I'm not so besotted with love of guns that I'd prefer to be shot down in a battle with police rather than to surrender my firearms.  Anyone who would choose that alternative as a reality and not just an empty slogan doesn't deserve the right to own firearms, in my opinion - such a viewpoint indicates a kind of psychosis.  The notion of armed militias fighting a noble pitched battle with an evil government seeking to restrict their civil right to own firearms is absurd and childish, and flies in the face of the firepower a government could bring to bear.  Ask the Branch Davidians ...

One thing I would like to see is the implementation of laws that include consequences for irresponsible gun owners - even those who've not yet committed violent crimes with firearms.  For instance, if you keep your guns in your house in such a way that your children (or burglars) can gain access to them, you have your ownership rights restricted.  If you accidentally discharge your weapon and someone is injured or killed as a result, your right to own a weapon should be limited.  Multiple offenses should lead to eventual prohibition of legal gun ownership.  Being irresponsible with firearms should be considered a criminal act - one with consequences!  Carelessness with guns should be reflected in your background, so when you go to buy a firearm and undergo a background check, that information would be there for the seller to see.

Our heavily armed society is taking us closer and closer to the Afghanistan model, with serious consequences for pervasive gun violence that threatens all of us.  Yes, I concur that stricter gun control won't stop criminals, but it might keep at least most otherwise responsible people from becoming criminals! 

No comments: