Saturday, April 21, 2007

This gun thing

One after another my Australian friends have emailed their horror at the Virginia Tech massacre and asking "what is it about America and this gun thing?", "why doesn't America do something about gun control?", "who is this gun lobby?"
As if I have the answers, just because I am here.
Well, I don't. For all my time in the USA and for all my love of this country, I don't get it, either. Countries without gun culture have a hard time understanding gun culture - hence the uniformity of anti-gun outcry from other countries at yet another school massacre by a gun-totin' spite-bent psychotic.

I can pointer to a well-reasoned article in The Economist. It has no by-line, which is a pity. But it claims that the USA has half the privately owned guns in the world. It also ponders that Canada, also with liberal gun laws, has far less per capita gun crime.
According to the Johns Hopkins Centre for Gun Policy and Research, there were about 80 gun deaths a day in 2001 - and in 2002, some 58.841 gun injuries treated in emergency departments, with 49 per cent of gun injury costs borne by the US public. Billions of dollars. And, the rate of gun deaths in the US is eight times higher than in other high-income countries. It is a huge national burden.
Switzerland is riddled with guns - with a low gun mortality rate.

Why is the US different? Culture? Media? Temperament?
Perhaps all three. After all, there has been an historic sense of entitlement to private gun ownership in the USA - ever since the country's first fight for independence when it was believed that it was essential that there was an ever-ready private militia for national defence. Then again, some argue that when the right to "bear arms" was written into the US Bill of Rights, it really meant the right to engage in military service. Whatever it meant, it has been accepted and defended as the right to private gun ownership - and there is an adamant belief that everyone needs to be ready to defend themselves. From each other?
The US gun lobby can cite all manner of statistics about states which introduced tigher gun control thereafter experiencing higher gun mortality and injury. They have quite a legtimate case. Then again, some of them are claiming that, if the students of Virginia Tech had all had guns, they could have "taken out" the shooter.
That's where we foreigners recoil in incredulity. It seems plain nuts.

But there we have it. The gun thing is an American thing. It is a potent part of the national psyche and the country is prepared to carry the human losses rather than lose the right to "responsible" gun ownership.

Which is why no one is speaking out about it and why the status quo will not change - and why I am done with the subject, for once and for all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very wise comment. I feel terrible compassion for everyone hurt by this.

A. Kaier