The discussion of gun ownership is a mine field, fraught with perils and distortions; ironically enough the issue itself is a loaded gun.
Since we’ve opened a discussion about Australian gun crime statistics, let me update you, since the figures quoted were all a decade old, and cherry-picked. But first, a little history. Australia has never had a right to bear arms; instead, they allow limited gun ownership by permit. Following the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996, the Australian Prime Minister pushed for states to pass the National Firearms Agreement, codifying proposals from the 1988 National Committee on Violence. In 1997, the country initiated a buyback of the effected guns, mainly assault rifles and pump guns. From the Australian Institute of Criminology: homicides in Australia are down from 1997 to 2006 (the last year statistics are available for); assaults have continued a 5% increase annually going back to at least 1995, which is before the legislation was passed; armed robberies are down from 1997. And I’m not declaring victory- anyone who’s sat through five minutes of a statistics class knows that correlation does not show causation.
Gun control wasn’t responsible for Stalin’s rise to power- it was Lenin’s inability to rely on his own principles of rule by the people- it was the autocratic nature of Lenin’s Union that Stalin turned into a machine that ground up millions of Russians. Likewise, a handful of well-armed Jewish and Roma Europeans could not have stood between the Wehrmacht and Hitler’s final solution. I’m not arguing against the idea that a dictator’s first acts are designed to take away the power of those who might oppose them, and one of the ways they do this (usually after a score of political murders, like Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives) is to take away guns- my point is hyperbole has no place in this discussion, and raising the specter of genocide is hyperbole of the least palatable variety.
For those who still cling to the Jeffersonian idea of using privately held guns to resist the government- wake up. There are about 3 million men and women in our military, counting reserves, another half a million in the National Guard, about .2 million Federal law enforcement personnel and .8 million state and local police. That’s a total of about 4.5 million people who defend for a living. It took less than a million of them in the first Gulf War to utterly decimate the Iraqi military, which was then somewhere in the ballpark of half a million troops, making it the 4th largest military in the world at the time- and they had tanks, helicopters and fighter planes; our military (and coalition allies) sustained more casualties from friendly fire than from the Iraqis. There is no possible scenario in which the American people take over the country by force, unless it is a truly popular revolution and significant portions of the Armed Forces also join in the revolution.
But if you’re real fear circles around being a subject instead of a citizen, then push for legitimate controls on your government. From the top of my head I can think of a few very simple reforms that would go much further to minimizing the likelihood of an American dictatorship than giving every American citizen their own M4 and the combat training to use it:
· Election of the President by a simple majority (eradication of the Electoral College)
· Mandatory and closed public financing for all public offices
· An end to redistricting, except decennially as scheduled with the census
· Pursue harsh punishments for cases of intentional voter disenfranchisement
· Enforce strict ethics and conflict rules on Congress
These small changes would simply ensure that the American electorate was given the opportunity to vote from the best possible batch of candidates (and that those votes counted), rather than having the unenviable task of choosing the lesser of evils from the hand-picked candidates of political parties and the special interests whose influence has already bought them.
Having said all of that, I’m a staunch supporter of the second amendment, and a civil right to bear arms. Really, anything short of rocketry and I’m game (provided the person knows how to safely operate it). I don’t know how I’d feel about anyone (law enforcement and our military included) using an anti-tank weapon domestically on anything that wasn’t an invading foreign tank, so I think it’s fair to say my neighbor won’t be needing a LAW to guard his minivan.
But I also agree that it’s a reversible civil right. We take the right to vote away from felons- even after they’ve served their time- which I personally find appalling, but it does make sense to curtail a felon’s gun rights, at least until their assimilation back into civilized society is certain.
And it’s a fair point that gun laws effect mostly legal gun owners- but more weapons does in fact mean that more of them find their way into the hands of folks we don’t want to have them, through carelessness, theft, perhaps even unscrupulous dealers- the more guns there are in a country, the easier it is for some of them to fall through the cracks.
A common-sense solution might be a push for end-use criminalization. What that means is that gun ownership, assuming proper documentation, would be perfectly legal, but illegal uses of a firearm, specifically in the commission of a crime, would result in far harsher penalties. This approach could make use of a gun in the commission of a crime act as a multiplier- so if you commit a robbery with a weapon, rather than serving a three year sentence, you get triple that for illegally using a firearm, making your full sentence nine. Increasing the personal cost of using a firearm for criminals could help curb gun-related crime.
But let me clarify one thing: there is no serious, concerted attempt underway to take guns from law-abiding citizens. The majority of this argument centers around a difference in perception on the issue. In the city, most of the people most of the time most have absolutely no use for a gun. Because of this, in cities guns are associated with crime, and with some cause: violent gun deaths are in fact as much as 3 times as likely to occur in a city. People in the city don’t want to stop anyone from owning a gun or protecting yourself- they simply want to feel safe. Ironically, most gun owners adamantly defend their right to own guns for the same reason- this divide is simply one of perception.
And admittedly the debate is a muddy one, with gun lobbyists and politicians all having a reason to obscure facts and sow division, making it hard to know how best to be secure. But by blindly pushing a pro-gun agenda, we only end up trading our admittedly imperfect officials for gun-lobby-sponsored leaders whose sole purpose is the continuation of their master’s power- not our freedom. What we need is a reasoned and responsible debate, without deception or demagoguery, to figure out how all of us can feel safe.
There’s only one way you’ll find freedom at the end of a gun- and only then, if you can get passed the taste of gun-oil.
Note: This is a partial response to a letter part of which is archived at Snopes. The author resides (electronically) at www.NicolasWilson.com, and does not hide behind anonymity.