America should severely restrict guns
The United States asks its people to accept many odd things, but it's the acquiescence to mass gun deaths that is the most astounding
One of the dispiriting things about America these days is the widespread feeling that just because a thing is crazy, that doesn’t mean it can be changed. As someone who has spent decades working abroad, I’m sensitive to how different things could be. For example: You can crack down on guns, and lives will be saved sure as day follows the night.
A recent FBI study found that U.S. homicides were up 30% in 2020 compared to the previous year, reaching 21,570, more than three-quarters caused by guns being fired. The data says 2021 will be worse. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 18,900 Americans were killed by guns through Dec. 1, 2021. This is unique among advanced democracies; none comes even close, and their people mostly think we’re nuts.
President Biden made ending this disaster a centerpiece of his campaign. Yet the “Comprehensive Plan” plan released by the White House this summer was comprehensive mainly in its timidity. It targeted “rogue dealers” and offered ATF inspections data to states that might want it, shying away even from a renewed ban on the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines useful mainly for fighting terrorists and being a terrorist. This pitiful timidity is not centrism cleverly triangulated; it is sappiness that projects weakness and loses elections.
This is crunch time. The Supreme Court is now considering gun rights for the first time in years and is likely to make gun control even more difficult. The super-conservative court would be basing itself again the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
Written in the era of muskets, this text promises a right to “keep and bear arms” but also makes clear the context is the need to protect “a well regulated militia.” We’ll never know what that’s supposed to mean but can safely guess how the court will rule. That’s the cost of a system that enshrines minority rule in the Senate that approves the justices.
Even with these constraints, there are steps that can be taken. But with the Democrats running out of time until the midterms, it’s urgent Americans understand that easy access to guns does not make them safer.
A comprehensive report published this year by the World Population Review ranks the U.S. atop the developed world with 12.2 gun deaths per 100,000 (almost four times the next-highest, Finland). The only worse performers are countries like Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Swaziland and Jamaica.
Most European countries suffered under 1.5 deaths per hundred thousand, and even in Europe we see a correlation to gun policy: the U.K., with heavy gun restrictions, posts 0.2 deaths, while in Switzerland, where guns are more common, the figure was about 3. Israel (where outside of security services guns are heavily restricted) had 1.2, a tick above Australia (which saw gun deaths collapse after it banned most guns).
One might claim that if people are going to kill each other, they will find a way. But the facts suggest murder is opportunistic.
A comparison of actual murder rates finds the U.S. again leading the developed world with 5.3 per 100,000 while the figure is 0.2 in Japan, 0.5 in Switzerland, and so on. The U.K. figure is 1.2, because of the prevalence of knives, and is still nowhere near America’s.
Another study shows the U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, accounting for 30% of the world’s public mass shootings. A mass knifing is harder to carry out.
Some inventive gun advocates insist it’s a mental health issue. So are Americans really that much more mentally ill than all others?
According to the World Health Organization, the percentage of Americans with depression is 5.9%, compared to 4.7% in Canada, 5.9% in Australia and 4.5% in the U.K. Other studies also showed no significant difference between general mental health disorders between the U.S. and other developed countries.
No matter what you factor for you get the same result. Other developed countries have toxic inequality (Israel), restive minorities (France), lone wolf prairie cultures (Australia) and widespread depression (Finland), but none comes close to America’s level of gun deaths.
The only sane explanation for all our carnage is that the U.S. ranks number one in the world by far in guns per people: its 120.5 guns per 100 people are double the figure in runners-up Falkland Islands and Yemen and four times the rate in the next-most-armed developed country.
It takes an especially agile mind not to see the problem, and a particularly cynical one to devise clever ways of blocking people from concluding the obvious. People don’t kill people; people with guns kill people.
Yes, all these guns have owners, and many people are fanatical about the right to bear arms. But it is far from true that most of the public opposes gun reform. A Pew survey from this summer finds that 53% of Americans think gun laws should be stricter.
Logic says to ban guns as widely as possible unless there is a demonstrated need and a thorough background check, perhaps with allowances for hunting where local culture absolutely demands this practice. And if that ever happens, Americans will discover that a decade in jail for criminals caught with unregistered handguns is a powerful disincentive — just like anywhere else. As in the U.K., guns will mostly melt away and the rate of murders and accidental deaths will both plummet.
Obviously, it would be difficult and opponents would raise hell. Even some Democrats would be against. There is justified concern that anti-gun laws would be shot down by the Supreme Court. But this is, sadly, is a political court. What is needed is an overwhelming movement in the political arena. And that requires, immediately, an adult discussion about the insanity of guns in America. The discussion would be cathartic, public opinion would be impacted, and it would have impact.
America asks its people to accept many odd things, from universities that bankrupt students to a health-care system weirdly attached to employment to the wacky Electoral College, where a vote in one place is worth four in another. But it is the acquiescence to mass gun deaths that is the most astounding. It is also the only one that could kill you in the street today.
(This article appeared originally in the New York Daily News)