Why Not Zero Tolerance of Guns?

Maybe we don't need guns, lots of guns.  Image from "The Matrix."

Maybe we don’t need guns, lots of guns. Image from “The Matrix.”

Richard Sahn

Everyday in American newspapers and on our TV and cable news there are stories of gun related homicides. As a society we are used to these stories, we are numb to them, we take them for granted as in “What else is new?”  But we are also, I would argue, proud of them. We are proud because we are a violent society obsessed with guns, guns that both symbolize and actualize our potency.

In most states in America, people have the ability to acquire as many guns as they can afford.  They can amass a personal arsenal, with very few limitations on how powerful the guns can be. No other nation in the world offers such “freedom.” Surely many Americans think of their freedom to own lots of guns when they sing patriotic songs or listen to politicians saying “God bless America.”  This is a land where God and guns are linked, where gun ownership is understood as a divine right, not simply a constitutional one.

The problem is that widespread gun ownership and the use of guns for deadly crimes and suicide are highly correlated. Compared to other countries, some of which have zero tolerance of gun ownership, the U.S. has the highest homicide and suicide rates in the world (with the exception of countries that are involved in civil wars or that have been invaded).

While it is literally true that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” guns make it far easier to kill people (or yourself) compared to other weapons (knives, clubs, fists, etc.).  That’s simply a fact.

Where I live (in North Central PA) I instantly become unpopular when I talk about even modest gun control measures. I often earn the (false) title of “one of those liberals or socialists who are destroying America.”   I am told in no uncertain terms that guns in the hands of American citizens will discourage the government from ever “taking us over.”

The absurdity of that belief hardly warrants a rebuttal. How could personal firearms ever protect us from tanks, artillery, missiles, and heavy machine guns?

If not for protection from Big Government, why do so many Americans want, even crave, guns?  As a sociologist, I regard guns and the Second Amendment as a learned want, not a need, as a product of nurture rather than nature. If you were not born into a gun culture you would never miss them. Consider the Bushmen tribes in South Africa. Their members would have no idea what a car is let alone a gun.

Indeed, if young people were not exposed to gun culture, they would probably have little desire to own them.

People often seek guns for “protection,” but what we really need is protection from guns.  The Second Amendment, closely read in historical context, does not require Americans to own guns or even for guns to be readily available. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, himself an avid hunter, once argued, in his interpretation of the Second Amendment, that the founding fathers did not intend the right of gun ownership by all individuals; only members of “well trained militias” would have that right.

As a society, we’ve made guns readily available to all qualified adults and their children (under supervision).  The result: high homicide and suicide rates.  Lots of carnage.

This is not something to take pride in.  Isn’t it time we changed course?  Isn’t it time we turned our guns into plowshares?  Isn’t it time for zero tolerance of guns?

Richard Sahn is an at-large contributor to The Contrary Perspective.

9 thoughts on “Why Not Zero Tolerance of Guns?

  1. “Everyday in American newspapers and on our TV and cable news there are stories of gun related homicides.”

    Yes, but stories of people who have used firearms for self-defense are often not in the newspapers and on TV, or downplayed in contrast to crimes and homicides. So basically only one side of the story gets told, the part that shows guns being used for bad things. The side of the story of people using firearms for justifiable defense is rarely told.

    Yet Americans use firearms anywhere from 100,000 to 2,500,000 times a year for self-defense (based on who’s studies you believe are correct).

    “In most states in America, people have the ability to acquire as many guns as they can afford. They can amass a personal arsenal, with very few limitations on how powerful the guns can be.”

    If you only have two hands and arms how many guns can you shoot at one time? Most people can only shoot one gun at a time with any intention of hitting anything. There are very real limitations. Over .50 cal centerfire rifles are prohibited (and very few people own any .50 cal and no crimes are committed with them that I have ever heard of).

    “The problem is that widespread gun ownership and the use of guns for deadly crimes and suicide are highly correlated.”

    Actually no, they are not. See the Harvard Journal of Law:

    WOULD BANNING FIREARMS REDUCE MURDER AND SUICIDE?
    A REVIEW OF INTERNATIONAL AND SOME DOMESTIC EVIDENCE
    DON B. KATES* AND GARY MAUSER**

    http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

    “I regard guns and the Second Amendment as a learned want, not a need,…”

    If you have someone try to forcibly sodomize you or kill you then you will quickly find that a weapon of self defense is a real need.

    “Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, himself an avid hunter, once argued, in his interpretation of the Second Amendment, that the founding fathers did not intend the right of gun ownership by all individuals; only members of “well trained militias” would have that right.”

    From Wikipedia on a recent Supreme Court ruling that disagreed with Burger:

    District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court of the United States held in a 5-4 decision that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home and within federal enclaves.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_of_Columbia_v._Heller

    ” Isn’t it time for zero tolerance of guns?”

    I think it is also time for zero tolerance for a government that attempts to ban guns and zero tolerance for politicians who tout such nonsense.

    lwk

    • LWK.. My first gun was a BB gun which I owned at about age 10. I didn’t need the NRA to teach me that I should have it to protect myself. Than at 18 in WW II I learned to use a Thompson sub machine gun and a carbine and even a WW I Springfield rifle. Later in the war I carried a 45 caliber pistol. I was adept in using them because there was a real enemy out there who was equally well trained to do me in. None of these powerful weapons left a lasting effect on me since after the war there was no equally trained enemy out there to do me in. Only a paranoid would think like that in our democracy.
      After the war I inherited a well used single shot 22 caliber rifle. It has no scope but I once was able to hit targets in the center at over 1000 feet. That is why I still cherish it. I considered that an accomplishment. If someone invades my home I might consider using it but would be concerned that even under those circumstances the law and my conscience might not look favorably at that.
      LWK your opening premise that gun owners in the USA defend themselves with their weapon over 100,000 times a year is an illusion not backed by fact unless one is ready to count George Zimmerman as an example. It is reasonable for citizens like you and me to own a gun or a shot gun but it is unreasonable for a citizen to own an automatic assault rifle with a 20 shot clip..
      b. traven

      • b. traven wrote:

        “…used single shot 22 caliber rifle. It has no scope but I once was able to hit targets in the center at over 1000 feet.”

        1000 feet is about 333 yards, over 3 football fields. So what size target were you hitting? That is a little bit far for a 30-40 grain soft lead bullet with very poor aerodynamics.

        High power rifle competition has prone slow fire at 600 yards (1800 feet), but the guns are a lot more powerful than a 22LR and fire bullets more suited to long range work. My M1A can do that rather well with a National Match barrel and Sierra 168 gr Hollow Point Boat Tails. Of course this is all with iron sights too.

        “…your opening premise that gun owners in the USA defend themselves with their weapon over 100,000 times a year is an illusion not backed by fact.”

        Dr. Gary Kleck came up with 2,500,000 uses of firearms for defensive use. Check him out on Wikipedia. Multiple other studies support over 100,000 uses. The difficulty in getting a realistic number is that a lot of such uses are not reported to the police or kept in any official statistics. If you report such a usage in places like Chicago you will be more likely to get arrested than the criminal.

        “…it is unreasonable for a citizen to own an automatic assault rifle with a 20 shot clip.”

        Well if you served in the military then you should know that semi-automatic rifles are not “assault rifles.” In any case I disagree with you and make my case in these two articles (which I mentioned earlier):

        Who Needs An Assault Rifle?
        http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/who-needs-an-assault-rifle/

        Assault Rifles
        http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/assault-rifles/

        These are the kind of rifles that the Founders intended for citizens to own. In fact if we were doing what the Founders intended we would only _fully_ automatic M16 rifles, real assault rifles.

        I have 30 round clips for my Colt AR-15 and it is not the least bit unreasonable.

        lwk

  2. Well, there are some practical problems here: 1.) The NRA’s influence on–or should I say control of?–legislators remains very firm despite all the pious talk post-Newtown massacre; 2.) American “culture” has the peculiar ability to breed a large segment of the population that will remain receptive to “guns are our god-given right” argument even if the NRA somehow withers away; this segment largely also incorporates climate-change-deniers, we need prayer in our public schools, etc. mentality; 3.) we are currently, a-hem, “blessed” with one of THE worst Supreme Courts ever–their ruling that the 2nd Amendment language re: “a well regulated [not “trained”!] militia” means assault rifles can’t be denied the public is even more pathetic and craven than opening the spigots to corporate funding of politicians; 4.) and finally, I, a very “left” individual, have to admit that given the course our governments (local and state, as well as federal; see: militarization of police departments all over the nation) have embarked on, the argument that the people need to protect themselves FROM said governments is hard to refute. And by the way, if you think tanks and fighter-bombers can’t be defeated by humans bearing small arms, you might want to review the history of the Vietnam War.

    • “The NRA’s influence on–or should I say control of?–legislators…”

      The NRA represents the interests of its members. Its power comes from its members and gunowners who largely agree with its agenda. That is pretty democratic. Some say it represents powerful business interests. Maybe, but those interests are tiny compared to many other industries, particularly the pharmaceutical industries.

      See:

      Guns And Drugs
      http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/guns-and-drugs/

      The truth is that the NRA gets its power because a lot of people agree with it. That is called democracy.

      “THE worst Supreme Courts ever–their ruling that the 2nd Amendment language re: “a well regulated [not “trained”!] militia” means assault rifles can’t be denied the public…”

      A real “assault rifle” is the M-16 my son has in the Marine Corps. My AR-15 is not a real assault rifle. It is a semi-automatic rifle that shoots one of the _least_ powerful centerfire rifle cartridges in existence.

      See:

      Who Needs An Assault Rifle?
      http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/who-needs-an-assault-rifle/

      Assault Rifles
      http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/assault-rifles/

      The fact is that the language of the 2nd Amendment does not condition the right to keep and bear arms on a “well-regulated militia.”

      See:

      The Well Regulated Militia
      http://free2beinamerica2.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/the-well-regulated-militia/

      The 2nd Amendment is what it is. Should it be changed? Maybe, but that should be done by the means appointed to change the Constitution, not by pretending that either the 2nd Amendment does not exist, or interpreting in a way the Founders absolutely did not mean (and the Federalist Papers give a clear description of what they meant).

      “…given the course our governments (local and state, as well as federal; see: militarization of police departments all over the nation) have embarked on, the argument that the people need to protect themselves FROM said governments is hard to refute.”

      We agree on that point. I see the militarization as fully uncalled for and dangerous. Blame the War on Drugs, perhaps.

      “…if you think tanks and fighter-bombers can’t be defeated by humans bearing small arms, you might want to review the history of the Vietnam War.”

      American soldiers, airman, and sailors defeated the N. Vietnamese on the ground, in the air, and on the sea. We massacred the Viet Cong in the Tet Offensive. But a Democratic Congress under Tip O’Neill gave it all away after Nixon resigned. I am a Vietnam Veteran. I participated in flattening large parts of Hanoi, Haiphong, and other real estate in N. Vietnam.

      lwk

      • “lwk2431” posted what seemed like thoughtful, reasoned remarks…and then revealed where he (I assume) is really coming from by trotting out the pathetic claim that US troops weren’t allowed to really fight to win in Vietnam. I refute this nonsense in my forthcoming memoir about my resistance to that abomination of a war.

      • Let me add a clarification here. You wrote:

        “…if you think tanks and fighter-bombers can’t be defeated by humans bearing small arms, you might want to review the history of the Vietnam War.”

        I may disagree with your assessment of the Vietnam War, but I do agree your general idea. Individuals with small arms can make it awfully uncomfortable for the authorities and make it difficult to rule large areas. They most certainly can be defeated, especially if they are not getting outside help (as the Viet Cong were from N. Vietnam). But it can be expensive.

        To consider the kind of methods that might work one might look at what happened at Hue in 1968. If people emulated that then anyone who worked for the government or sympathized with it would be legitimate targets for torture and assassination. Rather than collecting “assault weapons” (which really aren’t “assault weapons”) a more useful tactic would be collecting names and addresses of people who work for the government, or vocally support it.

      • “… trotting out the pathetic claim that US troops weren’t allowed to really fight to win in Vietnam.”

        That is not what I said. US troops were certainly hampered by politics and sometimes by micro-managing campaigns by LBJ, but that was not what I was talking about. American soldiers were not defeated by the N. Vietnamese or the Viet Cong.

        After the U.S. withdrew and the North launched its assault in 1975 Tip O’Neil and the Democratic Congress abandoned all aid to S. Vietnam.

        There were valid reasons to not sacrifice American lives in Vietnam, but make no mistake about it, the N. Vietnamese and Viet Cong were not “freedom fighters.” Many were butchers on the same moral level as German SS troops in WWII working in Auschwitz and other death camps. Some claimed the “domino theory” was not valid, but millions of Cambodians found out differently.

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