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.