Do you know what's worth fighting for?
When it's not worth dying for?
— Green Day
Yesterday was a pretty normal day in America, at least as far as the statistics on gun violence go. Despite the shooting in Colorado where 12 people were killed and dozens injured, the daily average barely blipped: 268 people are shot by guns each day in America, around 85 are killed (33 of those are homicides). 97,820 were shot last year.
Americans don't seem the least bit fazed by this, on a normal day. It's only when a lump sum are killed at once, in a sensational way, and by a stranger, that Americans perk up and take notice. Vigils are held, flags are flown at half staff—only for the mass shooting victims, not for the other equally innocent victims who barely rate a mention on the evening news, so common are gun deaths in the Land of the Free.
Across the Atlantic, things are different. By comparison, in 2008 there were 6697 firearms offences in the United Kingdom (not counting air guns, which seem to be pretty popular here). Of the 651 homicides that year, 39 were a result of firearms.
Let me say that again: 39 people were murdered by firearms in the UK. In the US, the number murdered by firearms in 2008 was 12,179.
Thirty-nine. That's about the total number of people murdered each year in Shreveport, Louisiana. Shreveport has a population of 200,000. There are 62 million residents in the UK.
I'll pause while you do the math...
I don't believe there's any disproportionate affinity for violence among Americans as opposed to Europeans. Violent movies and video games seem to sell pretty well here. I've been the victim of road rage on both continents. We don't hate our figurative neighbours any more here than you do in the US. We have gangs here—indeed, most of the gun violence here is gang-on-gang, which means it gets little attention in the media since no one wants to read stories like that.
Sure, there's more extreme poverty in the US, a looser safety net, and less access to mental health resources, which undoubtedly accounts for some of the difference in crime rates. Yet there is something else that accounts for the sheer lack of gun violence here, something there's a lack of in the United States.
You have to jump through a lot of hoops to get a gun here in the UK, or else be a well-connected gang member. People do keep guns for hunting, for putting down animals on the farm, or for shooting grey squirrels. (I suspect there's a special license you can get if you promise to use your gun to shoot grey squirrels; in fact, they probably provide you with free ammunition.)
The funny thing is, no one complains about how their freedom is being impinged upon by the fact it's so darn hard to get a gun! People here, and I presume in the rest of Europe, are perfectly content to not be able to easily purchase a gun either for protection or for hunting.
I suspect that's because when I go to sleep at night, I know that if anyone breaks into my house, the chance that they'll have a gun is almost nil. I'm not unusually carefree; I worry a lot about being killed in my sleep by an intruder. In fact, it's a recurring nightmare of mine. Yet I know those worries are unfounded, at least when I'm here in the UK. (Not even my crazy neighbour who hates squirrels is likely to be armed with a pistol: if he decides to take out his anger on his animal-rights activist neighbour I think I have a fighting chance.)
In the United States, the gun lobby has whipped up their loyalists into thinking the Second Amendment means absolutely no impediment to gun ownership of any kind was intended by the founding fathers, who'd never even heard of a semi-automatic weapon. In fact, the word "automatic" didn't exist, in that sense, until 1812. Many Americans are now convinced serious consequences would occur if their right to buy any number and any kind of weapons, including tear gas grenades, were impeded by even so much as a seven-day waiting period. The NRA encourages apocalyptic thinking among its members: they want them scared, scared of violence, and even more scared of the big scary government—the big, scary duly elected government. (It makes me wonder what they'd do if a duly elected government really did try to take away their rights to buy semi-automatic weapons and hand grenades—something no current politician is brave enough to propose. Wonder why?)
In these people's minds, their right to buy any type of weapon is so valuable, so inviolate, that it supercedes my right to go to a movie without worrying about being shot dead—my right, so to speak, to peacably assemble, à la the First Amendment. That rather nebulously worded right supercedes the excessive numbers of deaths and injuries caused by guns that should never have been sold.
Those 12,000 deaths, those 100,000 injuries.
No one who advocates for gun control believes that the number of gun-related homicides will drop to zero, even if the most stringent gun laws imaginable were inacted. But there is simply no doubt that the numbers would drop dramatically. Very dramatically: 12,000 is a lot more than 193. (193 is the number of gun homicides you'd expect if the population of the UK were the same as the US.)
Imagine if you were the parent of one of those teenagers killed in that movie theatre, in that supermarket parking lot, or in that classroom in Virginia. Imagine if your child were killed walking to school by a drive-by shooter. I don't imagine you'd be thinking about how grateful you are that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of Americans to possess a gun in order to form a militia.
Again, influenced by the propaganda of the NRA, many Americans continue to believe they'll be able to protect themselves from violence by arming themselves. Maybe they think they're superheroes: it would have taken a bullet-jamming, body armor-plated, x-ray visioned superhero to stop the mass murderer in Colorado, who'd covered himself head to toe in Kevlar and conveniently dispelled smoke and tear gas from the canisters he purchased, legally, online.
And statistics say otherwise: Every year there are 200 "legally justified self-defense homicides by private citizens compared with over 30,000 gun deaths."
You're killing yourselves, America. With guns, via suicide, accidental shootings, and intentional homicides and manslaughters. And yet you think you're safer with that pistol in your nightstand, where your child can get it. Or your depressed husband. Or the burglar who knows exactly where to look.
Yet most gun control advocates have no desire to take guns away from law abiding citizens, who don't mind waiting for a background check. But no one can seriously make an argument that they need a gun capable of shooting 100 rounds a minute, or that they need several such guns, in order to feel safe or to be able to hunt—deer don't run that fast. There are other sensible laws, too, but they need to be uniform across the United States (for instance, only seven states currently require background states for all gun purchases), and they need to be enforced—which can't happen when Congress guts the funding of the ATF.
Another argument needs to be put to rest: Guns exist for one purpose: to kill something. Too often that something is a human being whose death leaves behind a whole lot of hurt. Cars kill people too, especially when driven by drunk drivers. Which is why we make it a crime for people to drive while they're drunk. Yet you can go buy a gun, carry it into a theater, and shoot a dozen people while you're drunk, or hopped up on Vicodin.
Sensible gun laws don't prevent every death, but they do prevent most of them, as evidence in Europe and elsewhere makes overwhelmingly clear. And when there is a shooting spree in a country like Norway or Germany, people don't hold vigils and then go on as before: they change the law, fix whatever loophole in the system allowed a nutter to gain access to weaponry capable of killing so many, so easily.
I very much fear that the Aurora mass murder will be followed by another, and another, and another, every six months or so. The bodies will hardly have grown cold before another madman reloads.
And Americans will continue to deny they have a gun problem. They will insist we "honor the memory of the victims" by not "politicizing" the "tragedy", a polite term for murder.
Pardon me while I honor the victims by advocating for gun control.
Note: It's surprisingly difficult to find comparable statistics on gun violence around the world, partly because reporting methods vary, as well as legal terms dealing with homicide and manslaughter. I could find only total homicides for American cities, which is why I don't have a more accurate comparison for the gun murder rates in a small American city and the whole of the UK. Likewise, I found no statistics for air gun violence in the US, seemingly a serious problem in the UK (one which I hope they sort out before the Olympics begin and stray starting pistols spike our statistics).