Skip to comments.An Expat Brit Analyzes America's Gun Culture
Posted on 04/24/2012 8:17:40 AM PDT by marktwain
Gary Younge does not refer to it as our culture of course, he calls it our deadly devotion to guns. He opens his piece at the NRA convention Grassroots Activism Breakfast, mentioning that Samuel Richardson (who he never identifies further) gave him a note . . . here, I'll let him explain:
... Samuel Richardson, a man with whom I have not exchanged a word, passes me a note. Please read the book Injustice by Adams, it reads. He was [sic] lawyer for US Justice Department who prosecuted Black Panther Case. Quite why Richardson thinks this book is for me is not clear. There are six other people at the table, a couple of them journalists. The fact I am the only black person in a room of around 200 may have something to do with it.
Or it may not, Mr. Younge (may I call you Gary? My spellchecker keeps trying to drop the 'e' off your last name), Gary gave no indication that he watched Mr. Richardson closely, he didn't mention if he was the first or the last journalist in the room, he didn't say whether Mr. Richardson had already had the opportunity to speak with the other journalists and bring the issue up. He assumed that his skin color was the reason.
Gary goes on to quote Sam talking about how the press and government are conspiring to oppress white people:
Its just like Hitler did. Discriminating against one ethnic group and claiming that theyre the cause of everything thats wrong. Its what happened in Rwanda, intimating that white Americans, like Tutsis, could one day find themselves systematically slaughtered in their own land.
But having set up the conventioneers to look like racist, xenophobic conspiracy nuts, he does back off and explain:
It would be easy to ridicule the NRA. Billboards for its national convention all around St Louis promise acres of guns and gear. In the exhibition hall ... they are selling semi-automatics in pink camouflage. One of the most powerful lobbying organisations in the country and deeply embedded in the Republican party, the NRA still calls itself the countrys oldest civil rights organisation.
But Americas relationship with guns is as deep and complex at home as it is perplexing abroad.
Kudos for not taking the easy path, Gary, but just one little thing; it's not pink "camouflage", it's pink furniture on the AR's you show on your homepage. But it is not surprising that Americans perplex Europeans; we are, after all, almost as much of a country of misfits and rejects as Australia. Most of our ancestors were either troublemakers who were kicked out of their country or felt out of place enough to pull up their roots and emigrate to a new land. Once here, up until the early 1900's, there was room to grow, to cultivate freedom, to set aside centuries old strictures and find new ways of doing things (including mass production, which was first pushed by the Department of War to develop interchangeable parts for military weapons).
And even though the nation is evenly split on whether there should be more gun control, every time there is a gun-related tragedy, whether it is the shootings in Arizona, Virgina Tech or any number of schools, the issue has been effectively removed from the electoral conversation. And at the centre of these apparent contradictions stands the NRA, once an organisation that represented the rights of hunters and sportsmen and now a major political player closely linked to the gun industry.
You know, I've heard an awful lot over the last couple of years about how the NRA is just a shill for gun manufacturers, and it is true that they get a lot of money from manufacturers and retailers, but that is because A) people "round-up" their bill to donate to the NRA or B) manufacturers run special promotions trying to attract business (as Ruger did, with their One Million Gun Challenge). The are known as marketing ploys whereby a manufacturer tries to get more business by linking their product with a famous athlete, or media star or, organization.
And of course the NRA has become a major political player over the last few decades! With the serious erosion of our civil rights starting in the late 60's up until the Clinton Presidency the NRA (and Gun Owners of America and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and the Second Amendment Foundation and Grass Roots North Carolina and Georgia Carry and New York State Rifle and Pistol Association and . . . but you get the idea) if the NRA and these other groups hadn't fought back I shudder to think what state our rights would be in.
But guns in America are no trifling matter. There are approximately 90 guns for every 100 people in the US (a rate almost 15 times higher than England and Wales). More than 85 people a day are killed with guns and more than twice that number are injured with them. Gun murders are the leading cause of death among African Americans under the age of 44.
Well, not quite: approximately 11,800 people a year (32 1/3 a day) are murdered with a firearm, 703 a year (1.9 a day) are accidentally killed with a firearm and 17,183 a year (47.0 a day) commit suicide with a firearm. So you can really only say that about 34.25 a day "are killed" by someone with a gun, the others kill themselves. And, as I have said before, while firearm availability may change the number of firearm related suicides, study after study has shown that overall suicide rates remain unchanged.
And actually, according to the CDC's WISQARS data, between 1999 and 2009 homicide is the leading cause of death among blacks aged 15-34, between the ages of 35 and 65+, heart disease and malignant neoplasms trade off the two top spots. Homicide isn't even in the top ten for children <1 year old and for children 1 to 14 unintentional injury is #1 with homicides coming in at second or third. Well, here, let's do a table:
And Gary is correct; during the prime demographic for criminal involvement (15-34) homicide is the leading cause of death and firearms were used in most of the homicides. Which has absolutely nothing to do with guns and everything to do with poverty, lack of opportunity and hopelessness.
And the NRA is no joke. Claiming gun ownership as a civil liberty protected by the second amendment, it opposes virtually all gun control legislation. It claims more than 4 million members, has a budget of more than $300m and spent almost $3m last year - when there were no nationwide elections - on lobbying.
Gary fails to mention that not just the NRA, but 9 out of 9 Supreme Court Justices believe that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. And what do national elections have to do with lobbying Congress and the state legislatures?
Anyway, Gary continues:
There has long been a dispute about whether the people described [in the Second Amendment] refers to individuals or the individual states. But there is no disagreement about its broader intent, which is to provide the constitutional means to mount a military defence against a tyrannical government.
Actually the dispute isn't particularly long-running; it was only when the DoJ had to defend the 1934 National Firearms Act before the Supreme Court that they came up with the "collective rights" folderol. And I'm glad you appreciate that the broader purpose is about defending against tyranny.
Its about independence and freedom, explains David Britt. When you have a democratic system and an honourable people then you trust the citizens. Britt, an affable man in his 60s, does not lend himself easily to caricature.
Britt is more understated, conservative but more likely to water at the mouth talking about barbecue in his native Memphis than foam at the mouth over a Fox News talking point. He doesnt fetishise guns but fondly recalls his grandfather giving him his first rifle when he was seven.
Britt believes individual gun ownership is a guarantor of democracy. In Europe they cede their rights and freedoms to their governments. But we think the government should be subservient to us.
For all the rightwing demagoguery associated with the NRA, this is quite a radical notion.
Umm, not in this country it is not, Gary; in fact that philosophy is enshrined in our founding documents: We the People are the ones who formed the government, not the other way around. There are no kings or queens or nobility, we have no divinely anointed rulers here and (at least in theory) any person can aspire to any office in the land. But Gary goes on to point out the problem with this governing philosophy:
The trouble is that, left in the hands of individuals, each gets to define their own version of tyranny and potentially undermine democracy with their firearms. Some believe the healthcare law enacted by a democratically elected Congress is tyrannical.
I suppose Gary would argue that the Nazi round-up and exterminations of Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and others wasn't tyrannical because it was all done in accordance with rules and laws that existed at the time. No, Gary, just because a law is passed by Congress does not make it either Constitutional or non-tyrannical. As for undermining democracy with our firearms that really won't be a problem until a whole bunch of us start objecting to government actions, um, forcefully. That is the beauty of a free society; sure you have the loose cannons and the nut jobs, but as long as they are outside the mainstream, they really can't cause too much trouble.
In the hardscrabble town of Pahrump, Nevada, in 2010, I witnessed a conversation between conservatives about the most propitious moment to militarily challenge this government. The last thing we want to see is to break out our arms, said one. But we need to have em in hand, and the government needs to know that we will use [our arms] if they continue down the path theyre on.
And that is exactly my point; we don't want to break out our arms but we can and will if it is necessary. There is a story floating around the 'net that around the time of the Montana Freemen standoff an ATF agent asked a militia member on the East coast if his group would head out to Montana if it looked like there was going to be "trouble" (à la Waco or Ruby Ridge) with the Freemen. Reportedly the militiaman looked him in the eye and said "Why'n the hell would we want to go all the way out there? There's plenty of you Federal sonza-bitches right here." Oddly enough the Freemen standoff was ended without a conflagration or massacre, and there are a lot of hard-line gunnies who believe that it was threats just like the one delivered to that ATF agent that ensured that outcome.
See, we don't have to use them for our weapons to be effective at quelling tyranny.
But the second amendment is not the only factor that embeds guns in Americas culture. As a settler nation that had to both impose and maintain its domination over indigenous people to acquire and defend land and feed itself in a frontier state, the gun made America, as we understand it today, possible. None of us in the free world would have what we have if it were not for guns, says Britt. Its about freedom, its not about violence.
To quote my Maine friend "Ayup." Europe may have had wilderness until early last century, but it did not have a frontier. Of course, some people confuse the use of force with naked violence:
Missouri representative Jeanette Oxford, who represents a district in St Louis, disagrees. From the outset violence was enforced with weapons of various kinds in North America, she says. I think the ability to enforce your right through might is ingrained in us.
But even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and Rep. Oxford (D-059) let slip a kernel of truth when she said that our ability to defend and enforce our natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional rights is ingrained in us. She seems to think it is a bad thing that free people have the ability and willingness to stand up for our rights, and the rights of others who might be oppressed. Don't forget, it was the armed (and capable) Deacons for Defense and Justice and other groups who frequently guarded the non-violent protesters like Dr. King. Indeed there is one school of thought that holds that the reason the Federal government got involved when it did was a fear that the escalating violence between the Klan and armed blacks defending their communities would devolve into a civil war.
Gary also covered the anti-NRA protesters:
A few blocks away [from the Convention] at St Louis City Hall some of the survivors of the shooting in Tucson last year are staging a press conference to call for greater gun control. Some are gun owners themselves. Mavy Stoddard, 77, weeps as she recalls the death of her husband Dorwan, 78, one of the six people killed that day ...
The tone is not strident but plaintive. No one here wants to touch the second amendment or is calling for wholesale reform of the gun laws.
Except the reforms they are calling for will always be called a good first step and when they inevitably fail the call won't be for their repeal, it will be for "strengthening" them or "closing a loophole". Furthermore, the vast majority of their changes would do nothing to stop these mass shootings in the first place. After VA Tech, the call went out to close the gun show loophole even though the shooter didn't buy his guns from a gun show and fully complied with Virginia's (recently repealed) OGAM law. Likewise the Tucson shooter had been reported to the police for felony-level threats and harassment (there's a reason the Sheriff knew how to pronounce his name right off the bat), if he had been in jail or prison, Mavy never would have lost her husband.
Given the scale of the problem, one is struck by how modest many of these demands are. Yet the mantra from NRA enthusiasts and others is that guns dont kill people, people kill people. This banal iteration conveniently ignores the fact that people can kill people far easier with guns than almost anything else and that, in a country with high levels of inequality, poverty and segregation, such as America, they are more likely to do so.
Gary your banal iteration ignores the facts that A) at least twice as many lives are saved in DGUs annually as are lost to CGUs and 2} the freedom to own and carry the weapon of your choice is a natural, fundamental, and inalienable human, individual, civil, and Constitutional right -- subject neither to the democratic process nor to arguments grounded in social utility. Gary also conveniently ignores the fact that as gun ownership has increased over the last few decades, homicides have dropped (as shown graphically here), and that since Australia and the UK have passed ever stricter gun laws, their non-homicide violent crime rates have skyrocketed as compared to the US.
It also does not account for the NRAs role in pushing legislation such as stand-your-ground laws that allowed George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martins killer, to walk free for more than six weeks. The law states that anyone who perceives a threat to their life has a right to use a weapon.
You know Gary, no matter how many times journalists and others repeat a lie it remains a lie. George Zimmerman walked free for six weeks because the police did not have probable cause to believe he violated the law. In addition, SYG did not change the rules for using deadly force, it merely removed the "duty to retreat". Which would have been completely moot in this case since a witness stated he save Trayvon sitting on George, bashing his head against the concrete. Finally SYG does not state that you can use a weapon if you perceive a threat to your life; it says you can use deadly force if you reasonably believe that it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm. You know, like a fractured skull and traumatic brain injury.
The core of the debate over the last few weeks has not been Zimmermans right to bear arms but that the law now on the books in more than 20 other states protected him from even being arrested for so long and makes it difficult to prosecute.
So, Gary, you think that the police should be able to arrest someone without probable cause to believe that their actions were illegal? What, you think cops should be able to just look at someone, say yep, he looks guilty; arrest him! and whiz-bang off to jail he goes? Because that is what the Florida statutes say, that police can't arrest someone like George unless they have probable cause to believe that he used force unlawfully.
And you are correct; SYG laws do make prosecuting DGUs more difficult. This is not a bad thing! It's called the presumption of innocence and has been a feature of various legal systems since the Roman Emperor Justinian revamped Roman law in the sixth century.
Back at the grassroots breakfast the organisers are gearing up the activists for this election year. "Bad people get sent to Washington because good people don't vote," they say. When it comes to engaging potential allies they are told to "hunt where the ducks are" gun clubs, hunting groups and so on. ... Few domestic organisations can rival the NRA in lobby power.
Yes this is the main difference between actual grassroots organizations and Astro-Turf® groups; when it comes time to put "feet on the street" groups with actual popular support (instead of big bankroll sugar-daddies) get it done.
The NRA is not entirely certain what to do with its partial success. Partly it keeps pushing for laws that would expand the places where guns might be carried ... Partly, it opposes even the most basic controls, such as legislation to ban gun sales to people on the government's terrorist watchlist, meaning a suspected terrorist can be denied the right to board a plane but not to buy a gun.
You really have a problem with the whole idea of "innocent until proven guilty" don't you Gary. I'll tell you what; I'll drop my opposition to closing the terror-gap if you can tell me 1) how people get put on the watchlist, B] how people can find out if they are on the watchlist and III} how people can get off the watchlist after mistakenly getting put on by making one telephone call. Until then (to put it in the British vernacular) sod off.
I actually had this conversation with my sister a few years back (before she figured out that she shouldn't talk politics in front of me); she was muttering about how Congress was unable to "close the terror-gap" and I looked her in the eye and said "You realize that if that law passes it is entirely possible that your baby brother will be killed in a S.W.A.T. raid, right?"
As she sputtered incoherently I went on to point out that the FedGov has held that it is not required to notify people that they are on the watchlist. So if I were to get on it somehow (say, by relating an anecdote about how militias would kill Feds under certain circumstances) the next time I went to buy a gun, I would commit a felony since I would declare that I was not a prohibited person. The NICS check would fail, red flags would fly, someone in the ATF would Google me, soil himself and kick my case upstairs. The upshot would be a bunch of door-kickers paying me a visit, and I sleep with my gun under my pillow . . . you do the math.
Anyway, back to Gary. He is winding up when he pulls out this gem:
"Ultimately it comes down to whether you trust other people or not," says one gun control activist. "We do, they don't."
Seriously? SERIOUSLY?!?! Gun control advocates trust other people? So why is it, when liberty threatens to prevail and loosen a gun law or two, the antis are always there talking about blood in the streets and getting shot over a parking spot, etc.? Shortly after Minnesota passed our "shall issue" law I attended the opening day of the Legislature. I saw a woman there who I'd met on previous occasions, she was an avowed anti and knew I wasn't. She asked if I was carrying and I said of course I was. Later she told a reporter that, even though she knew me, she was afraid that I would shoot her.
And they say we're fearful.
And its going to get worse. Especially if Obama gets reelected.
There is nothing to indicate that a non-gun household would be any larger, or smaller than a household with guns. Thus, if all households (gun and non-gun holder) are about the same size, and each household has 4 guns; this does not work out anywhere near 90% of the population having a gun.
The numbers are wildly different than what the author is alledging. I submit that the true number of guns per American is somewhere between 38 and 90%; probably close to the 60-75% range.
It’s not that hard.
if you are poor, and you don't like it (and who would) violence is an easy and attractive short cut option to alter the situation. If you are comfortably well off, there is no need to stick a gun in someone's face to get enough cash to buy a big mac. It's too big a risk for too small a reward. Desperate people do desperate things.
Of course, these things are relative. No one in the US is really poor, not by world standards of poverty. But then poverty comes in different shades. The real poverty is in the mind. These people's material needs are mostly met by a generous welfare system, but only at the cost of their psychological wellbeing. Because they do not earn what they spend, there is this chronic ennui, a lack of self worth, a lack of simply caring about anything. Many of them commit crime for kicks. Because they are bored. Such is the burden socialism lays upon its votaries.
For what its worth, I think your ball park figure is probably more accurate.
If my guess is in the ballpark (60-75%), which is simply based upon my personal experience - this also includes guns that have never been fired (collectors items) and antique guns. For example, I just spent a couple weeks re-polishing the stock on my Grandfathers Montgomery Ward’s 1938 bolt action .22 rifle. I got a little carried away, I had the trigger guard, stock butt, mounting bold and screws all plated (Bronze colored to look gold), 12 layers of Linseed oil/varnish on that.
Kinda amazing what an old walnut stock can look like with a little elbow grease and time. I didn’t touch the barrel or workings - and didn’t polish out the various dings on the stock. It’s 75 yrs old and deserves the battle scars it’s had, being the first rifle that taught 3 (going on 4)generations how to shoot safely.
There are quite a few guns out there that are old, and are kept for purely sentimental reasons. Some still shoot (like mine) while others no longer work and are just treasured momentos.
However, if SHTF and communities needed to “arm up”, I think everyone would be surprised at the number of guns that would appear out of the woodwork.