Sunday, January 13, 2013

THE AMERICAN GUN DILEMMA

Outsiders often look at Americans in amazement.  We cannot understand why they value gun ownership more than human lives.  Not just owning a gun for household protection or hunting, but semi-automatic weapons capable of killing dozens of people in less than a minute.  Of course that is a little over simplified, but the American discussion seems a bit unbalanced.

Here in Canada while we have had some violence in our history we actually got our independence through peaceful means.  The American second amendment is interpreted by many as a protection against state abuse.  The American Revolution, the taming of the "Wild West" were violent and made Americans conscious that possession of a gun could be an important ingredient for freedom.  Vigilantes and lynchings have a long history in the US.  Americans are one of the few remaining countries to allow executions.

The National Rifle Association presents itself as deeply concerned over constitutional rights, but in reality it is very self serving as they really represent gun manufacturers.  Of course they will benefit if our reaction is we need a gun to protect ourselves from all the bad guys out there.  As a salesman I have learned that fear is one of the most potent motivators.  Get a prospect to become aware of the danger of not buying whatever you are selling and they are more apt to pay attention.  For gun manufacturers fear is their best ally.  The bad guys have guns so you need guns to protect yourself.

The government itself is visualized by many as something to fear instead of something to provide protection and nurturance.  Nazi Germany could have been stymied if enough Jews had been armed goes one argument.  In fact politicians fear the National Rifle Association and many go to great lengths to win their endorsement.

One factor facilitating violence is income inequality.  As long as there is real hope of improving your standard of life, there is enough incentive for most people to play by the rules.  In the best of times there is envy of those in better circumstances, but worse when the scales tip too much.  It is not so much that the majority of people feel a need for survival, but some feel life is unfair and they are better off with their own rules.  One of the things people do as they get more wealth is to protect it.

Violent cultures from movies and video games have spread around the world.  The ancient Romans escalated their demands for excitement culminating in a variety of gladiator contests to the death.  We feel they were very barbaric, but in fact we in North America seem to be evolving in the same direction.  United States is not unique in its love of violence in sports, movies and video games.

Mental illness is a concern, but as I once heard, the mentally ill are more apt to be victims than perpetrators. As mental illness becomes more accepted as part of society we can deal more effectively with it.  Rosalynn Carter, former First Lady has given out journalism awards for covering mental illness in a positive manner to help remove the stigma.  Health insurance which should include mental illnesses, in the United States lags most other industrial nations.  Mental illness is a factor in gun violence, but is much bigger issue and much more serious.

I have mostly lived in cities, except for a two years of high school when I lived in a rural area.  The attitude towards hunting was something I was unfamiliar with.  Businesses close down or employees take holidays.  Hunting season is looked forward to and talked about the rest of the year.  It is not something its participants would willingly give up.  Hunters might be afraid of losing their life style, but in fact if something isn't done to curb urban violence at some point the efforts to deal with urban fear may affect rural life styles.

Americans are not as safe as much of the rest of the world, but seem to feel if they just get a gun they will be safer.  Of course it tends to be counter productive.  Guns may in fact keep some of them safer or their property more secure, but there is a price.  Homicides, suicides and accidents all occur because guns are too easily accessible.  Fear and intimidation are not conducive to improving relations.

Citizens recognize concerns with cars and dogs and have taken steps to control their abuse. Lawmakers are very reluctant to impose any further restrictions on the use of guns.  Even so called assault weapons or multiple bullet systems are easy to obtain.

What can a politician do?   The gun lobby is very powerful and there are enough people who are fearful of danger that a politician can risk losing a contested election by not being pro gun enough. What can a private citizen do?  Joe Biden suggested there is no total solution, but that we ought to diminish the problem.  Voters need to make their concerns known, but perhaps more importantly they need to be educated.  Look around the world.  Some of the underlying causes of violence need to be dealt with including income inequality.

Freedom to own a gun is an imposition on other people who feel a need to protect themselves from gun owners (some of whom are not trustworthy) or want to keep up with the Joneses.

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