Violence in America – A followup

(this is a followup post to the gun post below and a response to its comments here and at The Impolitic)

Gun posts certainly do seem to elicit emotional interest. In the post below, I was careful not to mention gun control. I simply reported an incident, the type that seems to be occurring with increasing frequency, and propose a few “what ifs” hoping for some answers. None have been submitted thus far.

I am not so idealistic as to believe that meaningful gun control is even a remote possibility in the US either for criminals or the law abiding. Indeed, gun ownership is so pervasive, so very much a part of American culture, and their availability is so hugely widespread and encouraged, that the only sound prediction is that the saturation of guns in America has not and will probably never peak. Gun control is nothing but a cliche, a hollow utterance by some politicians looking for votes based on their non existent ability to protect the public from cirme.

Statistics are a wonderful tool that can certainly be used to prove that the number of murdered and wounded citizens is really quite small, even acceptable, except perhaps to those who are victimized by it. And the numbers of those seems especially tiny when comparing it to the total number of people in the country. However, the ratio of violent crime to the “population” might increase a little if one did not include newborns, babies, toddlers and say, children under 10, groups that rarely shoot other people and certainly don’t own guns. It might also be increase if we eliminate the totally feeble and those who are institutionalized and have no access to guns. Add to that the people who, for whatever reason, don’t believe in guns and thus don’t and won’t use them.

In other words, what are the numbers of gun crimes and victims when compared to just that part of the population that actually owns guns? Statistics are a wonderful tool.

We are still horrified about the 58,000 dead and hundreds of thousands wounded in Vietnam. Yet, when compared to the total population of the country at the time, that number is miniscule. Does that make it acceptable or less horrific? And certainly the number of dead Americans in the Iraqi war is not worth even mentioning when compared to the entire population of the US.

There is no doubt that as poverty becomes more pervasive and desperation becomes more acute, the number of violent crimes, including those crimes involving fire arms will increase. As more and more of the wealth is sucked from the society by the very few ultra rich, those left behind will use whatever means are available to survive. And herein, lies the future of America.

Ultimately, a society is judged, not by it’s tag lines or its famous quotes or its declarations of freedom and equality. History judges a society by its behavior, its civility and its morality. How will history judge us? Will history look only at the words in our Constitution or the endearinig poem engraved on our lady of liberty? Will history talk about Truth, Justice, and the American Way and leave it at that? Will it call the US a bastion of world freedom and say no more? I think not.

An accurate history of the US will ultimately include its pervasive corporate and political corruption, its greed, its rampant consumption and waste of natural resources, its unquenchable thirst for drugs and its lust for power and position. It will include its racism and its assumption of being better than anyone else. It will include the increasing plight and numbers of the poor and their desperate struggles to survive. It will include the increasing level of violence and the startlingly cruel methods people use to inflict it upon each other. And it will include the state’s inability and unwillingness to control it.

Do I believe in gun control? Yes. Do I think there are countries in which banning or controlling guns can be successful? Yes – already happening. Do I believe that the United States is one of those countries? Absolutely, positively not.

cross posted at The Impolitic

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10 Comments on “Violence in America – A followup”

  1. Lynn Hoffman Says:

    Hi Brian,

    From where I sit, it looks like this: Gun owners say that gun control people are unpatriotic, hysterical wimps and maybe even communistic. Gun-control advocates hint that gun-owners are narcissistic neanderthals with sexual-inadequacy problems that they cover up with guns. One side warns of creeping tyranny, another brandishes pictures of bright-eyed children killed by gunfire. If you think I’m exaggerating the heat that this question evokes, do an internet search for ‘gun control’ or ‘gun violence’. The anger that you see doesn’t create much of a background for solving a problem. The confict is about what people need to feel secure and so the emotions are wild and high. It’s safe to say that there is more contact, both casual and constructive, between Israelis and Arabs than there is between the sides in the American gun debate.

    All this has the makings of tragedy, of a situation where two sides are equally sure of, and in a sense entitled to their own sense of being right, moral and visionary. In tragic conflicts, no one gives way and everybody loses.

    It’s tempting to think that we might just let this issue work itself out in fifty separate state legislatures and in the courts. After all, the abortion debate is just as hot, just as divisive and rancorous and while it’s not settled, we seem to be surviving as a nation in spite of it.

    Maybe a clue to an eventual solution lies in the nature of some of our other national debates.
    Abortion, for all its heat, is an issue that inevitably sheds a bit of light. Everyone who advocates free access to abortion recognizes that there is an awful sadness involved in it. Everyone who works to restrict the availability of abortion knows someone who has had one. Our antagonisms on the issue draw at least some of the people on either side together because we can empathize with the other side’s sadness.
    The future of health care also gets people hot under the collar. To some it’s obvious that access to health care is a basic human right. For others, it’s just as obvious that government shouldn’t be in the health care business. For both sides, their opinion is on the side of the angels. But even here, there’s some common ground. Hardly anyone would want to see children go untreated and no one wants the government taking choice out of one’s personal health care.

    So let’s try for a bit of common ground in the gun debate. First, let’s imagine that it’s possible for good and honest people to hold opinions different from our own How about starting with the language we use. I’ll promise to stop referring to ‘gun nuts’ if you’ll agree to give up on the ‘gun-control crowd’. After we stop the name-calling, maybe we can begin to recognize that the other side has some concerns that ought to be addressed.
    Maybe we can ask ourselves some questions.

    A question for the gun rights people: What steps can we take to prevent the needless gun deaths of innocent people?

    A question for the gun control people: How can we reassure law-abiding gun-owners that keeping our streets safe doesn’t mean confiscating their guns?

    I wonder if a bit of serious thought about the other side’s concerns might slow us all down enough to see that there are real people on the other side of the issue. I wonder if seeing each other for the first time might bring us a little bit closer to a solution to a grave national problem. Or shall we wait until another 30,000 people die and then start acting like grown-ups?

    –Lynn Hoffman, author of THE NEW SHORT COURSE IN WINE and
    the novel bang BANG, a romantic thriller about sex, death and gun violence.

  2. Buffalo Says:

    An excellent essay, Brian – and an excellent response from Lynn Hoffman.

    I wish that I was capable of finding the words to adequately and coherently expressing my feeling and beliefs in a concise, cogent and clear fashion. Try as I may I have been ever unable to put them on paper.

    The very foundation, the pilings to the foundation, of my philosophy is freedom. I resent and resist virtually every action, or attempted action, that restricts what I perceive to be my freedom. That does not mean I advocate anarchy. Neither do I believe that freedom is synonymous with license.

    I abhor the seeming impossibility of having civil discourse. It is as though personal attacks, loud voices, anger and vitriol are the only way people communicate anymore.

  3. Devo P Says:

    “A question for the gun rights people: What steps can we take to prevent the needless gun deaths of innocent people?

    A question for the gun control people: How can we reassure law-abiding gun-owners that keeping our streets safe doesn’t mean confiscating their guns?”

    As long as this common ground doesn’t include contingencies for registration or restrictions of firearms, I’m game.

  4. expatbrian Says:

    I agree with Buff, an excellent comment, Lynn. Thank you for it and welcome to World Gone Mad. You’re absolutely right of course, about two sides getting together, giving up the name calling and accusations, and searching for common ground that will result in improving everyones safety and security.

    Buff, don’t be so modest. Anyone who visits your blog knows how well you express yourself.

  5. Jon Says:

    Could we actually have the beginnings of a grown up discussion of gun control here?
    That would be a truly beautiful thing – I have been looking for one for literally months now.
    I should point out that I am a gun owner and avid target shooter, not to mention a pretty die hard libertarian. But really, gun control that is actually designed to address criminal use, rather than harass legal owners is good for everyone. With my personal prejudices it is often hard to understand where the other side is coming from, but I am certainly willing to try. Reducing crime is good for everyone (although I do not understand the notion of separating out gun crime from other crime).
    You know, I was going to start off by challenging your statement about countries that have successful gun control, but really that is just a more polite version of the same old argument… so instead I will suggest a gun control policy that I think would be a good idea.

    New York has begun a policy of targeting gun dealers that have a lot of their guns end up at crime scenes inside their state. The tactics used to get this information is a bit sketchy… but what they did with it is interesting. They sued the shop (obnoxious), but then offered a settlement that dropped the suit if they agreed to be monitored for compliance with the existing federal gun laws. I like that last part. It is often stated that a small percentage of gun dealers supply a drastically disproportionate number of guns that end up used in crimes.

    My suggestion would be to expand that to an ongoing policy. If a gun shop has a large number of guns being used in crimes, it seems only right and proper to verify that the shop is following all of the required rules when they sell guns. If they turn out to have significant violations (NOT typos on their paperwork, but guns that cannot be accounted for and such) then they get fined and watched like a hawk until they clean up or close down.

  6. expatbrian Says:

    Good commentary Jon and welcome. I am biased when it comes to a society with no guns as I live in Singapore now where even the cops have to turn in their weapons at the end of their shifts. The crime rate, especially violent crime, is reflective of the lack of firearms. It is a safe society and I love it. I do like the idea of closely monitoring gun dealers and coming down hard on those who play loosely with the rules.

  7. Jon Says:

    Being as I am nearly completely ignorant about Singapore, I had to do a bit of reading on this one. An hour or two of reading should not be mistaken for any real knowledge, but here is the opinion that I am forming….

    The extremely low crime rate in Singapore seems more like a result of social conditions than anything to do with gun laws. Extreme economic growth, government commitment to improving standards of living, what looks like the best version of social security I have ever seen. Also, restrictions on free speech America would never stand for, and a perfect willingness to execute criminals (2nd highest execution rate in the world?). I dunno, the whole thing looks a lot like the first half of a cautionary tale about ‘benign dictatorships’. I cannot help but wonder how well it will survive any serious economic downturn. Then again, Asians come from different enough cultures that I am not sure European patterns can be applied.

    It does point to some real possibilities in America though. A look at the racial distribution of homicides here is a real eye opener. A racial group that accounts for 12% of the population also accounts for 53% of the murders. I take it as a basic truth that race itself cannot be a cause. We have an entire population of people in America who, only 40 years ago, we were actually arguing over whether or not they really counted as people. We have huge number of young people who believe, with justification, that they will not be allowed to be successful in any legal way.

    To really make a dent in crime in America, I think both sides should table the whole gun control debate and spend all that time, money, and energy fixing the source of the problem rather than the symptoms.

  8. expatbrian Says:

    Well, you’ve gotten a pretty good handle on it from your research. Let me add to it. You left out one critical factor. Honor and respect. It is present in the society and important to its people. Most behave themselves because to do otherwise shows no honor and will receive no respect.

    Surely the healthy economy is a huge factor as well. Poverty breeds crime and the need for the tools of crime. Blacks account for 53% of murders, not because they are black but because they are the desperately poor….still. Crime is a means of survival.

    America has lost its historical freedom of speech. You now have free speech zones, set back so your message cant be seen by those for whom it is intended. You can’t wear political T shirts opposing the administration to one of their speeches. Your phone calls and emails are subject to surveillance. You have given up your liberties little by little, while being told that it is necessary to sustain your safety. Without your liberties, you have no safety.

    Yes, executions are high here, compared to the population size. The biggest reason for that is possession of drugs for sale is a capital offense. It is well advertised internationally that bringing drugs into Singapore can get you hung. Yet some continue to try it.

    When they are caught, if convicted they are hung. They don’t sit on death row for 10 or 20 years at taxpayer expense. They don’t file appeal after appeal. They are hung, usually within about 2 weeks. The result of this policy? We don’t have a drug problem.

    Those of us who enjoy the FREEDOM to walk down the streets at night, alone, without fear of being accosted, robbed, raped or shot support the death penalty policy here. See, we recognize that, if we don’t get involved in drugs, we have nothing to worry about.

    Do Americans allow their 12 year old daughters to walk the city streets after dark by themselves? In any city in America? Of course not!

    Do they lock and deadbolt the doors and windows at night? Set the alarm? Even make sure the gun is not far away? Yes, they do. Have to be prepared for that breakin or that burglary.

    So who has more freedom?

  9. Jon Says:

    I do not dispute the effectiveness of the government in Singapore, nor do I deride their impressive accomplishments. I hope it lasts. i just have… concerns… about it’s longevity.

    I do not, however, believe that a similar system could be implemented in America. A basic lack of respect for authority is ingrained into both the public, and into our authorities. So, I guess my real point is that within the scope of what I am interested in, I don’t see it as useful. Except that social security setup – that looks just plain brilliant.

    I used to walk everywhere at night when I was younger. Quite frankly, given my mindset at the time, anyone who accosted me would have been in significantly more danger from me than vice versa. Perhaps not coincidentally, I was never bothered.

    Hmmm, I have been trying to come up with a suggestion for gun control on each of these posts without being… confrontational. This one is not as friendly as the last two, but it is in many ways THE key to any real progress.
    There are basically four groups that people can be loosely fitted into when it comes to gun issues:
    1. Gun Grabbers – They are not going to stop… ever. No exaggeration.
    2. Other non gun owners. Generally favor more controls, within reason.
    3. Gun owners. Mostly favor improving application of existing laws. (This would be me)
    4. Gun Nuts. Think a felon should be able to walk out of jail and order a bazooka from Sears. Also no exaggeration.
    It may not be obvious to non gun owners, but we are well aware of the existence of the gun nuts. We tolerate them because we know they are never going to get their way and they are useful in trying to hold off the gun grabbers.
    What I think is also not obvious to non gun owners is that the gun grabbers flat dominate the gun control side. The laws they propose are always oriented towards attacking legal gun owners (this may to some extent be my bias showing – I would welcome a counter example).
    What we perceive as constant attacks by the gun grabbers has pushed even the most reasonable gun owners into what a friend called the “Not One Inch” plan. Fight them everywhere, on every issue.

    Nothing good will come of this situation. We cannot have progress when it is a debate instead of a discussion. But the general feeling on this side is that unless the grabbers are somehow removed from power, we cannot afford to compromise on anything.

  10. expatbrian Says:

    I agree with everything you said, Jon. I don’t think I’m a grabber but certainly know the mindset. I don’t have a problem with responsible gun owners, either. And I admit that we don’t read about all of them, only the non responsible ones.

    Singapore is very unique in many ways. Its only been four decades since their independence when it was little more than a fishing village and a port. To go from that to the modern cosmopolitan city that it is now is utterly astounding. It happened because of the visionary leadership of Lee Kwan Yew and his associates.

    I agree that a country like the US cannot operate like Singapore, if for no other reason its sheer size and the division and power of its states. Still, it could certainly do better if its leaders were elected for their good management skills instead of their hairdos.

    My perspective has changed dramatically since leaving the US and I make no apologies for it. Being immersed in a culture where integrity is still valued and common sense is the order of the day is such a refreshing change that I can’t see myself ever going back. No reason to unless I have to.

    I hope that we can both look back 5 or 10 years from now and see these last few decades as a temporary abberation that was recognized and fixed. I hope I’m still around to see it.


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