current affairs

Shootings, guns and lame excuses

I wrote a post like this a few months ago, and I didn’t post it because it’s not really in my field. With the shooting last week, it seems right to revisit the topic regardless. The issue of gun control is too important to ignore.

What prompts these particular observations is Facebook. A friend of mine posted about how sad he was on Friday, and asked “is a right to bear arms really more important than the lives of innocent children?” What followed was a series of comments sharing the sadness, but excusing the role of guns.

These conversations are repeated again and again, every time there’s a shooting. They’re predictable cliches, obvious at the point of saying them but not true in reality.

If the victims were armed too, it wouldn’t happen
Seems logical – all you need is someone to shoot back and the massacre is averted. Unless of course the victims are six year olds, who don’t carry guns. Or people sitting in the dark in a movie theatre, who wouldn’t know where to shoot. Or people shot in their beds, like this particular killer’s mother on Friday. Even if this was true, do you really want a guns locker in your kindergarten classroom or the lobby of your Sikh temple?   

Guns don’t kill people, people do
Spoons don’t stir coffee and cars don’t drive, but they were designed and created for the purposes of stirring and driving, and that’s what people use them for. Most guns are designed for the specific purpose of killing human beings, so let’s not act surprised when some people want to use them for it. Technology is not neutral, and you can’t divide an object from its purpose. Yes, people kill people. People kill people with guns.

People would use knives if they didn’t have guns
I live in a country where even the police don’t carry guns, and we don’t have knife-killing sprees. Killing someone with a gun is very different from attacking someone with a knife. With a gun you can kill quickly, at a distance, detached and completely in control. Anyone can kill with a gun, but with a knife you have to physically overpower your victim. There’s no way you can take on 20 people with a knife.

Guns used to commit crimes are usually obtained illegally
This isn’t an argument, it’s simply said in ignorance, but even if it were true it would be a good reason for more gun control, not less. As it happens, it’s not true. Three quarters of the guns used is mass shootings are obtained entirely legally. Most of the shooters don’t have previous convictions, and they are well within their rights to buy and own their murder weapons.


The real problem is mental illness
Sane people don’t take a gun to work and slaughter their colleagues, says the logic, so the real task is to identify and care for vulnerable young adults. That sounds fair enough, except that mental illness is only a factor in 3-5% of violent crime. The shock of family and friends is a recurring theme of these incidents, which suggests we’re not very good at seeing it coming. And mental illness could develop after you’ve bought your guns. Besides, the logic fails when we apply to other things. People can become alcoholics because they’re depressed, lonely or bored, but we’d still say they have a ‘drink problem’, and solving that problem means addressing the addiction and the causes together.

These things just happen
Mass shootings can happen anywhere, it’s the frequency of them in the US that’s exceptional. In Britain there were 39 people killed with firearms last year, and 9,484 in the US. The US population is five times bigger than Britain’s, but gun deaths are 240 times higher. There’s a problem here, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out the correlation between the availability of guns and the use of them to shoot people dead. The rest of the world knows this and has dealt with gun crime, without compromising individual liberty or making people feel less safe. Controlling access to guns doesn’t mean an all-out ban either, you can still own guns and shoot for recreation in Britain.

It’s not politically possible to change the law
All the excuses above are from those who don’t want the gun laws to change. This one is from those that do, but who have given up – ‘nothing will change, nothing ever does’. That’s no more helpful than those arguing against gun control. The fact is, gun control is entirely possible if it’s done right. Surveys show that the majority of people would support specific measures such as banning high capacity clips and semi-automatic weapons, or registering guns. The gun lobby is powerful, but it is not a lost cause. Despite the hype, gun ownership is actually falling and 57% of Americans don’t own a gun. The time is right for new compromises and fresh approaches to the issue.


  1. While I agree that easy availability of arms is not something I would want in a country I live in, I’m not American, and so I don’t think I should be piously spouting off about how they should organise their civil society. We should let Americans decide on what they want. Would you want Americans looking down on us for how we have decided to order our society? We Europeans often give the impression that Americans are stupid and unsophisticated unlike us. Yet they have the country more people want to live in.

    1. I had notes for a post like this the last time there was a shooting, but I didn’t write it for pretty much exactly the reasons you suggest. But it happened again, the British media is covering the story intensively, and with lots of American friends it’s all over my Facebook pages.

      Of course it’s up to Americans to do what they think is best, but I don’t think we should hold back from encouraging change from afar, any more than we should hold our tongues over human rights abuses in other countries, predatory tax regimes, or wars of aggression.

    2. Sorry DevonChap, but I can’t see how you can interpret this as anyone piously spouting off, or looking down on Americans. Surely, this is simply trying to debate gun laws, not Americans.

      1. It is that in my experience these sort of well meaning interventions from Europeans overlook that the American’s have a radically different perspective and are already aware of all the above points. It is just that they weigh other things more highly and accept a trade off.

        Personal gun ownership is a founding lodestone in American self image. They see themselves as a nation that freed itself from tyranny (of patronising Europeans) through the self reliance of its own people and personal guns were a large part of that. They also see gun ownership as preventing the rise of a dictatorship. It is the backstop of their freedom. Freedom comes with a price and from that perspective the trade off is that there will be higher gun related deaths and more shooting sprees such as this one. There are trade offs in everything we do, this is the one most Americans seem to accept.

        Now you may not agree with it, but it is their choice to make. It is patronising to act as if they don’t have all the facts. You don’t know that. It could be they just value things differently to you.

        1. DevonChap, thanks, but for very many years, I have been highly conscious that life is a matter of trade-offs for each of us, so I am not missing this point at all, and I do not see evidence that anyone else has.

          The point I am making is that, (without failing to recognise that America must make her own decisions), there are people for and against, whether in America or anywhere else, and we are also entitled to have an opinion, without being against the country itself. This is all that I can detect from the blog – I do not see anything as evidently being patronising. The arguments are being criticised but not the trade-offs. One has to know if the trade-offs are based on reasonable argument before you can even consider the trade-offs. The blog is not about the choices made but whether the choices are based on facts. If this can’t be discussed openly, wherever the facts are in question, we will, I feel sure, be much the poorer for it.

          1. Lecturing others always runs the risk of being patronising to the others you are lecturing. Judging something you agree with also clouds your judgement (cognitive bias). It makes you a poor judge of whether this piece is patronising to Americans. I think many Europeans would find being lectured on the ‘facts’ of our health care policies by Singaporese, our work culture by Chinese or environmental policies by Indians patronising, no matter how accurate the points they make.

            This isn’t to say you or they are not entitled to hold views, but we should acknowledge that distance will inevitability reduce our knowledge and relevance. There are Americans who hold these views. Let them make the case lest we turn those on the fence against through irritation at foreigners sticking their oars in.

            1. DevonChap, I drafted answers to your comments, but, realised that your comments are based on the same fundamental view, so there is no point in going over the same ground just using different words. So, I will simply say that I certainly take account of all your valid points (like trade-offs, distance, bias), but with all these in mind, I do not hold the opinion that views held by foreigners or Americans are necessarily patronising or lecturing each other. It can lead to that, but I do not see it in this blog. It is all part of our personal responsibility. We can question one another, and we can differ, but accusation is another matter, and we must all watch out for that! Defence rests, accuse if you will! (No offense taken or given – merely, well-intentioned debate!).

              1. I think this article drifted over the line because it recommended changes (“Pork, Leek & Bacon Stuffing”). Imagine an article written by a Taiwanese commentator (not health care expert) where they knocked down myths about the NHS (Envy of the world etc), tied it into recent patient care scandals and then ended that it was time for the UK to make radical changes to its health care provision to a more globally usual insurance system.

                Wouldn’t you look a little askance at that article, coming from someone who only knows our system and society from books and TV? That is how I feel this article might be seen by an American. So that is why to me this article is on the wrong side of patronising (though finely). As you say we are free to disagree and debate drives forward understanding. Just we have to be careful not to fall over lines where we harm our case by how we present it (I’m sure I’ve done that too many times to recall).

                1. The example you give occurs in life all the time, in the smallest and biggest ways, and can result in terrible consequences, but I don’t see that the blog has crossed that line (even finely). I think any American taking offense at this will probably have some deeper issue which will always be irritated unless it is turned into something better (the pearl analogy) and that is their responsibility not ours, though we should obviously, try to help if we can. Back to the port or pork then? Cheers!

              2. Oops, wrong paste. For “Pork, Leek & Bacon Stuffing”, read “The time is right for new compromises and fresh approaches to the issue.” You can tell Christmas is coming.

        2. I’m responding to the direct comments of others to my friends post on Facebook, which made it very clear that they didn’t have all the facts.

          I’m well aware of the cultural significance of guns, the differences in values and that it is Americans that need to make the decision. There are plenty of American readers of this website, and if I can add even the tininest contribution to a debate that will save lives, then it is worthwhile.

          As I mentioned in the post, 57% of Americans don’t own a gun and that number has been rising in recent decades, so this is not a static and immobile cultural phenomenon.

    3. You sound like a complete and total moron. That or a Russian Troll or a representative of the NRA, these being roughly equatable. At any rate, how is expressing ones opinion piously spouting off? Were we Americans spouting off when we engaged the Germans in “your” war. I suppose we should have sat back and let you order your own society, eh? You’d all be speaking German if we had. Civil Society is something we as human beings should strive for everywhere humans live and conversation is one way to ensure our world is populated by one. Quite a few Americans are stupid and unsophisticated and that unfortunate circumstance has nothing at all to do with you or Europeans in general. Our current President who received four deferments for attending college and one for ouchy feet….all while playing College sports, decided not to risk his life to serve our country while loyal Americans died doing his job. He then proceeded to lose a million dollars his daddy gave him, claimed chapter eight bankruptcy five times and now get’s the financing to “run” his businesses from ex-commie Russian Oligarchs. He’s attempted to hide this financing by being the first president in over 60 years not to allow the public to view his tax records. The man is a chicken shit, draft dodging, commie sympathizing, real estate dealing, game show host….not exactly presidential timber. This was proven by the fact that he wasn’t even elected to be president. He lost the vote by 3 million and was appointed. Americans have allowed this to take place under the guise of the “Electoral College” which is, quite frankly, nothing more than a sack of bullshit. So, I’d say, in the first place, those who did vote for this illiterate, lying, cheating, pussy are most definitely stupid and those who didn’t, aren’t terribly sophisticated for letting the man become president in spite of the highly questionable circumstances surrounding his election. The fact is, is that 90 percent of the American public would agree with everything the gentleman who wrote this article, quite thoughtfully, pleasantly and logically, put forward. You, on the other hand, would be viewed as an ignorant redneck.

  2. Also the experience of how other countries do things is always worth considering, providing one is not glib, or simplistic, which you were not.

    For example your point about knife crime. In my part of N. London there has been an increasing problem with gangs, and a number of fatal stabbings. Had guns been available things would have been much worse.

    It is also thought provoking to note that in N. Ireland, at the height of the troubles, the deathrate by shooting even with the provisional IRA, Loyalist paramilitries and the Army on the streets was still LOWER per capita than in the US.

  3. As for the “it’s not politically possible” excuse, it’s also worth noting that the second amendment to the US constitution, the one about the right to bear arms, states that the purpose of that right is for “a well-regulated militia” for national security, when volunteer militia were the main military defense of the country. If you were writing the amendment today, it would be more along the lines of ensuring army reservists would be ready to fight an invading army.

    1. Yes, and that ought to be fairly obvious from a historical standpoint. It is open to interpretation though, and I know that the gun lobby has pushed through some court rulings that could make it hard to define it as strictly referring to militia.

  4. I take your point DevonChap, but there are plenty of national issues that get international attention. Are we supposed to just shut up about Israeli settlements, corruption in Nigeria, or Syria bombing its own people?

    Of course Americans will interpret comments from abroad in their context, and they can take or leave my opinions. All I wish to do is stand in solidarity with the large percentage of Americans who want to see change in this area.

  5. Good points. In a few short paragraphs you managed to completely reduce the pro-gun argument simply to “it’s their choice”, when really the consequences show that simply isn’t good enough.

    I gave a go at the same argument, though it’s angrier and less succint.

    Regarding DevonChap’s criticisms of “patronising Europeans”, I have to share Dichasium’s and Jeremy’s opinions that we cannot just ignore horrible things happening just because they are in another country. I don’t want people to die for no reason, I don’t think anyone does, so it’s certainly reasonable to discuss it, and I would even go so far to say it’s acceptable to urge change where it’s needed.

      1. I’d just read some of the pro-gun responses to Sandy Hook and was incensed. As you’ve said, they’re just lame excuses. I’ve also talked to people in the UK who want deregulation of guns, which just beggars belief.

        1. Fortunately seems that once these things come in, it’s hard to reverse the progress. I remember the opposition to the handgun ban after Dunblane, but it worked and most people would hate the idea of legalising them again. I guess the US needs to get over a similar cultural bump.

          1. I question if the gun controls after Dunblane ‘worked’ There were13,874 crimes involving guns in the UK in 1998/99 and this rose to to 24,070 in 2002/03. We’ve had the Cumbrian shootings since which used a rifle and a shot-gun, both types of weapon there is a legitimate countryside management.reason for people to hold.

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