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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Guns don't kill people ... angry, fearful people with guns kill people

Guns don't kill people ... angry, fearful people with guns kill people

When news breaks of a mass shooting event at a school, no-one asks which country. We all know that odds are it will be the United States. And so it was on 17 February 2018, when the world was horrified to learn of yet another massacre at a school in the United States. The school was Marjory Stoneham Douglas in Florida where a white nationalist, Nicholas Cruz used an AR-15 to murder 17 students.

Immediately after the massacre, President Donald Trump ruled out tightening gun control legislation, but instead said that people should report suspicious people to the authorities. Cruz had been reported to authorities on at least 18 occasions, including two reports that he could shoot up a school, and police did nothing about him. One of Trump's other bright ideas was to arm teachers. Then it was revealed that the armed school deputy had hidden rather than draw his weapon on the gunman, and that there were four sheriff's deputies who hid behind cars rather than engage with the gunman(1). Why not just train soldiers to be teachers? Oh wait, there's been numerous massacres and mass casualties on military bases on US soil, including Fort Hood in 2009, that killed 13 people and wounded 32(2).

Armed teachers? Great. When bullets start flying, people start running. The chances of a teacher shooting a child is going to escalate dramatically. When cops arrive and there are a dozen armed teachers running around, how the hell are the cops to know who is the active shooter that they need to stop?

Unlike many other school shootings, the students at Stoneham Douglas mobilised political rallies in Florida and Washington, demanding changes to gun legislation. The very powerful and morally bereft, National Rifle Association, pressured politicians from the President down to not change the laws. The NRA supposedly represents responsible gun owners, however, this is a rather dubious claim because what self-respecting, responsible gun owner would oppose any legislation that kept guns out of the hands of mass murderers? Nor do they wish to limit the damage that guns can do, such as banning bump stocks that convert some semi-automatics into full automatics, or limiting the magazine capacity of weapons, or even questioning why the hell anyone needs an assault-style rifle, such as the AR-15 which was used in this massacre ... and in the Sandy Hook school massacre that killed 26 people, including 20 children aged six and seven years old ... or the Las Vegas massacre on 1 October 2017, in which 59 people were killed and more than 850 wounded by a gunman using numerous guns, including AR-15s with 100-round magazines. AR-15s are designed for one thing: massacring humans. They are not designed for hunting animals, or for target shooting. They certainly are not designed for clay pigeon shooting. They are designed to shoot people and make sure those people do not survive. Shots from the AR-15 tear people's bodies apart; they do not leave neat little holes that might increase the likelihood of survival. Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon with University of Arizona describes wounds from an AR-15 as 'looking like a grenade went off in there'.(3)

There are an estimated 265 million guns in the United States, which has a population of 323 million people, although only 30% of the population have guns. The average number of guns per gun owner is three, however, some only have one, while others have up to 140. Just 3% of America's gun owners hold 133 million guns, around half of America's personal arsenal.(4) Many of these weapons are pistols which pwners claim they need them for self-defence. Others will argue they use their rifles for hunting. Considering there aren't too many stags walking down Broadway it begs the question about how much hunting some of these gun owners do.

It may come as a surprise, but the chances for most people of encountering a violent gun-related crime is small for most areas of the United States. Gun violence is very much geographically concentrated, with more than half of America's homicides occurring in 127 cities which account for less than a quarter of the national population, but people in those areas are up to 400 times more likely to encounter gun violence(4). Even that is very much concentrated in small pockets of those cities. For instance, gun violence in Boston occurred in only 3% of its streets, while juvenile crime in Seattle occurred on only 5% of its streets(5). The chances of encountering situations where a person may feel the need to pull out a gun are small.

Self-defence? Then riddle me this: why are there almost seven times the number of firearm assaults in states with the most guns compared to those with the fewest? Gun-owners are twice as likely to be murdered as people without guns. Part of this issue is the mentality that owning a gun creates. Some gun-owners take greater risks, go to more dangerous places, thinking they are safe because they're 'packing heat'. The only thing being packed is them or their family members into body bags. So how many victims of assault used their guns for self-defence? Less than 1%. Instead, for every legal use of a firearm in the house, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides committed by someone in the home, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. Studies have shown that using a gun in self-defence is as effective as non-violent measures, such as calling for help. The NRA and gun-owners try to argue that if people want to be violent, they will be violent regardless of their access to guns. This is true, but as Scientific American reports, 'guns intensify violent encounters'. Remember the 'Stand Your Ground Laws' that legalised killing people in self-defence when they feel they are in danger, after George Zimmerman killed an unarmed black man, Trayvon Martin, because he felt scared? Since then, Florida's homicide rate has risen by around 25% and other states who have introduced similar legislation have experienced a sustained 8% increase in homicide rates. Mark Hoekstra of Texas A&M University pithily observed, 'we found that making it easier to kill people resulted in more dead people'.(5)

If guns made homes safer, then insurance premiums would go down rather than increase. One insurance broker's website states: 'The risks faced by your insurance company include wrongful death, bodily injury, property damage, and theft, among others. Since your gun adds considerable risk to your renters insurance, it also increases the rates significantly'(6).

One of the mantras chanted by gun-owners is that 'guns don't kill people, people kill people'. No shit, Einstein. That's why we're calling for gun control; background checks, training, cooling-off periods and raising minimum ages. Pro-gun people completely remove guns from the equation in crime. In their myopic view, it would make no difference whether the perpetrator had a gun or a rolling pin. Yet, what the hell are firearms designed for? To give foot massages?

In 1994, assault-style weapons such as the AR-15 were banned until 2004. Pro-gunners argue it isn't an assault weapon as this is a military term, however, the legislation defined 'assault weapons' including rifles and pistols that were semi-automatic with detachable magazines and had at least two military-style features, such as bayonet mounts, flash suppressors, folding and telescopic stocks, amongst others(7). Magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds were also banned. The legislators did not expect the ban to reduce gun crime per se, but to reduce the incidence of mass-shootings. So did it work? Damn straight it worked as shown in the below graph. In the ten years prior to the ban there were 19 incidents of mass shootings (defined as six or more deaths) with a total of 155 people killed. During the ban, mass shootings dropped to 12 with 89 deaths. In the ten years after the ban was lifted, there were 34 mass shootings with 302 deaths.(8) But hey, according to NRA logic, rolling pins will kill as many people as an AR-15.

So what is the NRA solution to the school shootings? While the NRA is demonising the gun control argument, they are yet to propose a solution other than, 'a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun'.

Further to this good guy/bad guy garbage, some pro-gunners bang on about 'bad people kill people'. However, this idea of there being good people and bad people is founded in simplistic, puerile ideas of absolutism that fails to acknowledge context ... the kind of thinking that far too many Christians embrace ... and funnily enough, a lot of American gun-owners are Christian who sincerely believe that guns are a gift from God ... clearly skipping the entire New Testament ... oh, that's right Jesus said, 'pick your AR-15 and follow me'. There are bad people out there, however, everyone is prone to good and bad actions. Show me one person who has never had a bad day ... I'd love to meet that person. 'Good' people have bad days and 'good' people lose their shit. Let me repeat that: People. Lose. Their. Shit. And armed people losing their shit is not a place anyone wants to be near. People who are armed and having a particularly bad day are more likely to react by drawing their firearm and raining hell on the situation. As Scientific American identified, 'People, all of us, lead complicated lives, misinterpret situations, get angry, make mistakes. And when the mistake involves pulling a trigger, the damage can't be undone'(5).

The NRA and pro-gun people justify their lack of legislative action by hiding behind the Second Amendment which they claim constitutionally protects their rights to 'bear arms'. This is one fraction of the Second Amendment and completely neglects the bit about 'well-regulated'. For your reading and researching convenience, the Second Amendment in its entirety reads as follows:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Let's unpack this in light of modern America.
  • A well-regulated: passing laws, funnily enough, is the very essence of well-regulated
  • Militia: sorry, but Mr & Mrs Jones running around the streets of Boston armed with a couple of .32 calibre pistols while looking for a lobster and avocado panini with pan-roasted forest mushrooms, does not constitute a freaking militia.
  • being necessary to the security of a free state: Guess what? Now that America spends more per capita on its heavily armed Defence Force than any other nation, kind of negates any need for a militia to defend it. Oh, and if you're intending on over-throwing an oppressive regime based in Washington by facing down the world's biggest military after eating your lobster & avo panini with pan-roasted forest mushrooms ... yeah, good luck with that ... actually, thoughts and prayers are with you.
  • the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed: the people ... the militia ...  yeah, kind of only if necessary for the security of the nation, otherwise this does not apply.
Sadly, the NRA has reinvented the Second Amendment to deny any recognition of what a well-regulated militia is or whether it is even necessary. 

When the Second Amendment was introduced, America did not have a formal defence force and was totally reliant on the militia. Oh, did I mention that this was at a time when firearms were just a basic musket that was flat out firing three rounds a minute (compared to your average AR-15 which pumps out 45 rounds a minute ... and more if a bump stock is fitted). Do people really think that armed dumb-asses stuck in traffic in their Cadillacs with Make America Great Again bumper stickers, thinking about that evening's episode of America's Got Talent, constitute a militia?

By the by, 'militia' is a collective noun. A militia is a group. It is not individuals roaming around the streets unregulated and armed to the hilt. The militia of which the Second Amendment speaks was in reference to the legislated civic duty of the time, that required every white male aged between 16 and 60 to have a gun. That is the well-regulated militia, they were compulsorily required to own and provide their own weapons for the defence of the land; it wasn't a choice. A preliminary text of the Second Amendment provided a definition of what the Founding Fathers considered a militia: 'A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms'(9, p. 379). Most people would agree that with America's significant military might, a body of the people is no longer the best security of a free state, therefore it is no longer necessary.

John Paul Stevens, a former associate justice of the Supreme Court points out that the Second Amendment was designed for two things: one was to arm the people for military purposes and the second to restrict federal control over weapons but not that of the States to regulate firearms. Stevens suggests that the Second Amendment could be clarified through the addition of five words: 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed'(10)

This may surprise many, but the individual right to gun ownership was only recognised in 2008, 217 years after the Second Amendment was passed(11). These individuals are not a militia and will never be called on to defend the nation with their own weapons ... if they are required to defend the nation, they will be conscripted into the military and provided with weapons by the defence force.

The pro-gunners continually portray gun control advocates as wanting to ban all guns, yet this is far from the truth. Most gun control advocates want ... wait for it ... gun control. In other words, they are not solely blaming the guns for killing people, they are blaming people having unfettered access to guns for killing people. The pro-gun mob are in complete denial over the impact of guns in violent situations. They have gone ostrich, sticking their heads in the sand, yet there is a clear correlation between guns and the massacres that we see in America. The common denominator in these massacres is guns. Sure if guns were completely banned, someone set on massacring others will find another way, but most other ways require a bit more planning and skill than grabbing a semi-automatic and unleashing hell on innocent people. 

Gun control people have been asking for changes to the law so that it is more difficult for irresponsible people to get hold of guns. Why would responsible gun owners be opposed to this? Some of things gun control advocates are asking for include:
  • background checks
  • mandatory safety courses
  • mandatory licensing of gun owners
  • raise the minimum age to at least 21 before people can buy firearms
  • ban private sales of firearms
  • ban sales of firearms at gun shows
  • cooling off periods, so that someone can't just walk into a store and walk out 10 minutes later with a gun
  • ban high capacity magazines; restrict magazine capacity to 10 rounds
  • ban the bump stock that turns a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one
  • people with domestic violence convictions banned from holding firearms
  • guns to be secured in safes at home
  • ban assault-style rifles (again)
While assault-style rifles are in the minority of weapons, they do facilitate mass killings.

Of course, none of these measures will completely stop the over-representation of violent crime in the United States, but they may well reduce it. The pro-gunners argue that legislation makes no difference, yet, as can be seen in the following chart, deaths by guns are lower in those states with the strictest gun control legislation(12).

Some of the infantile arguments against gun control made by the pro-gun mob include:
  • cars kill more people and we don't ban cars ... we also restrict access to cars, people have to be a minimum age, undertake training and licensing, pay for registration and insurance, and driving under the influence is banned. We also don't let people drive Formula One cars on suburban streets, so why allow people to own assault-style weapons that have no place other than in the military. One could say that cars are 'well-regulated'.
  • If we ban guns, they'll just buy them illegally ... sure ... so let's legalise all drugs because people are still using them, let's ditch homicide laws because people are still being murdered. We could save a heap of money on prisons by repealing all the laws that people break which put them there in the first place. Clearly laws don't work if there are still criminals, right?
  • Video games are too violent ... right, and every other country plays these same games but don't feel led to massacre children sitting in an algebra class!
The right-wing wants to ban everything they dislike, such as abortion, birth control, marriage equality, refugees, anti-bullying programs, immigration, Islam, halal, burqas, left-wing media, books (e.g. Slaughterhouse Five for not being consistent with biblical teaching), rock music, equal rights ... but when it comes to restricting access to guns it's a resounding NO from many right-wingers who have a distorted sense of entitlement, patriotism and biblical values.

One of the scapegoats that pro-gunners blame for mass shootings is the mentally ill. Which is ironic, considering that it is the Republicans who have been defunding mental health programs, but that is another story. For the most part, it is not the mentally ill who have been responsible for the mass shootings ... it is .. get this ... angry people. Psychologist, Laura L. Hayes wrote in 2014 on the tenuous links between mental illness and mass shootings, and emphasised that there was much stronger evidence to link poor anger management with violence and in particular, mass shootings. Hayes identifies that this violent anger is caused by a chronically suppressed rage.(13)

The modern United States is an angry nation. It is factionalised by an 'us and them' mentality that demonises people based on race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation and wealth. It demonises the poor and refuses anything that might represent a welfare state. 

The United States of today is one in which individualism is highly-valued over that of the community. This individualism is neurotically tied to the idea of freedom and that owning firearms is the greatest expression of freedom ... even if it comes at the price of thousands of dead school-children. The USA is riddled with a neurosis that is driven by greed and selfishness, manifesting as an extreme paranoia of the 'other' coming to take their things away. It is a neurosis that has been caused by the extreme form of capitalism that only America embraces. It is a capitalism that sees any form of sharing as being communism. Welfare payments to ensure people can eat? Communism! Universal health-care so that everyone, rich or poor, can receive medical treatment? Communism! Public education? Communism. Taxation? 'That's sharing wealth, you dirty Commo!' Raise the minimum wage so that the working poor aren't forced to work three or four jobs? 'Fuck you, Jack - price of my coffee ain't gonna go up to help someone else! That's communism, you pinko snowflake'! 

Yep, anger. Anger against those who might take away their precious 'freedom', which is really only their belongings purchased through their consumerist indulgence and an anger that comes from a perceived competition with the neighbours; 'keeping up with the Jones's' drives much of the ludicrous competition that causes stress and anger in many Americans.

America's extreme form of capitalism does not allow for empathy or compassion. And we wonder why this selfishness and fear exhibits itself through anger and paranoia that results in mass shootings of innocent people. It's the hate speech and exclusionism of populist politics that is empowering people to shoot up schools and crowds.

Gun control is only one small step in reducing deaths from guns. There are three profound issues that need to be addressed for long-term change in the United States:
  • anger
  • fear
  • hate
America needs anger management, this in itself will help resolve much of the violent crime. 

America needs to overcome its fear; it's fear of the other, fear of loss, fear of communism, fear of sharing. This is a nation that houses some very fearful people ... and they're armed to the teeth with firearms.

America needs to overcome its hate. It is a nation that is still largely segregated by race and religion. It is a nation that illustrates the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Interestingly, most mass shootings are perpetrated by the haves, the privileged members of white America(14)... illustrating the power of fear that comes of greed and selfishness.

However, to truly overcome these horrendous mass murders, America needs empathy, sharing, caring, a spirit in which the good of the community is valued more than the individual, more than selfishness and greed.

Sylvester McNutt, a former high-flying type from corporate America who became a best-selling author of motivational books, may have inadvertently nailed the solution, when he wrote:

'Everyone is so focused on acting savage, busy, and heartless these days. Meanwhile, I'm searching for the humans that believe in compassion, love, and human connection'. 


1. New York Post, Ruth Brown, Four sheriff's deputies hid during Florida shooting, 23 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

2. Ranker, Mike Rothschild, Complete list of US military base shootings, Accessed 3 March 2018.

3. The New Yorker, John Cassidy, America's failure to protect its children from school shootings is a national disgrace, 15 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

4. The Guardian, Lois Beckett, The gun numbers: just 3% of Americans own a collective 133m firearms, 15 November 2017, Accessed 3 March 2018.

5. Scientific American, Melinda Wenner Moyer, More guns do not stop more crimes, evidence shows, 1 October 2017, Accessed 22 February 2018.

6. US Insurance Agents, Does owning a gun impact my renter's insurance quotes?, 10 February 2014, Accessed 3 March 2018.

7. United States Congress, H.R.3355 - Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, Accessed 3 March 2018.

8. Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham, The real reason Congress banned assault weapons in 1994 - and why it worked, 22 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.

9. Walker, D.J., 2016. Necessary to the security of free states: the Second Amendment as the auxiliary right of federalism. American Journal of Legal History, 56(4), pp.365–391.

10. The Washington Post, John Paul Stevens, The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment, 11 April 2014, Accessed 3 March 2018.

11. Politico Magazine, Michael Waldman, How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment, 19 May 2014, Accessed 3 March 2018.

12., Gun Laws v Gun Deaths, Accessed 3 March 2018.

13. Slate, Laura L. Hayes, How to Stop Violence. Mentally ill people aren't killers. Angry people are. 9 April 2014. Accessed 3 March 2018. 

14. New York Times, Daniel Victor, Mass shooters are all different. Except for one thing: Most are men, 17 February 2018, Accessed 3 March 2018.