I’ve really agonized and hesitated about posting this note. It’s difficult to make political observations about a foreign country at any time, but at a time of tragedy, one worries even more about being seen as a nosy outsider. But, I see such a fearfully difficult road ahead for your country . . .
I will not dwell on the horrible event of today. There is more than enough discussion of it.
My purpose here is to answer questions I’ve been noticing on social media, questions which can be paraphrased thus: “When will/why can’t the U.S. come to its senses and ban assault weapons/institute gun control/stand up to the NRA?”
These questions have been asked by both U.S. citizens and by people around the world.
My brief thoughts on the question are these:
The desired restrictions will likely never be instituted, no matter how many tragedies occur, no matter how frequently.
A little less briefly:
I’m sure everyone has some inkling of the words of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
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.
That injunction from the 18th century is the primary reason change will basically never happen. Traditionally, for generations, this sentence has been interpreted to mean that it is every citizens constitutional right to possess any weapon, no matter how absurd, with no possibility of any Government interference in that possession. No regulation of arms will be free from the possibility of constitutional challenge unless the Second Amendment itself is amended. Constitutional amendments are intentionally virtually impossible to make: easy constitutional change does not lend itself to stable governance. I would be pleasantly gobsmacked if such an amendment were made in my lifetime.
Now, suppose gun controls of any substantial scope were introduced under President Obama’s watch. This is exactly what the gun aficionados have been warning is on the Presidential Agenda. Obama would play directly into the hands of the private militias and the lone wolves out there. They’d manage to recruit even more heavily armed supporters to their citadels in the woods.
Now, imagine if there were actually an attempt by a Government to seize outlawed weapons. Remember the Branch Davidians in Waco? That was small potatoes. If President Obama made any suggestion of a seizure of outlawed weapons, there would be an instant armed conflict in the mountains, hills and cities. And I would expect police forces and the National Guard to be conflicted themselves, as many in the ranks would feel a devotion to the traditional interpretation of the Second Amendment. I would expect the Secret Service to have it’s hands filled to the breaking point.
If a huge, vocal majority of citizens demand change, I fear that the lawmakers will be in fear for their lives and appease potential assassins rather than carry out the will of the people. Even more, I fear that after all these years of the right to keep and bear arms, too many Americans feel that the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers.
In short, I fear that too many Americans have lived their entire lives in fear of each other to give up the comfort of lethal force on their bedside table.
I hope I am wrong.
My neighbours, will you please do your utmost to prove me wrong?
Update, December 15, 2012
I started looking around a bit, wondering what the homicide rates per capita were in the U.S., fully expecting them to be as appallingly high as the gun murder rates would suggest. I found this handy chart which I recommend everyone spend some time with. What I discovered was a big surprise. For example, only three countries in the Western Hemisphere, Chile, Argentina, and Canada, have lower intentional homicides per 100,000 people than the U.S. The holiday islands of the Caribbean are far, far more dangerous than the U.S. And, a big surprise to me, Greenland has a homicide rate almost five time that of the U.S.
I draw two conclusions from these statistics: perceptions of homicide rates in the U.S. have been skewed by discussions of gun death rates, including gun suicide, and so, the U.S. is actually much safer than we all think; and, if gun homicides and suicides were reduced by some means, be it cultural change, gun control, or whatever else, the U.S. would be recognized as a remarkably peaceful society.
Update October 2, 2015: It seems the handy chart has been updated and now the U. S. has only the sixth lowest homicide in the Western Hemisphere. But, still, imagine if the guns were out of the count.