Sunday, October 4, 2015

Gun crime

Following the thread of a discussion on an American friend's Facebook thread on the recent tragedy in Oregon, one of his interlocutors was an irate 'responsible' gun owner (also American) who questioned whether he (my friend) wanted the government to take her guns away? After all, she had not nor ever intended to kill anyone. The question was sidestepped by returning to the more politically plausible response of saying, 'No, what we need is more effective background checks etc.'

Reflecting on this, I thought, well maybe the answer, in fact, ought to be, 'Yes, I do want to take your guns away from you'. Individually you might indeed be a 'responsible gun owner' but the truth is societies with massive gun ownership tend to be societies where they are more often used violently (and by accident create accompanying mayhem). The question is not about individual responsibility but why do you as a responsible citizen want to live in a society awash with weaponry where the consequences, for society as a whole, is clear. Selfishly you want to own guns even as the communal reality of this decision is the death of the innocent.

Now I recognise the limitations of this argument. For example, you could apply it to cars - cars after all cause many negative externalities - social and environmental - whereas the universal adoption of public transportation would minimize many of these; however, cars are, at least, useful and their utility may offset (for the time being) their liabilities (and the car is capable of adaptation - to electricity for example or being made to drive slower in built-up areas).

Meanwhile, the guns purposes are only useful in very limited spheres - to go hunting, or as a farmer to manage pests, or as a form of sport in hitting a target and in defending a community from others either in law enforcement or conflict. All of these are susceptible to being limited by effective regulation and governance - and only the latter require the ownership of semi or fully automatic weaponry; and, then only by people commissioned and trained by society as a whole to do so.

The real question it seems to me is why this is not self-evident in America and why people are obsessed with their own protection (and being unable to hand this over to their community) when it is exactly that obsession that undermines their safety. It is a viciously decreasing circle.


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