A skeptical look at gun control
I see some of my confreres are deciding to discuss the following, and I’ve also seen that both Dawkins and Shermer have weighed in on this on FB, so I’m adding my few cents in the wake of this ghastly business.
Arguments about gun control online tend to fall into one of the two images below:
I’ll just assume for this that there are good reasons to be for one or t’other. I understand why someone as gentle and furry as Shermer is in favor of the latter image; on the other hand, I am the first man in my father’s family in two generations not to live under tyranny, so I lean towards the former. I also grew up in a part of the world with over ten times the per capita homicide rate of the US, so I do not think I am too sanguine.
Let’s leave that aside and just talk about the rationality or otherwise about the discussion of gun control, specifically in the United States. The trouble is that it looks like what Mencken described “To every problem there is one easy, obvious answer, and its always wrong”. The proponents of it suggest an answer that just seems too easy to me.
There’s another country that has a high rate of gun ownership (not as high as the US admittedly) but has very few gun murders, and that is true even if you adjust for per-capita. I’m talking about Switzerland. For that matter Germany (see above) has quite a high rate of gun ownership, but nothing like this rate of homicide.
The fault lies not in our stars… Placing the blame for this atrocity on the availability of weaponry in the United States just seems too easy. There is, frankly, something a little feral about the land of the free and the home of the brave, and I write that as an admirer of the Republic. Yes, one always has to bear in mind the famous line:
“In Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock!”
Well, maybe, but it is also true that the United States is one of only six nations on earth to execute minors since 1990, the others being Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Nigeria. And the United States is not just a member of that club, but the most prominent one. To put it another way, you are much less likely to be excuted for being an adult Nazi war criminal in Israel than for being a retarded child in America. I don’t think this taste for violence will simply vanish with the hardware.
Nor, naturally, will those one wants to hand their weapons over be likely to do so. For effective gun control, you would need a very law abiding populace with a high level of social solidarity, again, one like the Swiss. It seems that the only societies that can do gun control right are the ones that can do gun ownership right.
What a conundrum. After mulching over this a bit, I think the following image may represent the best, i.e. Swiss, option: