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How America can change its relationship with guns

It will take time. But Americans deserve the right to live without fear of mass shootings.


 

Can America change? The United States has always demonstrated an endless capacity for growth, imagination and rebirth. For well over a century it’s been the world’s greatest source of economic, cultural and democratic inspiration. Many times it has completely transformed itself, out of necessity or vision—often both. The American aptitude for change has never been in doubt.

Surely it’s now time for Americans to change their own tragic relationship with gun violence.

The devastating attack last week on Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., stands as the single biggest mass shooting in modern American history, with at least 49 dead and another 53 wounded. Yet how long this grim achievement retains top spot remains an open question. The previous record—33 dead and 23 injured in the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007—occurred less than a decade ago. And it’s only been four years since another mass shooter took the lives of 20 young children plus six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. According to the online Gun Violence Archive, there have already been 139 mass shootings in the U.S. this year.

The United States is not unique in its suffering; other countries have been bloodied by public gun attacks. Britain: 16 kindergarten students and a teacher killed in Dunblane, Scotland. Germany: nine high school students, three teachers and three passersby killed in Winnenden. Australia: 35 killed and 23 wounded at the Port Arthur historic site in Tasmania. Canada: 14 young women killed and 14 others injured at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. The key difference between the U.S. and the rest of the world is that these other events sparked widespread national outrage and led directly to a political consensus on the need for changes to gun ownership rules, specifically access to handguns and the military-style rifles most frequently used in mass shootings. The U.S., alone among western nations, is apparently immune to this sort of response.

MORE: The one thing the Orlando shooting may change

There’s certainly been plenty of outrage and political heat generated by the Orlando shootings, but very little of it has been directed in ways that will solve the problem. Republican presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump has used the attack to lash out at Muslim immigrants, ignoring the fact that previous mass shootings, including Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, had nothing to do with religion. Democrat Hillary Clinton has sensibly called for a reinstatement of the assault weapon ban in place in the U.S. between 1994 and 2004, but keep in mind President Barack Obama used his own post-shooting comments to lament his inability to push similar gun-control measures through an intractable Congress.

MORE: Scott Feschuk translates Trump’s Orlando speech

The sad truth is that most Americans prefer to talk about other things instead of summoning the courage necessary to shift their deadly national obsession with guns. This may be due to a deep love of owning firearms, or a widespread suspicion of government, or simply the sheer scale of the task at hand. The fact that nearly half of all civilian-owned firearms in the world are in the U.S. may be leading to a feeling of resignation that the problem is simply too big to tackle: there are already too many guns out there to make a difference. Weaning the U.S. off its guns is certainly a huge and daunting task. But nothing should be considered impossible for America.

In the wake of the Port Arthur shootings in Australia, for example, the federal government launched a massive buy-back program that reduced gun circulation by 20 per cent and nearly halved the number of gun-owning Australian households. Recent research indicates this led to a substantial decline in gun deaths from both homicide (35-50 per cent) and suicide (74 per cent). And there have been no mass shootings since the buy-back. A U.S. program proportionate in scale to Australia’s would remove up to 60 million guns from circulation. In Britain, the 1996 Dunblane massacre prompted a strict ban on handguns; the country has experienced only one mass shooting since then. Similarly, the 1994 to 2004 ban on assault rifles in the U.S. demonstrably reduced criminals’ access to large-capacity, rapid-fire guns.

MORE: Disarming the American gun problem

Besides limiting the accessibility of military-style weaponry, the other obvious issue to be confronted is mental illness. Mass shootings are nearly always the work of dangerously unstable individuals. Dealing with mental illness remains an enormous challenge for all societies, but once again, small steps are the way forward. In a modest achievement recognizing this fact, since 2004, 40 U.S. states have tightened gun laws to restrict sales to people with psychiatric problems. Consider it a start.

It may take still more time for public opinion and political leadership to finally come to terms with the horrors of gun violence in the U.S. And it may take decades to solve the problem. But someday, America will inevitably realize the right to live without fear of dying in a mass shooting outweighs the right to own guns designed to cause mass shootings.


 

How America can change its relationship with guns

  1. It requires a culture change….and America’s values come from Hollywood.

  2. I live in America. The perceived solution is for more individuals to buy their own guns to protect themselves and others. Unfortunately, it is and has always been a deeply anchored belief here.

    • I believe there were armed security guards in the club when this happened. The police were on scene as well.
      .
      The perceived solution does not seem to be working.

      • If you go to the doctor and still die should other people not see theirs? Nothing is for certain. If the security guard had shot Mateen we’d never have heard about this.

      • Do you think for a moment that if the policeman that was on scene had not engaged the subject that there would not have been a much higher casualty rate? Had that nut bar had another 5-10 min of indiscriminate shooting, the death toll could/would have been a number of X higher. I suggest that it did work and probably saved 100 lives or more(?)

  3. “Similarly, the 1994 to 2004 ban on assault rifles in the U.S. demonstrably reduced criminals’ access to large-capacity, rapid-fire guns.”

    Nonsense. The “assault weapons” ban banned firearms by criteria- pistol grips, carrying handles, bayonet lugs, flash eliminators, semi-auto, detachable magazines. For a gun to be sold the manufacturer simply had to remove enough of the bad bits- normally the bayonet lug, carrying handle and flash eliminator. Occasionally a “thumb hole” stock would be needed to comply. Guns and high capacity magazines made before the ban were grandfathered and became more expensive. No one who wanted to buy a legal AR-15 was prevented by the federal law. After the law expired violent crime continued to decline probably due to the end of the crack wars. It was certainly not because people buying a legal AR-15 had to pay more to have a bayonet lug.

    All the assault weapons ban did was to create a market for items that would make “post-ban” guns look like “pre-ban” and allowed people to mark up the price of pre-ban items.

  4. There is no one gun culture. There are many ways to look at guns. A hunter’s perception may be quite different than someone who collects high end museum quality pieces. It may also differ from a cops or target shooters. One person may have guns for all of these purposes or any combination. They will certainly differ from a drug dealer who carries a pistol to protect himself from the competition.

    There’s no public safety advantage to changing the “culture” of hunters, target shooters or collectors. The “gun culture” that most needs changing is the inner city gang and drug situation.

    • Time to give up the excuses, and become a civilized country.

    • How many hunters go shooting with a pistol?
      How many museum collectors buy a civilian-ish assault rifle?
      If you are a target shooter, why would you need or want a large capacity magazine?

      • I’m not sure what your point is. There are tens of millions of gun owners in the US and the vast majority never harm anyone. But since you asked.

        Handgun hunting: Tens perhaps hundreds of thousands
        Collectors who own military rifles: hundreds of thousands
        Magazines: depends on the type of competition.

        • Today I learned handgun hunting is a thing. Every hunter I’ve ever known uses a rifle or bow, but not everyone does. Huh.

          My comment meant semi-automatic, primarily ‘self-defense’ handguns. If you want a long barrel, scoped handgun – go for it. Those aren’t the kind of weapon used to hold up gas stations.

          My comment was about your contention of ‘high end museum quality pieces’. Those collections don’t buy a brand new AR-15 – and could probably pass any background checks.

          Any National competitions don’t require large capacity magazines.

          • If you just learned today that handgun hunting exists how can you immediately decide what kind of handguns should be used?

            Is it possible that your ideas about AR-15s are also faulty? Who are you to say what collectors buy? BTW all AR-15s aren’t new. Very low serial number or experimental models or ones attached to a celebrity or historical figure could be quite collectable. If you’re shocked about AR-15s you should also be mortified by all the other semi-autos- some of which are close to 100 years old.

            Your notions on pistol competitions are also wrong- see 2 and 3 Gun matches, IPSC and IDPA as four types of shooting that competitors use large capacity magazines. I expect you to say they aren’t required which is true in the same sense that metal golf clubs aren’t required to play in the PGA.

  5. An attempt to discuss America’s gun culture without addressing the Second Amendment is a real headscratcher. Is Maclean’s legitimately proposing a solution here, or are they simply tut-tutting our southern neigbours? The absence of the Constitution in this article leads me to believe it is the latter.

    What is the solution then? “Gun free” cities that have been controlled by Democrats are the cities that boast the highest gun violence per capita. Restricting access to guns ensures that those who are law abiding citizens (like the patrons of the Pulse nightclub last Saturday night) will be unarmed. Those that would commit acts of gun violence obviously would be undeterred by such gun control laws.

    This article brings up the idea of a buy-back program, where citizens turn their guns in to the government, presumably for some type of remuneration. This is where the left falls considerably short on their message. Consider the law abiding gun owner that respects the power of the gun and treats it responsibly. He sees these mass shootings and is as disturbed by it as anyone else. The government then comes to him and says “turn in your weapon so we can prevent these shootings from happening again.” Do you see the disconnect there? How does this person no longer having a gun have any impact on the criminals that intend to use their firearms to commit acts of violence? How does giving up his gun make him any more safe? None of the victims at Pulse had any firearms during the shooting, so how were they protected?

    The United States was forged by the gun. It is written into their constitution for the intent of holding the government to account. While people might scoff at this, history is replete with instances of government becoming usurpaticous, which only demonstrates the importance of the Second Amendment. As such, America’s gun culture runs far deeper than Hollywood (as one imbecile has suggested). Tut-tutting articles such as this that avoid any attempts at understanding the route of gun culture accomplish nothing beyond the fostering of ignorance.

    • Yes, American patriots will loudly proclaim that the constitution is integral to their life, and that it must be respected.

      Funny how many of the same people have suggested that banning/restricting Muslims is the solution. Completely ignoring that freedom of religion is the first amendment to the constitution.

      • I agree with your first paragraph.

        Your second paragraph makes no sense. Who exactly is in favour of “banning/restricting” Muslims? What does that even mean? If you are referring to Trump’s proposed ban on allowing Muslims to immigrate to the US, then this has nothing to do with the Constitution as the Constitution does not apply to non-Americans living outside of the US.

        • Trump has repeatedly singled out the Muslim faith for the acts of one sick person.
          Trump has stated that the Muslim community knew about these attacks (Pulse and San Bernadino) and didn’t do anything.
          Trump has said that he would require Muslims to register.

          But you are right on one point – he isn’t outright banning (yet), just pointing the blame squarely at one faith, and requiring registration.

        • And I just read Trump’s speech about Orlando has suggested/stated that his ban on Muslim immigration should be retroactive. The shooter should have been kicked out because his parents are Muslims from Afghanistan.

    • If the political and popular will existed to do it, the Second Amendment could be repealed.

      In this instance, prior to the Orlando shooting, the shooter was a law-abiding gun-owner who purchased his gun legally and was considered responsible enough with firearms to be able to use them professionally.

    • “Gun free” cities that have been controlled by Democrats are the cities that boast the highest gun violence per capita.

      Some questions about that: Were these cities declared “gun free” to try to curb the already-existing high level of violence? Did the level of violence increase or decrease after the declaration as “gun free”?

      Your statement implies they are more violent because they are gun-free. I haven’t done the research (it is your claim, after all) but I strongly suspect you are putting up a straw man.

      • “Gun free” cities come after crime gets out of control and doesn’t work because the criminals don’t care about laws and if the criminals don’t care the people who arm themselves to protect against crime aren’t stupid enough to give up their guns.

        The entire idea of “gun free zones” is absurd as it tells predators in what locations they are least likely to meet resistance.

  6. This shooting won’t change a thing.

    Unless the next mass shooting happens in the US Congress – there will be no change. No lessons will be learned, no takeaway actions followed. 50 people died, thousands have had their lives horribly affected and in a couple months – something similar will happen again.

    America could fix this, but there’s no chance they will.

  7. It all comes down to the NRA. Until the Democrats are in the White House and have a majority in the Senate and House, nothing will happen. When they control everything they need a President to start initiating sane gun laws and not fear repercussions from the nutjobs at the NRA. And in fact it would go a long way if they can have the NRA deemed a terrorist organization for some of their remarks.

    • Give us a few examples of “sane gun laws”. My bet is you don’t know what the current laws are.

      While you’re at it give us an example of NRA remarks that would make them terrorists?

      I’m glad to hear the NRA controls the courts. Who knew?

      • Sane gun laws? Simple – pick pretty much any of the US’ allies and look at what the gun laws are there.

        Of course, the US is severely hampered in terms of what it can do with gun laws by the Second Amendment; it might mean a one-term presidency, and a loss of a lot of senators and congressmen in the following election, but amending or repealing that Amendment would be the best place to start.

        • I expected you to dodge the questions.

          Amending the US constitution requires 2/3 of both houses and the states. It’s not a matter of a politically brave president. The reason the 2nd Amendment will not be removed is that people, rightly, don’t trust politicians.

  8. I believe that per capita the heaviest armed nation in the world is Switzerland. All young men serve time in the Swiss Military. Upon completion of their service they remain in a national reserve. During their service and after they keep their military weapon at their home along with ammunition. These include fully automatic weapons with 1000’s of rounds of ammunition. This results in the fact that almost every home in Switzerland is equipped with military weaponry.
    However with this situation in place, we DO NOT see an associated level of killings (mass or otherwise) taking place in Switzerland.

    I suspect that the availability of guns may effect the choice of weapons used by these sorts of individuals. I do not believe that removing guns would stop the individuals that are bent on committing crimes of mass killings from taking place. The nut bars would adjust to using another method such as IUD’s, home made pipe bombs etc. etc.
    Then of course there is the old problem that if they banned hand guns in the USA today and if 100% of the law abiding citizens turned in their weapons, the only folks outside of law men and the military that would have handguns are the criminals and those bent on illegal activities. They already have them and no matter what law you pass, they will always have them.
    The problem is not guns, it is what and how an individual thinks and believes, and how to keep guns or any weapon (home made or otherwise) out of the hands of certain individuals that are bent on committing these atrocities.

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