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In Guns We Trust

InGunsWeTrust

Whether you’re pro or anti gun, you think you have a “God given” right to own one, or you think that they should be obliterated from the face of the Earth, it’s time to really talk about the gun, which has been a lynchpin obsession of mankind since the Chinese put gunpowder in a tube and fire came out.

People on both sides of the gun control debate are woefully uneducated about the gun. First a quick history.

Guns were developed by the Chinese in the 12th century, and worked their way into Europe during the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. They gradually replaced hand-to-hand combat weapons like axes, pikes, maces, and the sword as a primary weapon of choice because they make killing not only more depersonalized, but more convenient, ostensibly safer, with greater a volume of kills.

Guns also turned millions of people who would not be able to fight with other conventional weapons into serviceable warriors. The gun removes two barriers to homicide: Strength and courage.

Wield an axe? It requires huge physical strength. Aim a bow? It also requires strength and agility.

Sword fighting, the last mass weapon of choice, requires skill, agility, and both enormous risk and courage. A swordsman has to engage others at close range, and puts their own life at equal peril at all times when using the weapon.

It is that element of personal fortitude that kept the sword as the last to fall to the gun. Its adherents considered it a manly instrument of war.

Before WWI, Hiram Maxim developed the machine gun. “Unfortunately for Maxim the British army high command could see no real use for the oil-cooled machine gun he demonstrated to them in 1885; other officers even regarded the weapon as an improper form of warfare.”[1]

Hand cannons became muskets became machine guns and now semi-automatic and fully automatic weaponry with devastating potential that elevates the individual into an efficient mass killing machine capable of dispatching dozens, or hundreds of lives with a single weapon.

The handgun, assault rifle, and machine gun, as opposed to the shotgun/hunting rifle, are the ultimate low-impact human killing machines. When a handgun or non-hunting/sporting rifle is manufactured, its intent is to kill human beings.

This is an uncomfortable truth that gun advocates immediately will knee-jerk as an “anti-gun” assertion.  It is a fact, and the bottom line fact of the device. A gun has two uses: To kill, and to threaten to kill.

The arms industry knowingly equips people with the intent of them killing one another.  The best part for gun manufacturers is that the weapons sell themselves. One person uses the product, and fearful people will go out and get one just as powerful or more so, thinking that it keeps them safe from the last generation of latest greatest guns.

Rationale of the Use of a Gun. Guns provide several advantages to other types of weapons.

  • Power – The power to take a life, or to exert coercive control over others, is huge. Gun culture is all about it. Guns have been a symbology of male power, and, more recently, female power. They’re a .45 phallus as anyone from James Bond to Biggie Smalls will tell you.[2]
  • Sex – Guns have been woven into the sexuality of our culture for generations. Movies and television are rife with Bond girls dripping off them and gangsters have gorgeous scantily clad women at their beck and call.
  • Heredity – We know, from a 2010 study, that conservatives which includes a large number of those who carry weapons, have enlarged fear centers in their brains. Guns provide some level of control and comfort to those with this trait.[3]
  • Level playing field – Guns remove physical size, power, and agility as barriers to being able to kill, or threaten to kill, with extreme lethality.
  • Killing at a distance. Sometimes great distances, as any good sniper will tell you. Guns allow the user to take cover that protects them, and still kill effectively.
  • Killing with less confrontation - Guns provide great advantage. A person can be killed without knowing they are in danger of losing their lives without having to physically overpower or find ways to chemically subdue them.
  • Killing accuracy – The modern gun also allows for the gun holder to compensate for poor aim by firing repeatedly, or, in the case of guns with laser sights or scopes, with extreme precision.
  • Killing more frequently –   Modern guns allow for killing more than one living thing in rapid succession.
  • Killing/Wounding efficiently – The gun tears through flesh and allows for instantly disabling or killing the holder’s victim with great efficiency and speed.
  • Killing instantly –  Unlike explosives, poison, rocks, and other means of mayhem, gun’s instant kill makes death the far more likely outcome.
  • Killing for everyone – Guns eliminate physical strength and agility as barriers to entry and can make anyone feel that they have the potential to put themselves on an equal footing with those who would seek them harm of any size, strength or will to kill.  Guns are so simple to operate that a child can kill. Sadly, all too often, they do.

Gun myths: The NRA is the mouthpiece of the multi-billion dollar gun industry. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has stoked gun myths to keep the small arms industrial complex profitable for 141 years.  It spends over $1M on politicians, $2M-$3M a year on paid lobbyists in Washington, D.C., 53% of whom have worked in government, and $18.9M on outside spending to influence voters and/or politicians.[1][2]  It has been one of the most successful organizations in the history of American politics not just at lobbying, but at influencing mainstream American culture to the point that there their mantras can be repeated reflexively by millions of Americans without even thinking about the origin of the catchphrase.

gunmyth1Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”   Proponents see this as a justification that their weapon is harmless unless used with intent. Bad people use guns badly.

Of course the same can be said of tanks and nuclear warheads. Yet Bubba can’t sport a 1.2 megaton warhead in his gun rack, or a working Sherman tank on the lawn.  We prohibit and highly license excessive collection of explosives like TNT, and monitor the traffic of large amounts of fertilizers that can be weaponized.  Why? Their potential for mass destruction.

Yet we seem to turn a blind eye to guns that can fire more than 10 rounds in an instant. The NRA has lobbied so well that  one of its key mouthpieces, Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) passed a series of legislative amendments to various bills (“pork”) that prohibit the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), from even releasing the statistics it tracks on gun violence using high-round weapons.[4]

gunmyth2We don’t need to keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. We need to keep them out of the hands of criminals.”  It’s a great thought that makes sense to a lot of Americans.  There’s a tiny little problem though. You don’t become a criminal until you use a gun in a criminal manner.  Most of the people who pass into the realm of criminal gun violence never used a gun before.  Just about all of the mass shootings were committed by people with no past criminal history at all and virtually no history of gun crime.  Near zero with any prior history of attempting anything like the mass murders that they committed.

The NRA likes to tout statistics that law abiding citizens, particularly those with concealed carry permits that are now available in 49 of 50 states, don’t commit crime. That’s because, as this Huffington Post article aptly points out, those who cross the line into “criminal” are dropped from the data.

gunmyth3“I need a gun to protect myself.”  The NRA fills the media with stories of first-name-only weapon-toting-titans who bravely fend off intruders, rapists, and serial killers with their trusty firearm. You are your greatest predator, though.  Many people will tell you that the gun’s positive purpose is as a protective device.

The majority of deaths by gun in America are suicides.[5] I’m not depressed or suicidal, though, you say to yourself.  I must be safer in my home with a gun.  Statistics don’t back up that fantasy.

The likelihood is far greater that the gun, no matter how it is stored and maintained, will be used by you on yourself, against you by a family member or intruder, or will result in your death at the end of another gun pointed at you. Add alcohol or drug abuse, histories of family violence, clinical depression or mental illness to the picture and your chances increase exponentially.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report in 2004 that if anything, has been exacerbated by the increasing lethality of guns being sold today:

“Data from a US mortality follow-back survey were analyzed to determine whether having a firearm in the home increases the risk of a violent death in the home and whether risk varies by storage practice, type of gun, or number of guns in the home. Those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death. The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6). Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.

It is hard for us to obtain more modern data because the NRA reacted to this and prior studies by choking off CDC funding for anything that suggests that the fantasies that they spin about guns aren’t as bad, if not worse, than the lies that the mouthpieces of the Tobacco Association once told.

Further, use of a gun for self protection is amoral. To protect, one must be willing to violate most religious law. Somehow, “Thou shalt not kill,” and its other religious variants, take a faith holiday for gun owners. If you use a weapon as intended, or even threaten to use that weapon, its purpose is to kill. Its only credible threat as a “deterrent” is that it will kill.  Threat or act, if you pick up a weapon to protect yourself, you are violating one of the core principles of Judea-Christian faith, and that of many other faiths as well.  What would Jesus do?  Pick up a handgun and threaten someone?  Gun worshippers follow Hammurabi, not Christ.

gunmyth4“People who kill with a gun will kill again.”  Other than convicted serial murderers, who almost always get the death penalty or life without parole, do most murderers murder again? No.  The Bureau of Justice, found  that only 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested again on homicide charges. [3] A New Jersey study of 336 inmates found it was zero.[6]

Criminals have easy access to guns by way of “law abiding” owners and gun show hucksters who bypass the already weak gun control laws, but while they’re used in slightly over a third of all violent crimes to get people’s attention, few are used with the intent to kill. Still, their absolute and instant lethality makes even the most craven robber into Superman because no one knows whether the armed bandit standing with the weapon is substance-impacted, mentally incompetent or mentally ill enough to use it.

gunmyth5“It’s my God-given right to own a gun.” – Nothing in the Bible speaks to gun ownership. While owning a gun for most Americans under the current system is perfectly legal, owning one puts its owner in the position of radically changing their life, or ending it, at any moment.

Get angry without a gun, develop homicidal rage, and you might find another means of trying to kill, but it’s slower and definitely messier, more complicated, and more likely to result in physical harm to yourself or your loved ones.  A knife?  Poison? Bow and arrow? None are as convenient.

Beyond that, once you pull the trigger not aimed at a deer or a firing range target, you enter a whole new realm.

“As months and years go by, you realize that that one moment of uncontrolled impulse leads to loss of life,” says former “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz, who decades after his mid-1970’s shooting spree, counsels others behind bars struggling with depression and violence. “Next thing you know, for this one moment of unleashing your anger, you go to prison for many, many years.” [7]

Are we really safer, and how big is the problem that guns are supposed to solve? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of 1.2M violent crimes occurred nationwide, 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants.  Violent crime was down 3.8% from 2010, 15.4 percent below the 2007 level and 15.5 percent below the 2002 level.  Gun ownership and conceal and carry remain constant. The ATF has more data, but we have no access to it thanks to Congress’ support of the NRA. What we do know from the FBI:

  • Aggravated assaults accounted for the highest number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement at 62.4 percent.  21.2% of aggravated assaults were at gunpoint.
  • Robbery comprised 29.4 percent of violent crimes
  • Forcible rape accounted for 6.9% of violent crimes
  • Murder accounted for 1.2 percent.   Firearms were used in 67.7% of those murders and 41.3% of robberies.

The majority of all violent crime occurred in the Southern states which also have the most lax gun control laws. The South has 37.2% of the population but 41.3% of the violent crime, more than double the figures for the Midwest and Northeast, and nearly double the rate in the West. The South’s murder rate at 43.6% is double any other region of the country, and they hold the dubious distinction of double-digit leads in major crime categories murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, property crime, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft. By contrast, the Northeast only accounted for 14.5%[8] of murders. 6 in 10 U.S. homicides are gun related, and more than half of them are suicides. [9][10] We have 300M firearms out there to protect against violent crime that affects .4% of the public, and three in ten gun deaths are self-inflicted by the owners.

cultofviolence

The Gun as God – Guns are deified in American culture. They hold a cult status in books, film, television, and music. Use a gun, get attention. Historian Richard Hofstadler coined the phrase “gun culture” in the 1970s to describe the phenomena. [11]  An second in the day does not go by where an act of brutal gun violence is not played out on a movie, television or computer screen.  We’ve sanctified and saturated violence to such a fever pitch in America that our citizens are desensitized to that violence and millions participate in killing other humans, at least passively, by way of their on-screen heroes or acting out themselves in “safe” video games that market clean carnage.

“One day, I hope that guns will lose their glamour, that it would be seen a social disapproval for those in gangs,” says serial-killer Berkowitz. ” I know that’s a bit simplistic, but to me the whole tragedy is that young people are losing direction and don’t value life or have no clue why they’re on this Earth.”[7]

Between the gun industry and the larger military defense industry, the vast majority of money spent in the world does not feed, clothe, educate, or lift people out of poverty. The majority of money spent on Earth is still assessed to kill humans.

12,000 years of evolution and 875 million guns in the world. 8 million more every year.[12]  72,916 guns per recorded year of human history, although the majority arrived in the last fifty.

We need to have a larger debate, on mental health, on fear and its role in gun ownership and gun discharges. Guns are part of a more complex weave of human disorders and frailties, like drug abuse.  They are the violent period at the end of too many human tragedies.

The industry can install single-user electronics that use fingerprint matching to prevent a weapon from being shared. There could be greater safe-storage requirements. Reduce maximum discharge to 10 rounds a clip. Compel people to take annual psychological screens as part of licensure, and take their guns away, temporarily or permanently when they show signs of depression, sociopathic behavior, or domestic abuse to avoid more “good” guys turning into “bad guys.”

If we’re going forward, not backward, though, how highly evolved do we have to be to take the wanton destruction of human life out of the power games of human culture?

Guns are death. Death at home. Death most often by the closest person to you: You.

Can we find other ways to kill? Sure. With as much lethal force? Maybe. With the ease of the gun?

No.

My shiny two.

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About Brian Ross

Brian Ross is a writer, screenwriter, political satirist, documentarian and short filmmaker who blogs for Truth2Power, the Huffington Post, and the Daily KOS, among others.

4 comments on “In Guns We Trust

  1. Asim
    December 26, 2012

    Awesomely written. I am Impressed with the hard work put in to write this up

  2. Pingback: Who, Exactly, is a “Criminal”? The Bad Guys are “Law Abiding” Citizens More Often « truth-2-Power

  3. Pingback: Jesus and the Handgun « truth-2-Power

  4. Pingback: The Handgun, Stupid: Anti Gun Violence Organizations’ Gift to the NRA | truth-2-Power

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