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The NRA is right — and that’s why it’s wrong

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
Where the NRA has gone wrong is assuming that our society, our culture, and our citizens can manage the massive number of firearms we have flooded into our nation, and the easy access we have given irresponsible and mentally unstable people to acquire a wide range of guns, including assault rifles.

If the headline on this commentary seems to be a rather odd conclusion, and an oxymoron, let me explain.

The NRA through all the recent mass killings (including the one at Newtown, Conn., one year ago today), recurring individual deaths from firearms, and shoot ‘em ups in malls, campuses, offices and airports constantly make these points:

It’s not guns that kill people, it the fault of the user. Further, we need greater mental-health services to stem shootings by deranged individuals. Additionally, if we had more guns, the average citizen could protect himself/herself better.

Well, starting at the top, let’s say for the sake of discussion, that it is not guns that kill people, it is the user. The problem here is that in America, we have a unique society that is not equipped to manage, control, or use guns safely. Moreover, we have weak regulation of firearms that is poorly monitored. Worse yet, we have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world; and the highest rate of firearm related murders of all developed nations. Americans have 88.8 guns per 100 people, with 270,000,000 guns in possession of our citizens.

No other industrialized country comes even close to that kind of firearm prevalence. The U.S. has over 50 percent more firearms per capita than the next two highest nations, Serbia and Yemen, and three times as many as major European countries such as France and Germany.

The case of Switzerland

But of even more interest is Switzerland, which is in 4th place in gun ownership. But that country has far fewer deaths by gunshot than we do; less than 1 per 100,000 residents, while our rate is over 3 per 100,000. The differences are in the way the Swiss manage their firearms, and the attitudes of Swiss society. The law allows citizens or legal residents over the age of 18, who have obtained a permit from the government and who have no criminal record or history of mental illness, to buy up to three weapons from an authorized dealer, with the exception of automatic firearms and selective fire weapons, which are banned. But unlike Americans, the Swiss have a homogeneous culture, based on responsibility, and passed down the generations. It is a culture that in no way can be transposed to the reality of today’s American society. And that is why, when the NRA claims it is “people,” not guns, that kill, they are correct.

 Where they are wrong is they have misjudged American society, with its Wild West mentality, high level of poverty and street crime, inordinate amount of violence in the media, and a dangerous proliferation of weapons. All of which has created a deadly mixture of death, injury and crime for our country.

As to their insistence that more mental health is needed to prevent these mass shootings, they are also correct. But again, they are operating on an assumption and goal that are not being achieved in America, thus they continue to insist on placing more guns into our society whereby irresponsible and mentally unstable people will have access to them. We are woefully short of mental-health-care facilities and resources. 

A nation awash in guns

As for more guns to protect ourselves, that is 180 degrees the wrong approach. The NRA has suggested we arm teachers. They have proposed placing armed guards in schools. They suggest ordinary citizens arm themselves and take shooting courses. They have proposed numerous “stand your ground” laws like the controversial one in Florida. And recently, the TSA requested that its employees be armed. What we have here is a nation that is awash in firearms, has the highest murder rate among industrialized nations, and has more guns coming into our society by the day. This is a formula for further crime, death, and danger to us all.

In fact, there is no evidence that more guns will create a safer society, or that guns are a deterrent to crime and murder or injury. But there is evidence that fewer guns make for a safer society. The country with the lowest number of guns per person also is the one with the fewest gun deaths. That would be Japan.

Yes, the NRA is correct, it is people who kill, not guns; and mental illness is a major cause of such mass shootings. Where they have gone wrong is assuming that our society, our culture, and our citizens can manage the massive number of firearms we have flooded into our nation, and the easy access we have given irresponsible and mentally unstable people to acquire a wide range of guns, including assault rifles. And we have given that access with as little regulation as the NRA can possibly achieve nationally, statewide and locally.

That is why the NRA is right, and why it is wrong.

Myles Spicer, formerly of Minnetonka, lives in Palm Desert, Calif. He spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.


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Comments (32)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/13/2013 - 05:01 pm.

    The mentally ill

    are actually -less- violent than the population as a whole.
    Treating mental illness is a goal in itself, not a way to reduce violence.
    Violent individuals are often characterized as mentally ill AFTER they commit an act of violence — few have a prior history of mental illness.
    Mental illness and violence are two separate problems, both of which merit appropriate attention.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/13/2013 - 08:31 pm.

    Another commentary

    from a data-gathering perspective:

    The authors take the mental health angle and carry it farther, suggesting that the appalling rate of firearms deaths in the U.S. be treated as a public health issue instead of a purely legal one. What usually goes unsaid or unnoticed in the debate is that a sizable number of firearms deaths every year are suicides. That, too, supports Mr. Spicer’s allegation that the NRA’s stance is simultaneously right and wrong.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 12/14/2013 - 09:52 am.

      Good points, Ray

      It should be emphasized that ‘public health issue’ is not the same as ‘mental health issue’. The relationship is between guns and death and injury; not on any specific cause of gun use. I believe that the CDC takes the same approach.
      And you are right about the relationship between suicide and gun possession. Having access to a gun makes suicide much more likely. It is not true that anyone who wants to commit suicide will find a way. Another way of looking at it is to note that people who try to kill themselves and fail usually do not try again. Guns make failure at suicide much less likely.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/15/2013 - 06:12 pm.

        For a suicide reference, consider another industrialized nation.

        With nearly no civilian gun ownership, Japan achieves a suicide rate nearly twice that of the U.S. How do they do it? One popular method involves producing a gas from common household liquids. Banning those would not address the root cause of suicide, and until you address the root cause of any problem, you have not addressed the problem at all.

        • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/16/2013 - 11:56 am.


          You have to ask though would their suicide rate be higher or lower if they had ready access to guns. Yes, Japan does indeed need to address the root cause of suicides, as do all nations with a substantial suicide rate. But that does not mean we can’t make it more difficult to so easily commit suicide by making the method harder to obtain.

      • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/16/2013 - 11:52 am.

        Suicide Attempts

        Only about 2% of people who attempt suicide go on to try again.

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/16/2013 - 12:16 pm.


          Only 2%? Is that due to a high success rate of first attempts?

          In Japan, suicide is the leading cause of death for men 20-44 and for women 15-34. They seem unimpeded by lack of guns. As always and everywhere, motivated people accomplish their goals. Taking away their tools and household cleaners doesn’t address their motivations.

  3. Submitted by David LaPorte on 12/14/2013 - 08:48 am.

    Don’t try to make sense out of nonsense

    The NRA’s arguments are fundamentally illogical. They are essentially the lobbying arm for firearms manufacturers and will oppose any legislation that will reduce the income of their bosses. But they can’t reveal their true motivations because then no one would take them seriously.

    If you think that the NRA is a membership organization that represents the views of their membership, think again. The Washington Post reported that 74% of NRA members supported instant background checks for gun sales at gun shows while a CBS/New York Times poll put the number at 80%. Yet the NRA is staunchly opposed to instant background checks. If they were representing the views of their members, they’d support instant background checks. But they’re representing the views of firearms manufacturers, who oppose them.

    The NRA misrepresents themselves as advocating the views of their members to gain a political advantage. But it isn’t so.

    • Submitted by myles spicer on 12/14/2013 - 05:37 pm.

      You are precisely correct

      the NRA depends on the dues and subsidies of the gun manufacturers to sustain itself, and they call the shots (no pun intended).

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 12/14/2013 - 10:46 pm.

      It didn’t used to be

      The NRA used to be a much better organization than it is today and I don’t think you will find politicians overtly identifying themselves as members as they did when I was a kid.

      The NRA could regain their former stature, but others are right when they say that it is all about the money from manufacturers, now; once they were about gun safety and education, but now they are just another manufacturers lobbying organization.

  4. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/14/2013 - 09:36 am.

    I have always encouraged

    every liberal I know to give up their fire arms. It’s quite comforting to know that the American Left rejects the idea of ever arming themselves.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 12/17/2013 - 07:37 pm.

      I doubt you know many…

      since there are many of us that hunt and target shoot. The difference is that we don’t think of our weapons as some sort of replacement for self-worth.

  5. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/14/2013 - 12:33 pm.

    Paul’s comment

    Well Paul, no one would disagree with you about mental illness — but there is a wide range of such illnesses and also a range of degree. It is impossible to filter out those who may be violent and those who are not. The simple answer is to not allow guns to those who are diagnosed with such illnesses, and there is no or little downside to that. The effect is we will then have LESS guns in our society, and LESS risk of danger, and probably LESS incidents where mental illness was a factor in mass shootings.

    Sure we do need more and better mental helath resources, but also less guns available to those who are mentally ill.

  6. Submitted by THOMAS REYNOLDS on 12/15/2013 - 09:42 am.

    Killings by Guns

    The reality is it is not gun ownership… it is about living in a warrior society where we go to war every 10 to 15 years and idolize violent behavior. In a violent society the weapon of choice is a gun. However if the guns were taken away the consequences would be much worse than the sporadic killings and shootings we currently see happening. We see this happening in Mexico which prohibits gun ownership… we see it around the world where only criminals have the weapon of choice, the gun.

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/15/2013 - 12:03 pm.

    right and wrong

    Well, Thomas, I agree as my commentary notes, we do live in a violent society. It was influenced by the Frontier mentality — it is hetrogeneous — and has all the violent traces you mention. However, you are wrong about gun ownership. Into this society we are introducing MORE guns. Does that make sense. You can call out specific countries that prove your point, but Mexico’s violence is strictly drug lords gaining control of local situations. I point to Japan with practically no gun deaths and low gun ownership; or the Swiss who do have guns but manage them and are a non-violent society. No, gun ownership in our environment needs to be controlled, limited, and regulated better if we are to be safer. Unfortunately, the NRA is outspending and out-lobbying the gun control advocates by about 12 to 1. This means (I would guess) your point about greater gun ownership will continue regardless of what we believe

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/16/2013 - 06:06 am.

      “Drone is Obama’s weapon of choice”

      A culture of killing? Consider our leadership.

      Peter Bergen, CNN’s national security analyst, September 2012:

      “(CNN) — Covert drone strikes are one of President Obama’s key national security policies. He has already authorized 283 strikes in Pakistan, six times more than the number during President George W. Bush’s eight years in office.”

      P.S.: Really, Japan? Perhaps, if you wanted to show how much suicide could be accomplished without a gun, Japan would be the example to provide.

  8. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/18/2013 - 11:02 am.


    Let me know where you live…I intend to avoid your house like the plague. Shooting through the door? I can’t wait till the Publishers Clearinghouse comes to your home with a million dollar check.

    As for how we gained our independance, you make an important point. That was over 200 years ago..we were an agrarian society (not densely packed cities with hetrogeneous groups and drug wars)…and there were no assault rifles that could kill dozens in minutes or Satruday Night Specials. Times change, and so shouldour laws (and the Second Amedment as well). Nothing wrong with modifying our laws and Constition, we have done it over 2 dozens times — including one repeal.

  9. Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/19/2013 - 07:57 am.

    My House?

    In an interview published February 25, 2013 by Field & Stream magazine, Biden said, “[if] you want to keep someone away from your house, just fire the shotgun through the door.”

    Myles, are you reading the comments or just writing responses? It is Joe Biden’s house where you don’t want to arrive unannounced. As clearly stated in my previous comment, blasting through the door was advice offered by Joe Biden. This wasn’t the only home defense shotgun advice offered by the VPOTUS. The USNews link below summarizes Joe’s home safety wisdom. Let the record show that I regard this advice to be reckless, ill-advised, and illegal.

    This is the same Joe Biden that led the administration’s gun task force, a group of wise Americans who gathered to tackle this issue and make policy recommendations. You really cannot make-up stuff this good.

    P.S.: Stop by my house anytime; I neither own a shotgun nor follow advice from the VPOTUS.

  10. Submitted by myles spicer on 12/19/2013 - 12:52 pm.

    Thanks Steve

    Then I will avoid Joe Biden’s house (actually he never invited me to visit anyway.

    I actually would like to visit your house, I am sure we could have a fun and spirited conversation. Unfortunately, I now reside in Palm Desert CA, so it is a bit of a trip and (even as a third generation Minnesotan) I seem to be adverse to winter. Anyway…have a pleasant Holiday Season.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 12/19/2013 - 01:45 pm.

      Thank You Myles

      I would enjoy visiting too, but your neighborhood would be preferable this month. From the December 15th Brainerd Dispatch, “It hasn’t been this cold for this long in December since Richard Nixon was in the White House and gas was 36 cents per gallon.”

      Were you to visit me, I could promise you no shotgun, no dogs, but a tough feral cat who is learning to make friends. I most enjoy talking with people whose views differ from mine; that is why I enjoy reading MinnPost.

      Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas!

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