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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