24/07/2012

Do Guns Kill or People Kill?

When I first came to Switzerland in 1972, I remember standing on the train platform in Bern and seeing rifles lined up outside a restaurant. Soldiers had left their weapons unattended while eating. Coming from my New York experiences in the South Bronx and Harlem, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

The recent shootings in Colorado once more raise the question: Do guns kill or people kill? The powerful gun lobby in the United States, the National Rifle Association (NRA), continues to maintain that people kill, and that laws restricting access to weapons will have no effect. Their argument is that with more guns available people will be better protected, much like Professor Kenneth Waltz’s argument that if all countries had nuclear weapons none would use them.


There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States, a hundred and five million rifles, eighty-three million shotguns, and a hundred and six million handguns. The ratio is roughly one gun for every American, more than any other country in the world. The recent killer, James Holmes, carried a .223-calibre Smith & Wesson AR – 15 assault-style rifle, a Remington twelve-gauge shotgun, and a .40 calibre Glock handgun. A second Glock was found in his car. He had bought more than six thousand rounds of ammunition online.

The United States has had several mass killings in recent history: Austin, Texas, 1966; Fullerton, California, 1976; San Ysidro, California, 1984; Edmond, Oklahoma, 1986; Killeen, Texas, 1991; Jonesboro, Arkansas, 1998; Littleton, Colorado, 1999; Brookfield, Wisconsin, 2005; Blacksburg, Virginia, 2007; Binghamton, New York, 2009; Tucson, Arizona, 2011. Each time there is an outcry for stricter gun control laws. Each time there is a national debate about why these horrendous acts take place. Is the American society fundamentally violent? Are there more psychopaths today than before? What is the role of the media in inspiring such acts? What steps can be taken to prevent future atrocities?

The question remains about whether guns kill or people kill and what to do about future prevention. The Small Arms Survey here in Geneva is part of an international effort to better register small arms and light weapons. The major producers of weapons, and certainly the United States, have strongly opposed the measures. Is it reasonable to expect weapons to be limited? Easy access to certain weapons should be limited. People with violent histories should not have access to weapons.

Much has changed since 1972. I no longer see rifles unattended in train stations. Violence has increased everywhere. Taxi drivers are robbed and assaulted in Geneva. Guns kill and people kill. Both should be controlled.


Commentaires

Idiot american people kill, not guns.

Écrit par : Victor Winteregg | 24/07/2012

Your introduction is a very painful reminder for us, older Swiss people or inhabitants of this country of the feelings of honesty, trust and general security that has been lost since then. The example of the army rifles may be unique, but you probably remember that you could leave you bicycle in the street unattended and with only the most fragile lock.
The only consolation we can find for this general evolution is that it extends to most or all other countries. Is it a consolation?

Écrit par : Mère-Grand | 25/07/2012

Your anecdote is another bitter reminder of the loss of the "douceur de vivre" in this country and western Europe in general.

Écrit par : Christian | 25/07/2012

Sir,

« Professor Kenneth Waltz's argument that if all countries had nuclear weapons none would use them » ...

Please allow me to say, without even analyzing it's weight of sense, that Professor Waltz's argument is fallacious for the simple reason that it is not "countries" that are involved here but people. Thus Professor Waltz assertion should be "If all the people in a country (pick your favorite) had a nuclear bomb, none would use it.", to which I would reply, "I'm afraid I don't think so. Someone, is/will-become crazy enough to use it.". That's for the rhetorical aspect of the issue.

Now, for the pratical issues.

What is it that makes this particular event so sensational ?
Why is this issue more sensational than if Holmes killed only 1 person ?
Would that event have been given more or less attention by the media ?
"Mile High Murder: Aurora homicide near Moline Street sixth in city since Memorial Day weekend" titles the weekly Denver Westword. That's roughly one homicide a week, that mainstream media doesn't even care to report. Why ?

There are 48 metro areas in the US with a population over 1 million, and roughly 16'000 people killed each year by homicide or nonnegligent manslaughter, or 44 killed EACH DAY throughout the country, 4 times as many killed as the Aurora shooting, people shooting other people.

It is quite safe and perhaps blunt to say that media picks up such news of a shooting only because of the numbers involved. It's a numbers game for the media, as it's a numbers game for the perpetrator of an indiscriminate shooting. And perhaps, the distinguishing factor between a discriminate and indiscriminate shooting.

So, how did the shooter get his chance to kill and wound so many people ?

It's the weapons that allow him. A 100 round magazine gives more shots than a six-shooter. So, weapons don't kill people, but sophisticated weapons sure damn enable them to shoot more people. It seems then quite logical to restrict the circulation of high capacity weapons. This is already the case for bombs it seems, compared to free-to-sell, free-to-buy firecrackers, isn't it ? If you have to defend against so many assailants that a 6-round revolver or a 11-round automatic gun won't do, then someone is at war with you and you might as well consider a retreat.

Then it was his ability to carry his guns and ammunition on the site. That's quite enabling. Especially when on the way, state troopers give you a go-ahead nod after seeing your guns in display on your back seat.

What other enabling factors added up to reach the body count ?

Well, first he has the *intention* to shoot people. Unable to claim any expertise in psychology, I'll leave it to the pros to elaborate on the matter and try to explain how it can show up.

Then there is the *initiative* that makes him decide to shoot his first shot, the where, the when, obviously a mass event, conditions that give him an advantage, kicking off his rampage when the movie has already started, the theater is very dark and people are paying attention to the screen rather than the alleys, he even lobs a tear gas canister to rush people into a flight and prevent anyone from concentrating their attention onto him.

The deception of a poorly enforced gun-free zone ...

The concealing by dressing up ...

The confusion caused by the effect of surprise ...

With the exception of surprise, when realized it's too late, all other factors were those many signals that should have triggered a search and then a shadow operation, until intention is determined, that is when he steps in the gun-free zone with his guns.

Écrit par : Chuck Jones | 25/07/2012

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