I write this out of my European perspective after another shooting, whereby I should note gun ownership is limited in the European Union to those who are licensed gun owners, after passing a background check which considers criminal and various other records.
In the Netherlands gun ownership was first restricted by law in 1890; private possession of handguns is considered a privilege not a right and only permitted under strict licence conditions to law enforcement, hunters and member of shooting clubs, while fully automatic weapons are prohibited.
With the horrifying murders of Martin Luther King, JFK and RFK during my lifetime in mind, I can only look in amazement at the United States and wonder why America’s politicians have failed to meet the moral challenges of our time and have allowed the United States to become the most violent country in the civilized world.
The proliferation of 300 million guns is a symptom of the culture in the United States, a nation which has 4,4 % of the world population and owns 48% of all civilian owned guns, resulting in a gun related murder rate which is 25 times higher than in other high-income nations.
Today the United States is a country where children and teens live in anxiety, with justified fear for their life which has an impact on their psychological, mental well-being and school performance, just like people in general are being effected by being exposed to gun violence also given racial inequalities.
It’s not surprising that responsible parents from across the great pond and elsewhere in the world feel great reluctance to let their children study or visit in this climate of fear, hate and violence.
The conclusion is warranted, America as a civilized society is failing in its moral and logical responsibility to protect the citizen against aggression and criminal behaviour. Above all America is failing in its responsibility to protect its children of which Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States said “Children are our most valuable resource.”
To place the history of gun control in perspective, given the illegal activities during Prohibition period, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 and the attempted assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, gun control was first regulated by law in 1934 via the National Firearms Act (NFA), which imposed a statutory excise tax on the manufacture and transfer of certain firearms and mandated the registration of those firearms.
The Act was passed shortly after the repeal of Prohibition and was inadequate since conventional pistols and revolvers were ultimately excluded from the Act. In 1968 the NFA became unenforceable when the Supreme Court ruled in Haynes v. United States in favour of the defendant whereby one could possess an NFA firearm and choose not to register it, and not face prosecution due to Fifth Amendment protections.
After the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968 and U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968 there have been attempts in Congress to regulate fire arms which resulted in the Gun Control Act of 1968. But President Johnson efforts to add national registration of all guns as well as licensing for all gun carriers fell short given opposition in Congress.
As President Johnson said at the signing of the bill “The voices that blocked these safeguards were not the voices of an aroused nation. They were the voices of a powerful lobby, a gun lobby, that has prevailed for the moment in an election year.”
In 1981 U.S. President Ronald Reagan, his press secretary Jim Brady and two others were shot which exacerbated the debate on gun control that began with the December 1980 handgun murder of John Lennon. Reagan expressed opposition to increased handgun control following Lennon’s death and re-iterated his opposition after his own shooting.
Remarkably Ronald Reagan after he left office embraced further gun control legislation as proposed in the Brady Law of 1993, stating in his opinion article in the New York Times of March 29, 1991“this level of violence must stop,” words which are echoed today after each new killing. The Brady bill established federal background checks of firearm buyers for criminal records and histories of mental disturbance.
No less important was Mr. Reagan’s endorsement in 1994 of the assault weapons ban that was a major attempt to deal with efforts by domestic arms makers to sell adapted weapons of war to civilian buyers in the name of sportsmanship. “We can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,” Mr. Reagan declared in a joint letter to Congress with former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford.
However the Brady bill was not a structural solution to the gun problem, only restricting ownership of “semi-automatic assault guns,“as part of the Violent Crime Act and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 which narrowly passed, with the prohibitions expiring in 2004.
The result of the “do nothing” attitude in Congress, influenced and financed by the NRA has been catastrophic and leads to the sad conclusion members in Congress have been short on courage, long on empty words but have walked away from their responsibilities and have failed to balance the different interests in society, like they have failed to address the divisions in society and in Congress.
Each new senseless slaughter of children, with Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine high, Umpqua college, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas and Portland springing to mind, is an affront to humanity.
It must be said, the public shows of sympathy and sadness are indeed touching, beautiful, heart-breaking and hypocritical, but they have changed nothing. Just as each teary eyes President, showing at the right moment deep emotions and sorrow while speaking the right “thoughts and prayers” words which sound with each new slaughter of the innocent increasingly hollow and pathetic.
Today the conclusion can only be that with each horrific attack Presidents and politicians alike have failed to find structural solutions, falling short in their moral leadership to the country.
Contrary what some suggest, the answer is not more guns which will only increase gun related suicides and gun deaths, but guns need to be restricted and order needs to be restored. This “1791 gun disease” and its root causes need to be addressed or is the United States as a civilized society so morally corrupt that we must conclude that children in modern day American society are a throw away article and are totally insignificant.
There is a mood of anarchism which has been created by these gun addicts and by those who have semi-automatic and automatic weapons. These people with their inaccurate constitutional arguments have a pathological addiction to guns, death and violence.
These are the anarchists of today and tomorrow, the home grown terrorists of today who do not believe in law enforcement, government or the rule of law. As FBI director Mueller said in a speech in 2006 “these extremists are self-recruited, self-trained, and self-executing.”
These self-radicalized white nationalists are since the Oklahoma bombings by Timothy McVeigh a growing problem and have found in Donald J Trump a new symbol for their white identity, a rallying point for their grievances whereby they seek to dominate society by any form of intimidation possible, as the murder of Heather Heyer at the neo-Nazi “Jews will not replace us” rally in Charlottesville and attacks such as on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh have shown.
Since Trump there have been the attacks on immigrants and minorities and consequently there has been a rise in the frequency of hate crime attacks and domestic terrorism attacks often in populations demonized by Trump as a candidate and following his inauguration by the Trump administration. Trump’s failure to renounce white nationalism, white supremacy and his support for conspiracy theories is symptomatic and reminds about Woodrow Wilson’s “failure of moral conscience.”
But we are not living in 1791 when the second Amendment was adopted or in the 18th or 19th century when guns were necessary, but this is the 21st century which environment and culture is different and those in the NRA or pro-gun politicians who think they need guns suffer from a form of mental illness or at best are delusional.
Today there is a urgent need for fundamental and structural changes to the gun laws, in order to regulate firearms and prohibit automatic and semi-automatic military-style weapons. It makes sense to tighten background checks, ownership rules, and institute a temporary gun buyback program for assault weapons similar to Australia’s 1996 program.
How do the figures look on which this is based:
Following an earlier study in 2003 by Erin G. Richardson and David Hemenway, “Homicide, suicide, and unintentional firearm fatality: comparing the United States with other high-income countries, 2003” a new study published in 2016 in the American institute of medicine called “Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010,” the authors Erin Grinshteyn and David Hemenway compared the United States to 22 other high-income nations and found in the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher.
Even though it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the United States accounted for 82 percent of all gun deaths. And, even though the United States’ suicide rate is similar to other countries, the nation’s gun-related suicide rate is eight times higher than other high-income countries
In 2010, the US homicide rate was 7.0 times higher than the other high-income countries, driven by a gun homicide rate that was 25.2 times higher. For 15- to 24-year-olds, the gun homicide rate in the United States was 49.0 times higher. Firearm-related suicide rates were 8.0 times higher in the United States, but the overall suicide rates were average. Unintentional firearm deaths were 6.2 times higher in the United States.
The overall firearm death rate in the United States from all causes was 10.0 times higher. Ninety percent of women, 91% of children aged 0 to 14 years, 92% of youth aged 15 to 24 years, and 82% of all people killed by firearms were from the United States.
In 2010, there were >16,000 homicide deaths in the United States, a rate of 5.3 per 100,000 population. Some two thirds of these were firearm homicides, a rate of 3.6 per 100,000
In 2010, the rate of homicide deaths in non-US high-income countries was 0.8 per 100,000 population and the firearm homicide rate was 0.1 per 100,000.
Compared with 2003 estimates, the US firearm death rate remains unchanged while firearm death rates in other countries decreased. Thus, the already high relative rates of firearm homicide, firearm suicide, and unintentional firearm death in the United States compared with other high-income countries increased between 2003 and 2010.
The authors concluded, “overall, our results show that the United States, which has the most firearms per capita in the world, 31 suffers disproportionately from firearms compared with other high-income countries. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that our firearms are killing us rather than protecting us.”
September 1st, 2019
William J J Houtzager
-European Union -Gun facts, figures and the Law https://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/european-union
-Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010.
-Homicide, suicide, and unintentional firearm fatality: comparing the United States with other high-income countries, 2003
-Director Robert S. Mueller, III speech June 23, 2006
-Johnson, Lyndon B. (October 22, 1968).
-NYT Opinion – When Ronald Reagan Embraced Gun Control by Francis X Clines October 8, 2015
-NYT Opinion – Why I’m for the Brady Bill by Ronald Reagan March 29, 1991
-Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes
-Gun Control Around the World: A Primer – Lessons from Canada to Japan
-Woodrow Wilson: A Biography – by John Milton Cooper Jr.