Year of the Gun


Rita reflects on 2015’s biggest issue in American discourse

Does a bullet cause more mayhem to the body, more pain to the victim, if the shooter is labeled a “terrorist” rather than “mentally ill” or a “thug”? If the shooter is a police officer, or the neighborhood drug dealer, or a toddler who thinks the loaded gun is a toy? These are the questions that linger from the year 2015, a year of deadly gun violence in an America that seems at best helpless, at worst unwilling, to tackle the problem. On the last day of the year another tragic headline: a mother shot her own daughter mistaking her for an intruder in their home. For the year’s long catalogue of gun victims, they are just as dead, just as crippled, just as much in pain, no matter what the motivation of the shooter.

But in America at large the labelling of the shooter means everything. Two shootings that happened close in time make the stark contrast. The story of the “mentally disturbed loner” who shot up a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic soon faded from the headlines. It did not strike fear into the hearts of Americans (except probably for employees of Planned Parenthood) nor did it warrant any mentions on the campaign trail. But just a few days later the San Bernardino shooting by a married couple quickly identified as “terrorists” unleashed nationwide hysteria. The media was filled with stories of fearful Americans, a backlash against Muslims, and questions about whether the government, specifically President Obama, was doing enough to protect the public. The focus of the Republican Primary campaign changed completely, the candidates vying with one another for the most bellicose threats against the Islamic State. Carpet bombing till the sand glows, deliberate killing of terrorists’ wives and children, a database of all Muslims in the U.S., nothing seemed too extreme in the face of this danger. When it comes to terrorism Americans want to see strong, immediate action from their politicians. General gun violence, not so much. This despite the fact that while fourteen people died in the San Bernardino shooting, there were a total of 13,312 American deaths from gun violence in 2015 according to the Gun Violence Archive.

What would Americans be willing to do if terrorists shot 13,312 people to death in the homeland in one year? Orwellian wouldn’t really cover it. And one likely result is that they would go out and buy more guns. But what of the current reality, that the vast majority of gun deaths have nothing to do with terrorism? If Americans were told they could save 13,312 lives by giving up their guns would they be willing to do it? Sadly, the evidence says an emphatic no. In my many years embedded as an ex-pat in American culture the one thing I’ve been unable to wrap my head around is the quasi-religious zealotry for the Second Amendment. In the modern age it is clearly a self-destructive force at odds with other bedrock American values. What happened to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness?” These “unalienable rights” count for very little in a nation that has become a shooting gallery. No one can enjoy Liberty while the bullets fly. For all their tough talk the Second Amendment advocates have never justified why their favorite Amendment should trump everything else in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

As a grim year of gunfire ends, this anxious question echoes from America to Europe and beyond. Can governments protect their citizens from terrorist attacks? But here in America another question needs an answer. Can the government protect Americans from themselves?


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About Author Profile: Rita Byrne Tull

Rita Byrne Tull is an ex-pat librarian who lives in Maryland.

6 thoughts on “Year of the Gun

  1. Worm
    January 6, 2016 at 12:07

    americans let the genie out of the bottle too long ago for there probably ever to be a solution, there are just too many guns out there

  2. Brit
    January 6, 2016 at 14:05

    Hard to disagree with Worm’s pessimism.

    There is an assumption amongst control proponents that there will be some sort of tipping point, at which the pile up of horrors will be so bad that it will persuade the pro-gun lobby to give way. But the positions only seem to harden every time.

    Jeff Guinn
    January 6, 2016 at 19:00

    [Rita:] What would Americans be willing to do if terrorists shot 13,312 people to death in the homeland in one year?

    You have made the mistake of moral equivalence. Most of those 13,312 people were inner city blacks killed by other inner city blacks. Unless you are a racist — and I know you aren’t — then you must conclude two things: that those deaths weren’t due to some collective genetic shortcoming, but rather a whole host of grotesque impositions, none of which have anything to do with guns; and, that once having removed from that total the consequences of centuries of abuse, there really isn’t much to talk about in a country of 330 million people.

    [Brit:] There is an assumption amongst control proponents that there will be some sort of tipping point, at which the pile up of horrors will be so bad that it will persuade the pro-gun lobby to give way.

    Except that reality hasn’t been working that way. Starting in the early 1990s, US gun control laws were greatly relaxed across much of the country. Instead of a people having to demonstrate why they should be allowed to have a gun, the authorities had to demonstrate why they shouldn’t.

    Since the 1990s, crime and murder rates have plummeted across the US, to historic lows. My point here isn’t that widespread gun ownership is responsible, but rather that gun violence is going exactly the opposite direction from that required to reach a tipping point.

    Of course, it seems that mass shootings are becoming more common. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it is worth mentioning a couple things. It is odd that the response to profound failures in our mental health care provisions is to take guns away from sane people. It is even more odd that sensationalist reporting of mass shootings, which appears to encourage even more mass shootings, becomes a reason to start grabbing guns.

    It is worthwhile to look at the experiences of Australia, New Zealand, and Britain after confiscatory gun laws were put in place. Just looking at murder and suicide rates over time, without dates on the x-axis you’d have no idea when the laws were enacted.

    Jeff Guinn
    January 6, 2016 at 20:12

    I just stumbled over this, from Real Clear Politics:

    Well, reality is not lining up with this [drug legalization] view of the world. In 1999, Americans had fatal drug overdoses at a rate of 6 per 100,000. In 2014, that number stood at 14.8 per 100,000 — a rise of 8.8 per 100,000. To put this in perspective, America’s famously high homicide rate is about 5 per 100,000. And the overdose spike is apparently driven by a policy change much gentler than full legalization.

    Does a bullet case more mayhem than drugs?

    January 8, 2016 at 10:19

    If Americans were told they could save 13,312 lives by giving up their guns would they be willing to do it?

    They might, if they believed it. In fact, they are told that ad nauseum, but they clearly don\\\’t. I neither admire nor envy what Rita calls the \\\”quasi-religious zealotry\\\” of the pro-gun forces, but there it is. Hey, you know Americans. Tracking this issue over the years has convinced me the other side is just as \\\”quasi religious\\\” in their belief that gun control—any kind of gun control–will result in a straight line reduction of gun homicides. That\\\’s a very, very tough case to make and is not born out by international statistics. America has 40% of the world\\\’s legal firearms but nowhere near the highest gun homicide rate. And outside of the inner cities, most of \\\”heavily armed\\\” America is very safe. Yes, yes, I know, one needs a gun to commit a gun homicide, but they can be quite useful in preventing them too.

    In any event, every atrocity brings forth tearful vigils, tut-tutting from the rest of the world, florid and wildly inaccurate rhetoric about America as a shooting gallery, that familiar American self-abnegation from the beautiful people and stillborn political promises to do something. It doesn\\\’t seem to bring much else, like hard-nosed thinking about how to reduce three hundred million legal firearms and goodness knows how many illegal ones without simply disarming the law-abiding and increasing other violent crimes. (Background checks? Really?). Or confronting head on the reality that folks don\\\’t generally make decisions about how to protect themselves and their families on the basis of national crime statistics. I have no answer but I understand the suspicion this about much more than public safety. The irony about Brit\\\’s paradox is that the gun control constituency washes its hands of any responsibility for it, simply ratchets up the Jim-Bobby stereotypes and then wrings their hands in despair of their fellow citizens as gun sales rise. I often get the impression it\\\’s more important to them to be seen singing with the angels than to actually save lives.

    January 8, 2016 at 23:20

    Having said all of that, I cringe when I read something like this</a.

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