Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Shooting My Mouth Off

I watched an episode of 'Bullshit!', a quasi-documentary show debunking popular myths, about gun control in America. As a lily-livered liberal, a few of their more gung-ho statements stirred me into the only action intelligentsia are capable of: I researched.
Americans divide themselves along a fairly well-demarcated line of urban Democrats and rural Republicans. The Dems have abortion, education, outrage and cheeses; conservatives have tax cuts, flag-waving monoculture, and Jesus. And guns. But their guns are different to the guns that kill people. Their guns are new, and legal, and part of a deep-rooted frontier tradition. The NRA lobbies against gun laws as a holy crusade. Because they're not shooting people.

America has a high murder rate (with all weapons) per capita; as a national average, the same as the city of Belfast. Other countries are higher (South Africa 1200%, Russia 500%) but most are lower (Portugal 50%, Australia/UK 38%, NZ 26% Austria 2%).

45% of murders are whites killing whites.
40% of murders are blacks killing blacks (from 13% of the population).
Males commit 90% of all murders.
Over 60% of victims are known to the murderer.

Two-thirds of murders in America are shootings, half of which are with handguns.

80% of workplace killings in America are shootings. Most of these are taxi drivers and store owners; you are twice as likely to die driving a cab as a policeman is in his regular duties.

Beer & Bullets A study showed that 85% of murderers were liquored up at the time. Other studies show that victims had as often been drinking (47%) as not, though just 30% of gunshot victims.

A note on capital punishment: Since 1900, approximately 15,000 prisoners have been executed; this is less than the number of murders in the lowest year since 1955. Amnesty International estimate that 23 were innocent.

A note on Calgary: If Calgary were part of America, it would be the third-safest large city in the country, behind El Paso and Honolulu.

Looking at the ebb and flow of countries with high murder rates since about 1970, there are very definite trends. At that time, the high rates were among small islands that were still experiencing violence as a way of life. Then in the early 1980's South America, Iran, Mexico and America (in the cities) began to take off. Cocaine, heroin, poverty/disparity, poorly-guarded borders, corruption. Now it's South Africa in its reconstruction and Moscow leading the table. The same influences; seeds for chaos and violence.
America is violent in patches. Washington D.C., practically a city-state, has been at the wrong end of statistics for decades, yet just across the Potomac River in Virginia the numbers plummet. Clearly there is America 'A' and America 'B'.
But on average, the murder rates are far, far higher than in countries like Switzerland with its 35% gun ownership rate. There's an attitude in America about what justice looks like... it's very punitive. "Lock 'em up and throw away the key." "Bring it on." "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." "Shoot first, ask questions later." "You can have my gun... when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." An argument is far more likely to turn deadly in America than in, for example, Britain, where the assault rate is higher. You hit someone but you don't shoot them. And in Switzerland, few of the trends I mentioned earlier exist: poverty? Disparity? Heroin? Corruption? Not really.

So how can America solve its bad-gun problem without affecting good-gun ownership? Perhaps by building a more equitable society. This runs counter to the culture, however. Few will pay higher taxes to prevent their neighbour from growing up to be a thief; they'd spend their money on security instead. They already believe that there are bad people lurking around the city/country/world who wish them ill beyond all rationality. Time to look out for me and mine. Honey, get my gun.

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