Gun culture in America
With the economic and health care debates that have been raging recently, there hasn’t been a whole lot of press or popular argument on the gun control front lately. It’s something I think about pretty regularly, though.
One of the points I often see brought up is that many countries, particularly those in Europe, that have very strict gun laws (generally to the point of bans on private ownership) have among the lowest gun crime rates in the civilized world. In contrast, the US has one of the highest. This brings us to the question of why America has such a deeply-ingrained gun culture. It also makes us ask whether there’s anything we can do about it. Or whether we should do anything about it.
There is an obvious reason behind our gun culture: guns already existed when America was colonized. Modern men – men with guns – landed on a basically virgin forest and plains continent already interspersed with some relatively primitive native peoples.
So America’s history is a history of violence in various forms. Violence against nature and violence against other people. As the colonists “tamed the land” as it were, it was done with guns. Guns to shoot animals, guns to kill the natives and take their land, guns to defend yourself in the relatively lawless expanses of land, guns to drive out and defeat the British and the French and the Spanish.
Guns have always been a part of America. Since the very first days. Guns have been absolutely integral to the formation of this country.
In contrast, most European nations (in particular the UK, which is commonly used as a point of contrast) were rather completely settled, with land ownership and laws already well sorted out, by the time the gun was even invented. In these areas, guns were basically introduced as a tool and sport for the wealthy and privileged – people who actively worked to keep weapons out of the hands of their subjects.
It’s a rather significant difference, and that difference is lost on a lot of people who never stop to think about it.
But can we do anything about it? Should we? That’s a much tougher question. Gun control legislation in the United States ultimately achieves one thing: taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Given how common illegal guns are, new and more strict gun control laws will have little to no effect on how well-armed criminals are or how difficult it would be for someone intent on committing a crime to obtain a gun. Imagine the extreme case of an outright ban on firearms: criminals would be just as well-armed as they have always been, but law-abiding citizens would be completely defenseless.
If it were possible to simply make all privately-owned firearms (legal or illegal) disappear, we could start over with new and very strict gun control laws. In that unrealistic case, that might be worth pursuing. In reality, however, the criminals are armed and it seems there’s little to nothing we can do about it. This scenario, in my mind, calls for the relaxation of gun ownership and carry laws. What’s the point of a “gun free” zone like a university campus, for instance? All this does is create an environment where someone intent on committing a serious crime knows he will face virtually no armed resistance. As we have seen, this can lead to free-shooting sprees where the killer has dozens of minutes to do anything he pleases with no chance of being contested.
I think that we have this gun culture and there is little chance of actually changing it in an effective through any sort of legislation. I actually don’t mind living in a society that’s perhaps a little more dangerous if it also means a little more freedom and power.