When shortly before Christmas a late night host said that Sarah Palin was getting in the mood for Christmas – she shot a partridge in a pear tree, everyone laughed because she is associated in popular opinion with the right to bear arms. What Sarah Palin may not quite understand is that in the minds of many, that in practice this can be and is interpreted as the right for people with less than noble intentions to bear arms.
I am sure that American citizens see things differently, but as someone living outside the United States, gun control in the US is a puzzle.
I am assured that the reason why citizens in that country have a right to bear arms dates back to the war against England (and France). I further understand that this was to enable local militia to be called to defend their community. The first part of the puzzle is to ask why such a safeguard needs to be retained when the purpose of such militia is now well and truly redundant. There are so many Federal, State and various organisational armed personnel, to form an amateur militia seems irrelevant. For example I was assured on a visit to Washington DC that there are 26 separate organisations currently carrying arms in the Capital. Whereas in the past, having such weapons on hand in case of a need to curtail the problems should one’s Federal Government get out of control, or should a terrorist or foreign power threaten one’s neighbourhood may have once seemed like a good idea, but now when such Federal forces are likely to be armed to the teeth with high tech weaponry and protected with full armour including Kevlar suits, armoured vehicles and helicopter gun-ships, a Saturday night special hand gun seems curiously inappropiate.
Second I was assured that the gun laws are to give citizens the freedom to defend their home, families and persons. This may be the case on paper, but in practice the injury and death rate caused as a result of firearms misuse is incredibly high in the United States so to claim that the laws are better and more sensible than for example those across the border in Canada may sound good locally, but to outside observers the word “ludicrous” comes more readily to mind. Even the fact that those US states with more stringent gun control laws have a much lower gun crime rate should at least give pause for thought. I would have thought that if the safety of citizens is paramount, then the current practices, which allow even those established to be criminals to obtain weapons legally, might be seen as self defeating.
It seems to an outsider that whether or not the gun laws are appropriate can be measured in terms of crime rates. If this is the measure then by definition the US would have some of the worst gun control laws in the world. Thus in Tokyo with its 40 armed assaults a year and much more stringent gun laws, the citizen is safer than for example than in New York with the same sort of figures per day. Note it is not the availability of weapons that is the only factor in that the Swiss actually have more weapons per head of population than in the US including assault rifles at their disposal, and virtually no armed assaults. On the other hand, the responsible use and training with weapons is paramount in Switzerland and virtually compulsory training in the armed services is one clear difference. In Switzerland too there is a much less obvious difference between the rich and the poor than would be the case in the US.
The third puzzle is why so much emphasis is given on the right to bear arms and that so little thought is given to who should be allowed to carry such arms. The recent assassination attempt on a politician by a person considered too dangerous to attend a Community College but not too dangerous to own a weapon is a case in point.
Perhaps in retrospect even Sarah might now wonder if that is not quite such an attractive proposition in the absence of workable controls. Or not…..