The topic of gun control makes headline news in America every time there’s a mass shooting, which is almost yearly now. Even without those events, the topic of gun control rarely leaves the public discourse because Americans are killed and terrorized by guns every day. Even if Americans didn’t want to hear about guns, tens of millions of dollars are spent every year by both pro and anti-gun control groups to lobby politicians and create propaganda for the public. And guns are such a normal way of life in America that they’re celebrated and satirized in American movies and television daily.
With guns so ingrained in American culture, it’s impossible to have a productive public conversation about them. Both sides are right about some things, but they both overvalue some of their arguments. Since most mainstream news organizations are fighting tooth and nail for ratings, they tend to paint the issue black, white and divisive, but gun control is a kaleidoscopic grey area. It’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle.
Americans can speak with authority on guns because everyone knows somebody who owns one. But most Americans have never left America. There are 195 other countries in the world, and between them, every possible combination of gun control laws are in place somewhere. When discussing the possible consequences of implementing different laws, the question isn’t, “What would happen?” The question is, “What’s happening?”
Before I offer my theory on what combination I advocate, I want to share my personal experiences in the countries I’ve been to.
Mexico– Every Mexican has the constitutional right to own firearms, but there are very strict laws on what kind they can own, and they’re basically not allowed to carry them outside their home. The gun laws in Mexico don’t really apply though, because criminal organizations are stronger than the government, and guns are extremely easy to obtain. To be fair, there are a lot of places in Mexico where people don’t lock their doors at night, but other cities are nightmares to live in. Guns are the number one reason I would not live in Mexico.
Israel, Greece, Egypt, and Italy– When visiting each of these countries I didn’t know what their gun laws were. I was standing in a bazaar in Jerusalem when I heard random gunfire in the distance, and nobody around me batted an eye. I witnessed a large, angry protest smash a car in front of the Parliament building in Greece, which was surrounded by riot police carrying automatic weapons. In Egypt, there was a mounted machine gun in front of my hotel, and while living in Italy, I saw Carabinieri police with automatic weapons every day. In these four very different countries, I got very comfortable with seeing heavily armed guards on the street corners. After leaving Israel, I flew to New York, where I felt naked on the streets and longed to be surrounded by automatic weapons. Granted, if I were a black man in New York or a Palestinian in Israel, I would have had different experiences.
Slovakia, Slovenia, and Croatia- These countries have pretty middle of the road gun laws, and I felt reasonably safe. However, I was in a nightclub in Croatia, where one of my friends kicked over a bottle of beer and shattered it on the dance floor. An Australian we were hanging out with, who had been living there for a year said, “Be careful. That bouncer over there has seven lines cut into his forearm. That’s for each person he killed in the war. Life is cheap here, mate. Don’t piss people off.” So obviously, any debate about gun control laws must also address the larger issue of what causes people to be violent in general.
Germany, France, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Holland– These countries have mostly strict gun laws, but out of all of them, Switzerland has the least. Of all the countries I’ve visited, I felt the safest in these countries, and I felt the safest in Switzerland. This is partly due to laws, but these countries also have the highest quality of living of all the countries I’ve visited. The locals just don’t have as much stress and desperation motivating them to kill each other.
Kuwait- Regardless of the laws in the Middle East, weapons are easy to get. Life is cheap and hard, and there are a lot of ideological extremists who divide the world into “us versus them.” This is a recipe for violence, and weapon manufacturers are fanning the flames. I wouldn’t live in the Middle East even if I could, and every year hundreds of thousands of refugees risk their lives leaving their country because it’s a better option than facing the guns and bombs at home.
Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam– These countries have fairly strict gun policies, and the local religions tend to promote peace and harmony. I felt safe in these countries when I was in affluent areas, but I didn’t venture into impoverished neighborhoods because the threat of being robbed is very real there. Even when a society has strict gun laws and a pacifist attitude, poverty will still create criminals who have less to lose and more to gain from picking up a gun than obeying the law or social norms.
The UK, New Zealand– These countries have fairly strict gun laws, but they have high levels of economic inequality. I felt safer in these countries than in America, and I was more afraid of being stabbed than shot.
America– I went to two different high schools in Texas. At one of them, students had gun racks full of shotguns and rifles in their trucks, which they parked on campus, and nobody ever worried about it. When I attended the other school I lived two blocks from the projects and would hear random gunfire from my bedroom window at night. I would never walk the streets after dark. When I lived in Hawaii, I was awoken one morning by a man shooting an AK-47 randomly outside my apartment as he went door to door looking for the man who raped his sister. I told that story to a friend of mine in Texas, and I asked, “Where do you even get an AK-47?” My friend replied, “Do you have $300. I’ll get you an AK-47 today.” I’m afraid to live in America.
If there’s one thing most of the world agrees on, it’s that insane people and violent criminals should not be allowed to own guns. There’s nothing wrong that. It’s been said that, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” But if you give a monkey a gun, a random person is going to get shot.
So my four solutions to gun violence are:
1: Don’t let crazy people and repeat-offenders own guns.
Another concept that’s not up for debate is that “opportunity creates the criminal.” The more people have guns, the more gun deaths will result from accidents and crimes of passion. Just because some people can own a gun responsibly doesn’t mean everyone can. If you want the general public to have easy access to guns, you need to ask yourself how many inevitable gun deaths you’re willing to accept for that freedom.
Any violent gun-owning criminal will tell you that the easier it is to legally buy a gun, the easier it is to illegally buy a gun. So it’s shortsighted to say, “Criminals don’t follow laws. So if the public can’t have guns, only criminals will have them.” In reality, the more guns the public has, the more guns criminals will have, and as I just mentioned, more otherwise peaceful people will become violent offenders.
To address this problem I would be fine with either of these solutions:
2: Only allow current members and veterans of law enforcement and the military to own guns.
The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” If the right to bear arms is related to militias, then it stands to reason people who own guns should be patriots who have some experience with organized fighting. I’m not saying this is the best solution to the gun control issue, but it’s better than allowing any crazy person to hoard guns.
3: Make gun safety a required class in public k-12 schools.
It’s been said that, “American’s weren’t meant to be safe. They were meant to be free.” But the basis of the social contract is limiting people’s freedoms to hurt each other. You’re not free to drive a car without a license. You’re not free to practice medicine without a license. You’re not free to hold public office without meeting a few requirements. It’s easier to get a gun in America than it is to open a business, get divorced or buy a house. There’s a limit to how many freedoms we should sacrifice for safety, but everyone’s life is already saturated with inhibiting laws. Screaming about gun control is screaming at a single tree in a vast forest that’s on fire. If you’re going to get mad that you don’t have easy access to assault weapons, you should be screaming about having to get a driver’s license or wear a seatbelt.
If you truly, madly, deeply believe that American citizens should be able to own guns in order to defend their rights from an oppressive government, you should already be overthrowing the American government. Americans aren’t free. The average American isn’t represented in government, and America isn’t the good guy. I’m not actually saying that we should all band together and violently overthrow the government. I’m just saying that if you use the “protection against tyranny” argument then you’re naive at best, a part of the problem at worst, and a hypocrite either way.
You already know you don’t stand a chance in Hell of defeating the U.S. military with weapons you bought from a pawn shop. As much of a beating as the U.S. military has taken fighting loosely organized, moderately armed rebels in the Middle East, America is still over there killing people every day. The American war machine will keep fighting until everyone you know is dead and the country is bankrupt. Armed insurrection in America is not an option.
You don’t need to overthrow the government to make America a better place anyway. Even if you did overthrow the government, it wouldn’t matter what kind of gun laws you put in place afterward. The main determining factor in whether or not people will commit crimes with any kind of weapon is ultimately poverty. If you’re screaming because you’re worried the government is going to take away your assault weapons, you’re distracting the public from the fundamental problem with society: the oppressive economic system. Regardless of what the current gun laws are, if you’re truly worried about your (or anyone else’s) ability to preserve your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, then you need to worry about poverty first and foremost.
So my final solution to the gun question is this:
4: Save the gun debate until after we’ve addressed the main threat to people’s lives that lead to most gun violence, to begin with: poverty.
Poverty causes stress and crime. Add guns and you have a recipe for perpetual violence that no amount of regulations can stop. If everyone were secure and content, like in Switzerland, you could give everyone a gun for free and you’d have less gun violence than a country with high income inequality and totalitarian gun laws.
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