Is American Gun Culture Compatible With a Modern Civil Society?

In respect to gun ownership, we fall off the chart in every standard-setting category for a modern society. Our civilians pay the price as our laws empower the criminals. How long must we bury our heads in the sand and deny ourselves the decency of a 21st-century civil society?
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The American gun culture is defined by the highest rate of gun ownership in the world along with a high rate of gun violence. Americans own a whopping 270 million guns. That is 88.8 guns per 100 people. With only 4 percent of the world population, Americans own 42 percent of the entire 644 million guns in the world. India and China with a combined population that is more than seven times that of the U.S. are in distant second and third place with 46 million and 40 million guns respectively.

According to a recent study 21.7 out of every 100,000 residents of the District of Columbia are killed by guns earning Washington the distinction of the murder capital of the world. The picture is equally bleak in many of our Southern states.

The cases of Aurora, Virginia Tech, and Columbine are not anomalies, but small blips on the radar screen of gun violence in America. A report by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control shows that "there were 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000."

Compared to the OECD (Europe) the United States appears to be "an unusually violent country," according to the latest Duke University study by Kieran Healy.

The powerful gun lobby representing gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association (NRA) deceives the public into thinking that gun ownership prevents violence. The common scenario presented, "What if an armed assailant broke into your house in the middle of the night?" presumptively implies that a law-abiding gun owner will be able to defend herself.

In such a scenario one will have an equal chance of defense in a shootout only if a person can expect and predict the timing of an assailant's attack and waits for him with her finger on the trigger of a loaded gun. Still, aside from the fact that the criminal always stays one step ahead of the victim and law enforcement, the probability of survival in a fraction-of-a-second quick reflex decision is less than 50 percent at best, considering that criminals can legally carry high caliber heavy guns like the AR-15.

A study between 1987 and 1990 by David McDowall found that "guns were used in defense during a crime incident 64,615 times annually. This equates to two times out of 1,000 incidents (0.2 percent) that occurred in this period. For violent crimes, assault, robbery, and rape, guns were used 0.83 percent of the time in self-defense."

Equally flawed is the argument that guns don't kill, people kill people and gun ownership doesn't contribute to violence. A recent study by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center concludes that "Where there are more guns there is more homicide."

The profit motive of the gun manufacturers is conveniently hidden by the gun lobby behind a misconstrued interpretation of the Second Amendment, presenting the case as a civil rights issue. In this manner the gun lobby eclipses public opinion and the concerns of the citizenry and scares into compliance our political leadership to stay away from enacting or even suggesting any meaningful legislation. This was obvious in the recent Aurora tragedy where not a single politician took a stand against gun control.

Governor Hickenlooper's skepticism about the effect of tougher gun laws was apologetic: "This person, if there were no assault weapons available, if there were no this or no that, this guy's going to find something." This indifference was even more evident when he told CNN that his administration "will try to create some checks and balances on these things." (Emphasis added)

President Obama also missed an opportunity in leadership and offered a prayer instead of a solution that was staring him in the eye. The 'G' word (gun control), an obvious hot potato in an election year, was absent from the president's pitch-perfect speech. The inadequacy was not merely of the words to compensate for the loss of life, but of the substance to offer it as a solution.

This reality is borne by a wild, wild West mindset that questions our commitment to democracy at home and abroad. As our gun culture evolves into a warrior culture, the devastation inflicted upon the lives of Americans through the brutality of the militarized police force at home often multiplies through our unbridled militarism abroad. The protest against the warrior mentality of the Anaheim Police in California in the recent killings of Diaz and Acevedo echoes the frustrations of the Iraqi mothers who quiet their children to sleep at night by telling them: "Hush, baby hush. 'Democracy' may break in the door any time now." This American boot print weighs heavily on the legally disempowered and politically disenfranchised.

Taunting our warrior culture posturing we promote democracy abroad as our national interest. This doesn't jibe well with the United States being the number one exporter of conventional arms and by all indications of small arms as well. The U.S. not only exports landmines, but it adamantly opposes signing the ban on landmines that kill tens of thousands civilians around the world for years after armed conflicts have ended. Landmine Monitor identified "at least 73,576 casualties in 119 countries/areas" in the decade ending in 2009. The total number of survivors worldwide is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. The devastation caused by these landmines make them the real weapons of mass destruction for the world community at large whose typical victims are children collecting wood for fuel or tending sheep.

Our own children are also exposed to gun culture through an intergenerational transfer of violence. We have grown numb to the oddity that among the victims of the Aurora tragedy was a six-year-old taken to see a violent movie and that the youngest attendee of the midnight premier was only four months old. The therapist Bethany Marshall told KPFK's GoHarrison (July 23, 2012) that another mother took her two five-year-olds to the court proceedings in Aurora the next day because she wanted them to remember this 'historical day.' Even more shocking was Harrison's own account of Florida's Secretary of State, Sandra Morthem taking her children to watch an electric chair execution "purely for educational purposes."

Equally disturbing is the case of an American banker, who takes his children to a West Bank shooting range for the purpose of "teaching them values" as they shoot targets of Palestinians. According to Akiva Novick of, "Upon entering the range, his five-year-old daughter, Tamara, bursts into tears. A half hour later, she is holding a gun and shooting clay bullets like a pro." Her picture is worth more than a thousand words telling us what has the world come to.

In respect to gun ownership, we fall off the chart in every standard-setting category for a modern society. Our civilians pay the price as our laws empower the criminals. How long must we bury our heads in the sand and deny ourselves the decency of a 21st-century civil society?

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