Enough with the Excuses, Part 7: Lower the Temperature

Over the weekend, no doubt inspired primarily by this blog, 10 Republican Senators agreed in principle with a plan to implement some form of increased gun control in the United States. The plan doesn’t address everything it needs to address (e.g., why can you trust an 18-year-old with an AR-15 and not a beer?). Nor has it been codified into actual language as a bill (where the wheels could easily come off, and there isn’t much time to get it done). But if this plan were to become law, the Machine is reasonably confident it will save lives, and any such progress is better than nothing.

Why is it so hard to make any progress on this issue? Another one of the common themes with gun control opponents is that going after the guns is not going to help in the end, because people will find a way. Of course, there is significant overlap between these folks and those who have a completely opposite approach to laws surrounding abortion. As the Machine has noted before, a certain party is apparently much more concerned about your well-being before you are born than after.

But let’s talk about the premise that going after the guns is not the right approach. If you look at various studies of gun-related death rates vs any particular definition of “how tough are the gun laws there”, it’s not always obvious that there is a correlation between the two. Some studies show that states with tougher gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths per capita, while others show the opposite. Part of the problem there is the subjectivity of “tougher gun laws”. It’s fairly easy to game that by breaking it into categories such that the relative weighting of any one particular kind of gun control skews the results toward whatever one wishes to see. It’s also fair to note that some urban areas have more crime in general, so their respective states will suffer more gun-related deaths even if the laws are stricter.

But perhaps our biggest problem is simply the sheer number of guns in the United States compared with anywhere else. Consider, if you will, an oven. What happens when you turn it on? Heat goes in, and it gets hotter. What happens if you turn it from 300 degrees to 425? More heat goes in, and it gets hotter still. Not a mind-stretching concept. Now suppose you’ve got a country with a half a million guns in it, and you double that. Would you expect the number of shootings to go up or down? Well, here’s what’s going on in the real world: the number of civilian owned guns in the United States is 120.5 per 100 people (yes, on average, each of us owns more than 1 gun). That is over 3 times as high as the next country on the list (Serbia). Meanwhile, among developed nations, the United States has over 4 gun-related homicides per hundred thousand people, the only developed nation with a figure over 1 (in fact most are below 0.5, and over half of them are less than 0.25). If you want to raise the temperature, pour in more heat. If you want to increase shootings, pour in more guns. It’s not any more complicated than that.

Gun control opponents will argue that making guns illegal (which by the way is not what anybody with influence is seriously advocating) would not keep them out of the hands of criminals. Well of course not, because there are a gazillion guns in this country. Guess who’s not upset about that at all? The companies who make guns. A company loves nothing more than demand for their product.

One conclusion here is that gun buy-back programs and events fulfill a critical need right now. But perhaps an even broader conclusion zeroes in on something much more difficult to change: our collective consciousness as Americans. We put a greater per capita demand on guns than any other country in the world, much less any other developed country. We need to begin valuing a number of things more dearly (or even as dearly) than we value our right to own and use guns. On that front, we have clearly lost our way. We’ll conclude this series of posts with ideas on how we can find our way back.

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