I have just two things to say about the U.S. and guns, both of which I find obvious and evidence-based. First, the U.S. has a violence problem and guns are not the root cause of it. Eliminating guns would not eliminate the problem. Second, guns make our violence problem much more deadly.
I pointed out a really interesting data analysis that was posted on R-bloggers in 2015. What the numbers show very clearly is that the U.S. really does have a violence problem, with rates of violent death much higher than countries with similar economies, including our close cultural cousins like Canada and Australia, and, almost uniquely among richer countries, similar in levels of violence to many developing countries. These are hard numbers, so have a look and draw your own conclusions. My conclusions are backed up by my own personal experiences living in ultra-low-crime developed Asian countries (like Singapore) and significant time spent in developing Asian countries (like Thailand). In the latter, I generally felt equally or more safe on the street than I do in my home city of Philadelphia. Developing countries have problems with gang violence and organized crime to be sure, but it is random street crime that affects ordinary people, business travelers and tourists, and that just isn’t very common in most countries. The two countries I mentioned are actually pretty interesting because in Singapore, there are absolutely no weapons of any kind allowed in the hands of the public, while in Thailand, my impression is there are quite a few guns around.
So that said, here is Jeffrey Sachs talking about violence in the U.S. The rest of the article goes on to make a “states’ rights” pitch for gun control which I don’t feel strongly about one way or another. One thing I would favor though is to let individual cities pass and enforce stricter gun laws than the states they are in, if they want to.
Mass violence is deeply rooted in American culture. America’s European settlers committed a two-century-long genocide against the native inhabitants, and established a slave economy so deeply entrenched that only a devastating civil war ended it. In almost all other countries, even Czarist Russia, slavery and serfdom were ended by decree or legislation, without a four-year bloodletting. When it was over, America established and enforced a century-long system of apartheid.
To this day, America’s homicide and imprisonment rates are several times higher than Europe’s. Several large mass shootings occur each year – in a country that is also waging several seemingly endless wars overseas. America is, in short, a country with a past history and current stark reality of racism, ethnic chauvinism, and resort to mass violence.
Ouch, I certainly think he is on to something. But I also think the modern obsession with guns is fueled by an industry lobby funding political campaigns and saturating all forms of entertainment with guns. I would have to do research to prove it, but I bet the industry provides free guns to the entertainment industry just as the cigarette companies did decades ago. The military certainly does this openly, I believe with the idea of desensitizing the public to the carnage of foreign wars and desensitizing our children so they can one day be recruited to fight in those wars. Guns, fights and car chases are also sort of a lazy, easy and cheap substitute for actual storytelling. So one idea would be for a few movie and TV studios and game companies to make a pledge to go a few months and see if they can tell interesting stories that don’t have any guns in them. Another quick idea would be to adjust movie, TV, and game ratings to make it crystal clear that stories with guns in them are for adults only. If necessary to prop up earnings, sprinkle in some tasteful soft porn to compensate, which I believe would be much healthier for children.