Gun control ~ surely time has come for something to be done?

gun control

I read a statistic recently that more people die around the world taking selfies than in shark attacks. Mashable reported than a Japanese tourist died after falling down stairs at the Taj Mahal while attempting to take a selfie. 12 selfie deaths in 2015 puts selfies as a more common killer than sharks (8).

It’s a bit like the stat that more people die in their toilet than due to a number of other causes, due to wet floors and other accidents. I fear to wonder how many were taking selfies (or “belfies” as they’re known, yes, that’s ‘bathroom selfies’) at the time.

No doubt selfie deaths will be used by those decrying the latest narcissistic craze as more evidence that the world is going to the dogs. We certainly take more interest in sharks (last year in our State of Western Australia the government paid people to go around baiting and shooting them off our coast); I am not suggesting we shoot selfie takers.

Some of those outraged at the calls for some increased gun control in the States have noted how car deaths amount for far more fatalities than gun deaths, and heart attacks still more again. ‘We’re not going to ban cars or burgers now are we?’ goes their argument.

Well no, but there are restrictions on car ownership, how fast you can go, the wearing of seatbelts and other safety measures installed in automobiles. Each one was derided as it came in (I remember the outcry over seatbelts), but each one has worked. Likewise, we are far more aware now of a healthy diet and the need for exercise than we ever were, and McDonalds has to display the kJs in each burger meal. Only a few decades ago, cigarettes were openly advertised on TV, with doctors (yes doctors!) smoking away saying how satisfying they were. In Australia, plain packaging has almost eradicated tobacco brands entirely.

And in any case, the calls are not to gun bans, just for gun control. Just knowing who has a gun and where they live would be a good start, and perhaps insisting on reasonable background checks on anyone buying a gun before they buy one, too.

Over time as more information comes to light, we learn, we think and then we act, in the public interest. Research and statistics, theories and evidence (shock horror!) guide our understanding over time, and we accept a little less freedom in order to enjoy a greater good. That is what a government’s job primarily is all about. That, and leadership.

The Port Arthur massacre of April 1996 shocked Australia (35 killed), and the newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard swiftly introduced strict gun controls by Act of Parliament. All States and territories concurred. 85% of Australians wanted gun control, and a few outspoken groups opposed the new laws. The government announced a ‘buy back’ of guns and 643,000 firearms were handed in. John Howard famously faced up to his critics (wearing a bullet proof vest no less) and argued passionately for the new laws.

A Fox News anchor in the States, recently called these same laws “childish”, claiming Aussies “have no freedom”.

But the fact is that there has been not one mass shooting in Australia since these ‘childish freedom-hating’ laws have been put in place. By comparison, there have been over 50 mass school shootings in the US this year alone, the latest one in Roseberg, Oregon where 10 were killed and another 9 injured. There’s even a Wikipedia page that lists them all. (In fact, there have been 2 more mass shootings at schools since, that’s 3 this month already.)

Australia is not the US. I get that.

In the US, 350 million people own about 300 million firearms. On average, every man, woman and child has a gun, pretty much.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), probably the most misnamed pressure group in history (we’re talking handguns, semi automatic weapons here, not quaint 19th century rifles) campaigns strongly against gun control and “for freedom” (such as the freedom to get shot, supposedly?). They argue the “only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun”.

If we are talking about the wild west of the 1870s, then I concede this point. But I think we’ve moved on haven’t we? And in any case, pretty much everyone does have a gun – is this making things safer? How many more guns are required before everyone feels really, really safe then?

In the US, there are 10 firearm related deaths per 100,000 people every year. 1.3% of ALL deaths in the States are due to firearms. And this does not count the number of non fatal injuries, which outnumber deaths 8 to 1. Gun violence alone costs the US taxpayer over $500m in hospital costs a year.

In the UK, the figure is 0.26 deaths per 100,000 people; or put it another way, you are 40 times more likely to be shot dead in the US as you are in the UK by a gun. In Australia, it’s 0.86 deaths per 100,000.

Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore (in some countries in Asia the death penalty exists for even owning part of a gun) there are 0.03, 0.06 and 0.16 deaths per 100,000 people a year.

When you look at developed nations, the US simply has more guns and more gun deaths than anyone else. Only places like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia have more per 100,000 population. Does anyone seriously not believe there is a link between access to firearms and the number of firearm related deaths, plus all the associated grief and costs that result?

So the weight of evidence is clearly for tighter gun control, but it’s the emotional argument (not rational) that holds sway. ‘Don’t take away our 2nd amendment rights / freedom’ chime the proponents of gun ownership. No, I’m not taking away your 2nd amendments rights to hold a gun or your freedom. In the same way you are free to smoke, eat burgers and drive cars, you have to accept there must be reasonable restrictions on what you can and cannot do with what is (by definition) a lethal weapon. We are about protecting the innocent (50 mass school shootings a year – are you serious?!) and the greater good, while still allowing you to own a gun, go down the rifle range, keep it under lock and key in a safe place.

By the way, I like guns. I enjoyed shooting at a rifle range when I was a teenager. I grew up in the English countryside. Farmers and friends had guns. My Dad had an air rifle at home, and regularly went on shoots. I practised shooting the air rifle with my brothers, at cardboard pigeon targets out back when I was a kid. I loved it.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to Steve Elliott from the States, who, 6 days ago, posted on his Facebook how he destroyed his own gun page to remove 1 gun from the millions circulating in the US…

None of us individually can stop gun violence in America, but as a responsible gun owner, I will no longer be used as a justification for doing nothing about it. Today I did what I could. Today there is ‪#‎ONELESSGUN‬.

It’s had 36,000 shares, and has been picked up my major media outlets around the world. Will something happen this time?

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