Here are some facts:
In 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 there were 33,636 gun deaths in the US. Of those a third are homicides. Just over 62% are suicides. The remaining 3% are accidents or situations where the intent is uncertain.
That’s over 32,000 deliberate gun deaths per year, or, put another way, there’s a deliberate gun death in America every 16 minutes. There’s a firearms homicide every 47 minutes.
We’re all thinking about this again because of the appalling mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, three days ago, in which ten people died (including the perpetrator). But in those three days since the shooting, the Gun Violence Archive records another 44 deaths. In the US, it’s a couple of Roseburg, Oregons every single day.
There are around 270 million guns in civilian hands in America. Note that the population of America is around 320m. That’s 85 guns for every 100 people in America.
To the rest of the world, the entire rest of the world, America’s obsession with gun ownership looks like a kind of madness. Imagine a country that uniquely has no restrictions on the sale and use of poison. And imagine that country seeing deaths by poisoning soaring to globally anomalous levels: a huge wave of accidental poisonings, homicidal poisonings, suicides by poisoning, far above the levels of any other country. And imagine that country refusing to accept any kind of link between deregulating the poison trade and these deaths. This is how America behaves, like its gun grazy.
But it’s not madness; it’s politics. It’s been the strategy of the America hard right for fifty years to drag the debate rightward, to turn that notorious Second Amendment of the United States Constitution into an argument to allow individual citizens to have arsenal in their own homes that would equip a small platoon, and to foster an extremist right-wing agenda about the role of the state and its relation to the individual.
I don’t want to get into the debate about the meaning of the Second Amendment, because, frankly, I don’t care. Because, you know what? It’s an amendment. It’s how you change a constitution. There have been 25 more since then.
Anyway, the amendment’s meaning has changed over time. For most of the lifespan of this amendment, it was not interpreted the way it is now. In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), it was ruled not to grant the right to bear arms. United States v. Miller (1939) noted that it could not apply to weapons that do not have a reasonable relation to the ‘preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia’. In other words, the Second Amendment does not give you the right to keep a sawn-off shotgun in your home. Nor, you might think, would it be conducive to the formation of a well-regulated militia, that some survivalist nutjob keeps ten semi-automatic assault rifles in his shed.
But this has all changed. In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that this Second Amendment directly applied to individuals and gave them a constitutional right to possess and carry firearms. And this was the outcome of thirty-five years of lobbying by the National Rifle Association. The NRA used to be basically a club for hunters and sportsmen until it got taken over my gun rights activists like Harlon Carter, who turned it into the lobbying organisation it is today, obsessed with guns as the sole means of protecting US citizens against tyranny.
It’s in the interests of gun rights activists to keep this image of a tyrannical federal government alive. In Europe, we have experience of that actually happening in living memory. But in America? None. So why is the right so obsessed with it? Well first, the American hard right think that taxation is tyranny, that Obama has ‘taken their country away’ from them, that the federal government is ‘out of control’. And, second, there’s a brilliant piece of circular logic; they need guns to protect themselves against a tyrannical government – and what examples of tyranny would they imagine defending themselves against? The government trying to take their guns away. The literature is full of bloodthirsty promises of civil war if the government ever tries to get rid of their guns. So they need guns to protect their guns.
The right have been very successful in portraying themselves as the victims. The conservative rural right-wing is an endangered species, they cry. The federal government wants to take our guns, our taxes, our rights, our goddamn freedom.
So ingrained is this belief in their own martyrdom that their rhetoric always enters into a bizarro world where up is down, black is white, wrong is right. I experience it only very fleetingly, but whenever I comment on gun crime in America soon enough some gun fan gets in touch to tell me that I am a ‘bigot’ (on this occasion, it was because I objected to a gun rights activist saying this, within hours of the Roseburg shootings); or a racist, misogynistic, ultra-conservative, homophobic militaristic gun fetishist calls advocates for gun control 'fascists'.
But here’s the thing. This century, guns have killed more US citizens than war, terrorism, drug overdose and AIDS - put together. Only heart disease and cancer kill more, and we don’t yet have a cure for cancer. Guns are the real threat to US citizens, not tyrannical government.
And here are some more facts:
- gun owners are more likely to be white than black
- gun owners are more likely to be conservative than liberal
- gun owners are more likely to be Republican than Democrat
The right-wing are not the victims; they’re the killers.
The other thing that these guys like to say whenever a non-American voices an opinion is to butt out. This is an American issue and no one outside America can understand. And they usually add something about how they kicked the British out of America 200 years ago.
Except that it is our business. Literally our business. European arms manufacturers are tooling up Americans. Glock is Austrian. Beretta is Italian. Heckler & Koch are German. FN Herstal is Belgian. In 2012, the UK exported $28m small arms and ammunition to the US (or 24% of our total).
So it is our business and it's our responsibility too. When our arms industry sends weapons to oppressive regimes, we are rightly outraged. The white conservative right have been the oppressors of America for 300 years. We should stop fuelling this fire. Ban gun exports now.