October 3, 2017 by Paul Goldsmith
When I heard that Stephen Paddock had stood on the balcony of the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas and shot 58 people with a semi-automatic rifle, my mind went back to Sandy Hook in 2012.
In a great example of putting the cart before the horse. The response of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the USA to the mass killing of young children in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, was to call for teachers to be armed. Wayne LaPierre, the Chief Executive of the 4.3million member lobby group – said that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The NRA have always maintained that guns don’t kill people, crazy people kill people. But in the USA, crazy people can get guns. Easily. They can show up at an arms fair and buy guns without any checks, due to a loophole in the laws. Also, in the case of Adam Lanza, who carried out the Sandy Hook massacre, it may be that their parents owned the guns they can use.
We have some crazy people in the UK, some harbour homocidal feelings. Yet we have had only three occasions in which a lone gunman roamed around trying to kill as many people as possible – Hungerford in 1987, Dunblane in 1996 and Cumbria in 2010. Why?because it is hard for our crazy people to get hold of guns. After every massacre the British public clamoured for, and got, more gun controls.
And yet in the USA, polls show that with each mass killing the population want LESS gun control, not more. This simply cannot be ignored. It needs to be explained, and then challenged head on.
There are 300 million guns in circulation in the USA, which is almost as many guns as people in that country. This can be linked back to the second amendment of the US constitution, which grants the people of the US the right to bear arms. This is constantly invoked by the NRA, who argue that they are fighting for the peoples’ rights.
They ignore of course that the second amendment was created to make sure that the people of the newly formed USA could defend themselves against any attempt by the British to re-invade the country they had just been forced out of.
The NRA also say that their people should be allowed the right to use guns for hunting animals. The trouble is that some people use guns to hunt other people. You do not need semi-automatic guns that shoot 13 bullets a second to hunt animals. The NRA, who after all represent gun companies who make a lot of money from the sale of these arms – take the line that the way to stop someone with a gun that wants to kill you is to have a gun yourself.
This is why there are democrats and even some liberals who are against gun control. They seem to have given up hope of being able to stop other people owning guns, so they are resigned to the need to own their own guns as a deterrent to other people committing crimes against them.
Isn’t this sad? Isn’t is obvious that the problem is that people own guns in the first place? Is it any surprise the population of the USA are more likely to kill each other when for many people the sole reason for people to own a gun is because other people own guns?
Worse, there is little proof if any that armed guards in schools will stop these massacres taking place. The Violence Policy Centre, a not-for-profit group which campaigns for a reduction in gun violence, pointed out in response to Wayne LaPierre’s speech that Columbine High School, the site of the infamous massacre that left 15 dead in 1999, did in fact have armed guards on site when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire. “[The guards] twice engaged and fired at Eric Harris in an effort to stop the shooting but were unsuccessful because they were outgunned by the assault weapons wielded by the two teens,” Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the centre said.
The NRA are right in one way. We do need to work very hard on the causes of the killings. There needs to be a proper investment in mental health services – although these would have to be funded by the government – something many members of the NRA would be against. There would have to be a concerted programme to address the feelings of dispossession felt by many young people – although the likelihood that this would have to be state funded would again be something many members of the NRA would be against. Whilst we’re at this line of argument – who would pay for the arming and training of school staff? The NRA?
The interesting thing about the Libertarian argument against the type of “government tyranny” that would be represented by any attempt at gun control is that their answer always comes back to the need to arm people in self-defence. This ignores that fact that to commit a crime you need to have an advantage in terms of force. Given most Americans own guns you wouldn’t commit a burglary without taking a gun – it’s a zero sum game. The irony of all this is that libertarians have little answer to why people commit some of these crimes….a market system that abandons all those who don’t succeed in it can cause crime.
So yes, we need to work on the causes of homocidal tendencies. But we also need to work on ways to get guns out of the hands of people with these tendencies. Looking at two countries gives us a clue on this.
1) Between 1978 and 1996 there were 13 mass killings during the time that Australia didn’t have any gun controls. In 1996 they embarked upon a programme of buying back guns from people. Since 1996 there have been no (zero) mass killings.
2) In China since March 2010 there have been over 10 attempted mass killings, yet the death toll from those combined have been less than the death toll from Las Vegas. Why? Because you can run from knives. Simple as that.
That crazy people may kill people is not the problem, it’s that crazy people have guns. Taking the example of Adam Lanza and Sandy Hook, you would have thought that someone who owned a gun could have stopped him killing them. Adam Lanza’s mother owned guns. He killed her with them.