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Like the blood of a gunshot wound falling on soil, guns have seeped their way into America's history and culture. Now that they've surrounded our roots, it's time to wonder if it counts as contamination. Guns have been part of our history from the age of new settlers, who kept guns close to them for protection of New England Indians, and advanced to an alluring object of power or dark romance, like the gangster standing in an alley with a Thompson submachine at the hip. They've been interpreted as power, protection, danger, liberation and what makes man "equal to God." (Slogan for Colt Manufacturing, a mass producer of guns) Having guns so well known, it was easy for poet Carl Sandburg to write the following words nearly 90 years ago:
Â Â Â "Here is a revolver./It has an amazing language, all its own./â€¦/It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful./It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision./It is more rapid than any judge or court of law./ It is less subtle and treacherous than one lawyer or ten./When it was spoken, the case cannot be appealed to the Supreme Courtâ€¦ nor any stay of execution come in and interfere with the original purpose./And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the old belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers." (A Revolver, Carl Sandburg)
It's no wonder than when Ernie Gullerud stumbled upon this poem, unpublished and lost inside a filing folder, he could easily find how its message is relevant to today. Many people see guns in a positive light with these words, thinking Carl Sandburg would be on the pro-gun side of the gun control debate, but an elusive message in his words seem to label guns for what they really are: a physical and effective tool used to assure one has control and power. This alluring trait of guns is why there needs to be control of the gun itself, and it's also the reason people want to stop it from happening. Cities all over the United States have experienced mass shootings or gun violence in one form or another, but this still hasn't been enough to convince America to change. Gun control is our opportunity to find solutions for crime, gangs and, possibly, our overall love of violence in America. Our violent society clings to guns as though they are our favorite toy, despite the damage and effects it's had in our history and to our people. While there may be tantrum when it's taken away, gun control needs to happen, even if in a series of small steps.
â€¨Â Â Â It states in the poem, a gun has an "amazing language all its own." This language isn't just the sound of a bullet firing or the click of someone pulling a trigger; guns give their message just through appearance. A study of this was done in the University of California, Las Angeles by asking people to judge the muscular feathers of a man based only through a cropped image of his hand. What they would really study, though, is how the answers changed by what the hands were holding. Some objects held included paint brushes, brightly colored toys, power drills, knives and guns. While knives were found to be the most threatening, they gave the hand a more feminine quality, because they are more associated with women. The hand with a gun, however, was most often found larger and more masculine in comparison. Daniel Fesser, the head of the study, commented, "Danger really does loom large - in our minds." (Kilmas) (Myers)This is a fact beneficial for both sides of the gun control debate, because what's most important in this scenario is which side of the good or bad guy spectrum has asserted this power over the other. But this study also questions the idea pro-gun activists have of adding more guns for protection in our everyday lives. Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that areas with more guns have a higher rate of violence. Knowing this and the affect of seeing a gun, no matter who's holding it, will this aggrandize of guns theory honestly give us a better sense of safety?
Â Â Â Along with the psychological fear most of us feel when seeing a gun, adding more isn't going to benefit society or our already violent culture. In the worst case scenario, it will strengthen the idea that "everyone" is holding a gun. This belief worries those who even work with them. Chief of Harns Country, Texas, Elizabeth Godwin, feels concerns for the teenagers growing up with violence exploited all around them. "Guns represent both power and a shield from danger. And so many teens feel everyone has a gun, so they should, too." (Miller 41) Kids living in areas of high gang activity or even a teenager who watches a few hours of television a night are pulled into this fabrication that the rest of the world experiences shootouts and violent activity at a number we're not even close to. The amount crimes that are considered violent in real life only take up 13% of all crime. On police shows, 87% of the crime is violent. (Myers 344)These shows claim to be based on "reality" when producers only show the crimes that we want to see and what we pay money for, the violent ones. This is a trend is seen in shows labeled for mature audiences all the way down to cartoons most watched my children. The medium of technology gives them a view of a violet world, and some kids are going to be scared.
Â Â Â Television itself isn't alone in this trend. Video games are more likely to have violence in them, and while there may be age restrictions on them, it doesn't keep it from getting into the hands of kids. One of my youngest cousins learned to play games like this when he was eight because he inherited them from his older brother. One of these games had no plot to it; the idea was that you could go around and kill anyone you wanted to, and whether you were shooting in the middle of a busy street or using powerful gloves that obliterated the victim of your punch to a mist of red guts right in front of his family, you could go always back to the base and start all over again.Â He loves the game, and while he can get rough, I haven't pegged him to be out of the ordinary from most kids. There's a link between violent games and TV to kids being violent in real life, but that doesn't mean there's any proof of causation. Third factors not calculated in, or the fact violent people may just be attracted to games and shows with violence in them, need to be considered before we can learn the whole picture. We can't blame our society for raising violent people and justify it as a reason for us to aim our sights away from weapon related control. We complain about society, but we are society, and we're avoiding a possible solution.
Â Â Â The United States, as stated throughout the paper, is a gun culture. We've grown up with them, and the math of what that means isn't putting us up on a pedestal. A 1992 study found that the US homicide rate is 17 times higher than in Japan and Ireland. (Miller 44) And if this study had been done two years prior, it would have found that the 11,750 of our murders which rank us so high on the homicide rate were the product of handguns. (Miller 45) We're violent, especially in comparison, but studies are showing we may be getting less violent than we used to be. Sociologist Kieran Healy has noticed that the United States have entered a decline in the amount of assault deaths we've experienced since the 1960's. It's progress, but as you can see in the graph, there's much more room for us to dive into.
The United States is represented by the blue line. There is a decline rate by a small degree seen, but it does show there's still a lot of path to go.
Â Â Â What may be a more important consideration of gun control are the results it's already had and the changes it's made in other parts of the world. America is far from the first country to consider gun control, and if by chance it actually happens, we won't be the first to do so. Countries like Australia, England, Finland and Germany added stronger gun control in response to mass or school shootings. Progress wasn't always evident right away, something explained in a later example, but it came at some point in time. Australia is a great example of how gun control shaped crime rate by extraordinary amounts. Australia had changed their gun laws in 1996, and since then, the risk of getting shot in Australia has split in half. They haven't had a mass shooting since, and John Howard, the man who established these laws, has even visited the United States during the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting to talk about the idea of gun control and, in a New York Times article, talked about the struggles for implementing gun control as well as its appreciated outcomes in the long run.Â
"In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Law and Economics Review found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres - each with more than four victims - causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996. Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control." (Howard)
He does state in the article that it's up for Americans to decide, overall, and that America isn't the same as Australia. Australia is a more urban based country, which is where most supporters of gun control tended to live, and the numbers of guns they have don't amount to the millions we have here. It's not a perfect plan, and it's not up to him to say whether or not it is the right choice for us. But Australia have had no mass shootings, when the United States had 16 last year alone, (Zornick) and have saved hundreds of lives as well as millions of dollars. What he's trying to convey is that, maybe, just maybe, there's something in gun control that could help us, too.
Countries all around us started adding gun control during the later 1900's or early 2000's. Even gun loving countries like Finland, where they were 4th on the guns per capita rate at a 45.7 as of a 2007 study (Fisher) by only a few countries, became part of this trend in 2008. And not all policies involve the government coming in and destroying guns. Policies can even be given through greater background checks or raising the legal age to own a gun. We can have gun control that still agrees to our second amendment rights and can work for the bettering of our country. Countries see mass shootings as a call to action, and it's time for us to take the same perspective. For us, it can be Newtown, Connecticut. For the UK, it was Dublane.
The red line represents the United States in this Gun per Capita Chart, and Finland (mentioned above) is second behind us.Gun Per Capita.PNG
In 1996, 15 children aging 5 to 6 years old had their lives taken from them in what Britain would call the Dublane School Massacre. The shooting is nearly twin to Newtown, an American shooting that took place in December of last year which killed 20 children in Sandy Hook Elementary, aging 6 to 7 years old, as well as heroic faculty members of the school who shielded some of the children with their bodies. People have connected the two events already, and wonder how close America's reaction will be to UK's. Dublane helped create the Gun Control Network, which would eventually lead to the establishment of new gun law. Parents of the victims and over 700,000 supporters wrote their names on a petition, with newspapers to support their outcry for safer laws. Even with Britain's conservative government, a ban was introduced for all cartridge ammunition handguns in England, Scotland and Wales. There was protest of the new movement, and for the first four years after the ban was placed, crime rose. It follows what a lot of pro-gun advocates talk about, with rebellion to the movement arising by those who wanted to keep their guns. But after reaching a peak in the year 2002, decline happened. Now only a few dozen firearm homicides take place a year.
The idea of gun control, no matter what facts are out there, what suggestions we've heard or what time era it's discussed in, has never been popular in the United States. In 2007, only 51% of American people reported in favor of gun control. That even dropped to 44% two years later. (Klein) We argue that we value guns more as a tool of protection, but it won't change the fact they're tools that were designed to kill, and we're valuing them more as they grow and advance to do their job better. Stronger and bigger guns have been introduced to the market, and our system in the distribution of these weapons has its weak spots. Private gun sales are the modern loophole for gun policy. 80% of guns used in crimes are bought at private gun sales, common at gun auctions, and some states don't require background checks for these exchanges. (Kirkham) We've seen this window of opportunity, the weak link, and congress hasn't acted. The president is in full support of closing this loophole, and surprisingly on the same boat, so is the NRA. They both understand what it means for guns to be so easily available to anyone, and even if the purchaser has obtained their gun "legally", no one has any idea on who they're leaving in charge of the trigger. It makes everyone, from the president to the NRA to us, look bad.
Answering tough political issues has never been a strong suit for America. It was the same for slavery, abortion and feminism movements, which weren't answered or dealt with until that one big break came along and changed everything. People had thought Newtown was that moment, but America might still be unprepared. We might just wait until we have to look gun violence in the face, when there's no other option left to turn to and nothing else to blame. Our country is ill because of the role violence and weaponry play in our borders, and we see its imprint through the studies of psychology and gun violence. It's not the fault of gun owners today, and it's not at fault of the president, even though it's now come down to them to handle what years and years of guns have done. We're no longer in the age of New Settlers who had laws to keep guns in preparation for attack of the natives. We're no longer in the age of Cowboys and Indians, where guns ensured you'd see the next sundown. We're no longer in an age where guns provide a meal or are the only means of protection. We're a modern society, and we need to grow up with the rest of the country by starting to let go.
Fisher, Max. What Make's America's Gun Culture Totally Unique in the World, in Four Charts. 15 December 2012.
Howard, John. I Went After Guns. Obama Can, Too. 16 January 2013.
Howard, John. John Howard Reacts to Virginia Tech CNN. 20 April 2007.
Kilmas, Liz. Study: Holding a Gun Makes you Look Bigger and Stronger. 13 April 2012.
Kirkham, Chris. Private Gun Sale Loophole Creates Invisible Firearms Market, Prompts Calls for Reform. 21 December 2012.
Klein, Eliza. Twelve Facts about Guns and Mass Shootings in the United States. 14 December 2012.
Miller, Maryann. Weapons and Violence at School and On Your Streets. New York City: The Rosen Publishing Group, 1999.
Myers, David. Psychology: 8th Edition. Washington DC: Worth Publishers, 2007.
Wilkinson, Peter. Dublane: How UK School Massacre Led to Tighter Gun Control. 30 January 2013.
Zornick, George. 16 US Mass Shootings Happened in 2012, Leaving at least 88 Dead. 14 December 2012.