It’s Still the Same Old Story—from Guns to Nukes

gun cultureThe discussion of the Tucson tragedy should be familiar, as we witness similar massacres in U.S. schools, shopping centers, and other public places played out periodically.  Each time, the NRA and other gun apologists tell us that the easy accessibility of firearms, including assault weapons, had nothing to do with it.  Indeed, they argue that the key to our safety is to obtain more guns.

But does the fact that nearly 100,000 Americans are shot with guns and nearly 10,000 Americans are killed with them each year really have no connection to the remarkable availability of guns in the United States?

A great deal of evidence suggests otherwise.  For example, according to a recent study, when twenty-three populous, high-income countries were compared for the year 2003, it was found that, among civilians, the United States had more firearms and more handguns per capita than the other countries, as well as the most permissive gun control laws.  Not surprisingly, the firearm homicide rate in the United States was 19.5 times higher than in the other countries.  The U.S. unintentional firearm death rate was 5.2 times higher.

Although this death toll is bad enough, consider also the fact that the same dynamics operate in international relations.  No nation in recent decades has rivaled the military might of the United States.  Indeed, the U.S. government spends nearly as much on its military forces as the rest of the world combined—presumably, to keep Americans safe.  But are they safe?  Not long ago, the greatest terrorist attack in history occurred in the United States, and more are constantly threatened.  Meanwhile, U.S. military forces have been dying or coming home crippled from two very bloody, seemingly endless wars.  Could a key reason for this disastrous situation be that brandishing more and more weapons not only fails to protect us, but actually pulls us into a deadly cycle of violence?

Of course, the safety through weapons theory is particularly dangerous when it comes to nuclear weapons.  Like the NRA, nuclear zealots assure us that massive nuclear arsenals will make us safer.  Thus, as the price for approving the recent New START Treaty, they demanded—and received—a hefty payoff:  a commitment from the Obama administration for $180 billion in funding over the next decade for “modernization” of the U.S. nuclear weapons production complex and the U.S. nuclear arsenal.  But this kind of nuclear buildup encourages nuclear nations to do the same thing and helps convince non-nuclear nations to develop their own nuclear arms.  Aren’t we supposed to be working for a world free of nuclear weapons?

lawrence wittnerCertainly, that would be a good idea.  The more nuclear weapons that are available, the more likely it is that terrorists will acquire and use them, that embattled governments will employ them in their wars, and that they will be fired or exploded accidentally.  We have had some close scrapes along these lines in recent years.  These include terrorist nuclear plots, nations drawn to the brink of nuclear war, and the collision of nuclear submarines.  Disarmament activists are sometimes accused of naïveté.  But isn’t it far more naive to assume that, in an angry world bristling with nuclear weapons, they will never be used?

And so we are brought back to the mass murder in Tucson and the question:  Are we safer with more firepower or less?  Despite the propaganda of the gunslingers, the arms manufacturers, and the military enthusiasts, it does seem that the world would be a lot safer with fewer guns and fewer nuclear weapons.

Lawrence Wittner

Reposted with permission from the History News Network.


  1. says

    The more weapons, the less safety? If other factors are held constant, the answer is often YES! But in the real world some key other factors are NOT being held constant.

    In particular, one key non-constant factor is the sanity and responsibility of weapons wielders – whether persons or nations. Several more ordinary folk, each toting the same weapons, are far less worrisome than one Jared Loughner. The world has relatively little to worry from doubling (and little to gain from halving) of the huge US nuke arsenal – but plenty to worry from a few NKorean or Iranian nukes. The key – and non-constant – factor is the nature of the regimes.

    When a weapon serves as a defensive deterrent in the hands of a responsible party, the world is better served by the weapon being credibly reliable. So ‘modernization’ is not always a dirty word: over time even nukes degrade, so as to become unreliable or even dangerous to store.

    No, our objective can NOT be simply stated as ‘a world free of nuclear weapons’. The stone-age equivalent would have been ‘a world free of stone weapons’. By itself, the no-nuke-weapons objective tacitly tolerates other quite-bad stuff (ranging technologically from ‘conventional’ explosives and toxins and microbes down to stones) in the hands of bad persons and regimes. The unqualified espousal of the no-nuke-weapons objective is precisely and justifiably why some ‘disarmament activists are accused of naivete’.

    Your community may have a police force which has been well trained and equipped, both in the proper use of weapons and in respect for law and civil rights. In that circumstance, you can reasonably advocate disarmament of everyone but the police.

    The world is however not now such a community, nor will it benefit from prior unconditional disarmament without such a responsible police force in place.

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