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American Gun Lust

American Gun Lust — Will It Ever Wane?—Dick Price

American Gun Lust

The murderous rampage at the LGBT-friendly dance club in Orlando, Florida, last weekend has once again thrust America's gun control debate front and center.

A lone gunman, claiming ties to Islamic extremist groups and carrying a military assault rifle and a semi-automatic pistol, opened fire in the crowded Pulse nightclub early last Sunday morning, killing 49 people and wounding at least another 53 before dying in a hail of police bullets.

Afterwards, as President Obama talked of grief beyond description and urged renewed progress on gun control, Democrats in Congress revived proposals for expanding background checks to gun shows and online firearm sales and banning people on the government's terrorist watch list from obtaining gun licenses.

Seeming to bow to public outrage, Republicans showed some willingness to compromise, but quickly pivoted to terrorism links to the Orlando shooting, even though the FBI quickly discounted any ties the shooter, Omar Mateen, actually had to ISIS, indicating that racial hatred and homophobia more likely motivated the outrage.

What Can Change?

The Orlando massacre was utterly horrific, the worst mass shooting in recent American history. But it was also just another mass shooting in a numbingly long list—San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and then a great many with fewer victims and less lasting notoriety.

Our survey this week asked if Americans will ever be able to defeat the powerful gun lobby to enact sensible gun control measures found elsewhere in the world.

The Orlando massacre was utterly horrific, the worst mass shooting in recent American history. But it was also just another mass shooting in a numbingly long list—San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and then a great many with fewer victims and less lasting notoriety.

The results were mixed, with 56% saying change would happen and 44% saying it would not.

For Cynthia Parker, the problem stems from our weapons manufacturing industry:

"We have an economy supported by defense/guns from the lowest jobs in New England’s obscure gun and munitions factories, to West Coast based defense giants like Lockheed, Northrup and Boeing who survive on government contracts. Add to that, the computer and intelligence efforts begun by government and refined by Silicon Valley, I see no practical way to unravel the twisted mess!"

Art Cribbs recalled that the Second Amendment came about largely in response to Southern slaveowner fears of their slaves:

"It begins with the origin of the Second Amendment as an act to protect the institution of slavery by arming the minority of slave owners against a majority slave population in locations where militia either did not exist or were too far away to protect against slave revolts."

Dick Chase added the standard "Good Guy with a Gun" argument:

"A well-armed citizenry is a safer citizenry. If just one or two of those poor folks in that Orlando nightclub had been carrying a handgun the loss of life would likely have been far less."

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Chase's argument sounds good in the telling, but runs aground on the facts. There have been precious few examples of an armed "good guy" fending off a crazed shooter. In point of fact, when Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Gifford was grievously wounded and others in her party murdered, at least three trained people present were armed but could do nothing to stop the mentally disturbed shooter.

Although a number of people who responded to the survey thought progress was possible, no one articulated a way that might happen.

And barely a week from the Orlando barbarity, gun control talks in Congress seem headed toward the usual rocky shore according to Democratic U.S. Representative Jim Himes:

"The reason you won't see a compromise anytime soon is because Congress actually acting in the wake of Orlando would be a tacit admission on the other side that guns had something to do with what happened in Orlando as opposed to ISIS."

What About Australia?

Whenever a mass shooting like Orlando's falls upon us, gun control advocates frequently cite Australia's example.

American Gun Lust

In 1996, a 28-year-old lone gunman, Martin Bryant, opened fire at a former prison colony, a popular tourist attraction in Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 and wounding 23.

Apparently, the Australian people and their government had reached a tipping point. John Howard, the conservative prime minister, pushed through the National Firearms Agreement in the shooting's aftermath, winning unanimous support among both political parties for stringent gun control measures, including:

  • Banning nearly all automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles and pump shotguns,
  • Tightening licensing rules, Establishing a 28-day waiting period for gun purchases,
  • Creating a national gun registry, and
  • Instituting a temporary buyback program that removed more than 20% of firearms from public circulation.As a result, gun deaths in Australia fell almost in half, from 516 in 1996 to 188 in 2011 and 230 in 2014.

By contrast, with its much larger population and apparently more violent society, the United States suffered 84,258 nonfatal injuries (26.65 per 100,000 U.S. citizens) in 2013, 11,208 deaths by homicide (3.5 per 100,000), and 21,175 by suicide with a firearm. 1.3% of all deaths in the country were related to firearms.

American Gun Lust

Looked at another way, the U.S. had 3.2 gun murders per 100,000 people from 2013 to 2013, while Australia had 0.2, Norway 0.1, and Japan 0.0.

The problem with the Australian comparison is that we've had our Port Arthur Massacre, and then we've had it again, and again, and again—and yet as far as our national gun control reform discussions get, even as the murder victims are being buried, is to debate whether we can prevent suspected terror risks from buying semiautomatic weapons or whether banning a military assault rifle would sit right with the Constitution's framers, whose muskets could only fire three musket balls a minute with a highly skilled musketeer.

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Speaking of tipping points, what happened to cigarette smoking over the course of my lifetime might apply here. Like the powerful gun lobby, there is also a powerful tobacco lobby in the U.S. but never-the-less, Americans don't put up with second smoke and smoking is no longer a socially accepted past time.

In the most recent LA Progressive podcast, Sharon and I talk about how Americans reached a tipping point with cigarette smoking, going from 46% of American adults smoking in 1965 (and 55% of men) down to 17% in 2014. We discuss the possibility of America making a similar pivot on gun ownership and gun violence—and then how likely that cultural shift might be. Check out the podcast below.

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Please add your thoughts in the comments section.

Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive