I am not an American. I have lived in the U.S. for over ten years. I have an American son and an American wife. I have an American patent that resulted from work I did at an American medical school. These are the ramblings of someone who has lived within the system for a long time, but still doesn’t understand parts of it. Prior to moving here, I had heard about the gun debate in the U.S. and I never completely understood it. Now, having lived here for over ten years, I confess I understand it a little bit better, but I am still at a loss, as it seems to be mostly a lot of vigorous hand-waving.
Given the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, I feel compelled to write about the second amendment:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”I haven’t written anything in the last few days because the mass murder at Virginia Tech has been foremost on my mind, and it hasn’t seemed totally related to my blog’s mission. But the more I think about it, I think it is. Half of the gun debate in the U.S. has focused on a largely unprovable assertion:
Keeping the populace heavily armed prevents a tyranny from taking over the government. Guns keep the government honest. Or particularly, that assault weapons, automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons and the vast array of bullets that have been created will keep government honest. As a scientist, I have tried to imagine which experiment I could design to test that assertion, and I confess that I have difficulty imagining a well-controlled experiment that could even ask the question, much less answer it. The best experiments that have been done are other societies. Can a society exist that is not well-armed whose government is still beholden to its citizens? I think the answer to that question is “yes”. The United Kingdom, for one. Canada, for another. But we can say that there are other factors that keep those countries stable, so it’s not exactly a controlled experiment (though I think that saying that sells this country short – Canada can maintain a stable democracy without assault weapons, but the U.S. cannot doesn’t seem to be fair to American society).
Indeed, another argument for arming citizens is to keep people safer. Michelle Malkin for one, has asked the question:
"What if just one student in one of those classrooms had been in lawful possession of a concealed weapon for the purpose of self-defense?"I wonder. One of the commenters at jonswift* responds:
"I'm sitting in class and I hear about the shooting. I hear the shooting get closer so I whip out my Glock and wait. Someone is running down the hall towards me and I see he is carrying a gun. BANG... got him! But only a few minutes later I hear more shots not too far away. I realize there is more than one gunman...there behind that table... he's waiting to ambush someone else. He hears something and raises his gun but not before I blow his sorry ass away too. As I'm walking over to make sure he's dead... ping! a bullet whizzes by me. I spin around and return fire, shooting wildly in the direction from where it came. DAMN- how many of them are there? I hear someone screaming from one of the classrooms that the shooter is an Asian. Mere seconds later, an Asian female carrying a pistol enters the room I'm in. No way some terrorist bitch is gonna cap me! I empty my clip in her and she goes down. I slowly make my way towards her... she's dead alright... but wait, she looks familiar. SHIT, it's Michelle Malkin, the columnist/comedian. Yeah, this is a great plan Michelle. Let's arm all the students and have them shooting at each other in a moment of crisis and confusion. "Do we really want to arm everyone for self-defense?
The main argument against weapons being freely available is presented to us in the form of gun murders every year. But proponents of the second amendment will say, “But those people would still have murdered, they just would have used something else”. That might be true. But it seems that it would take a lot longer for someone to kill people with a bat or a kitchen knife than with an automatic pistol. Hell, I don’t think any of the several mass murderers we’ve seen in the last 10 years would have been as successful in their rampages if they’d been using a bolt-action rifle. If someone has intelligence and the intent to kill, they will be successful at some level, but do we as a society have to make it easy for them?
So on the one hand, we have gun advocates arguing that we need guns to keep the government honest. And on the other hand we have people being murdered by gun every year. One of these assertions is falsifiable. I think that the other is not. (Please correct me if I'm wrong - can we falsify the assertion that the American government would become irredeemably corrupt if automatic weapons were banned?)
As an aside, I think that the debate in the U.S. has focused on “pro” and “anti” weapon control advocates. Is that really true? There is already considerable arms control in the U.S. You are not allowed to own a nuke. You’re not allowed to own a howitzer. Weapons manufacturers aren’t allowed to sell the most up-to-date missile guidance systems to citizens. So really, the question isn’t “should we have gun control” but “what gun control should we have”? From my perspective, any weapon that is honestly used for something else other than killing people (shotguns and rifles, for example) should be legal. Farmers need these to do their job. And most hunters are involved in a perfectly respectable sport (what can I say, I’ll eat just about anything that isn’t endangered). But assault weapons? Automatic handguns? Do we really need this stuff to keep us safe from the government? Because you certainly don’t need them for anything else… In terms of conspiracy theories, this seems like a pretty big one to me. Certainly, I hope that anyone who seriously thinks that their handgun is keeping us safe from the government is also deeply involved in community activism to keep us safe from a corrupt government.
*please note, if you follow the above link that the Jon Swift site is a satire site.