Re: Are Americans, especially Texans, gun-crazy?


From deepest Texas, Randy Black protested: I have to laugh every time I hear that citizens of other nations consider Americans mad (as in crazy). Does any WAISer really believe that if the government outlaws certain types of guns, all of the criminals running up and down the streets will suddenly come to their senses and turn them in? I think not. From the UK, George Sassoon concurred: I agree.  Recently the UK government banned legally-owned handguns, and made it much more difficult to own shotguns and rifles.  The result has been a huge increase in gun crime, mostly by drug dealers warring among themselves and hitting innocent passers-by.  

John Heelan comments: George Sassoon is correct about the UK.  The conflict of gun control measures with the apparent American love of firearms has fascinated me for several years.   In the light of a major gun massacre at Hungerford, not far from where I was living at the time, I have tried to understand the role gun control plays in preventing such events.   Having studied and compared various analyses, such as Lott/Mustard and its critiques, FBI and Department of Justice crime figures, UK Home Office and Police crime figures and so on, I conclude that:

1. The UK and US societal cultures are substantially different in relation to their tendency towards inflicting violent death- not just deaths caused by criminals in pursuit of their crimes but also deaths caused by non-criminal members of the public for variety of reasons.  It appears that US society, as a whole, has a higher propensity for causing death than the UK society. [A short anecdote that confirmed that propensity for me.  In a "road rage" incident, entirely my fault, caused by my cutting in too closely when overtaking another car, the offended driver, naturally flashed his lights and hit his horn for some minutes. When he was able, he drew alongside and waved his fist and cut his throat with his finger.  Thinking he was over-reacting, I blew him a kiss, which I knew would enrage him further and sped off as quickly as possible- - well, you do drive *so* slowly in the US! :-))   When I was later, laughingly, recounting the tale to an American friend, he paled and said in a very serious voice, "You realise that he could have shot you!"]  So the basic difference in cultural norms made me realise that there are possibly  major risks in attempting to apply societal lessons from the US to the UK.

2.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that the response "gun control does not work because the criminals will still get the guns" has some merit.  The UK has reasonably strict gun control measures, yet, over the last 10 years, there has been an increasing number of handguns being used by the criminals in UK society. The rapid growth of drug-related crime, dominated in some urban areas by Turkish, Eastern European and Caribbean immigrants, has brought with it the indigenous gun culture of those source countries and grafted it onto UK criminal society.  Further, it seems that guns are becoming fashion accessories for some adolescents marginalised for colour, race or economic reasons leading to some murders and manslaughter.

3. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the objective of stringent UK gun control to remove the availability of guns from the streets has had little effect on the criminal fraternity.  There is an ample supply of hand-guns and automatic weapons arriving from the former Eastern bloc countries.

UK criminals have little or no problem in obtaining fire-arms, although they seem to be used primarily against other criminals and relatively infrequently to commit  crimes against the public (knives are more frequent.)   Police force management, and the officers themselves, do not want their officers to carry fire-arms as part of their regular self-protection equipment: they rely on stab-proof vests, metallic staves (ASPs) and CS gas canisters.  There is little current public demand for access to hand-guns for self-protection However,  there is a strong underswell for changes in the law regarding the level of self-defence that householders can apply against burglars - a rapidly growing crime regarded as relatively risk-free for the perpetrators who are rarely apprehended.).

In summary, the UK experience is that seems to have had gun control little impact on the criminal fraternity.  However, the fact that, as a result of gun control legislation,  the law-abiding community has little access to firearms might have had an effect on suicides and in avoiding fatalities in violent outbursts in the home, street and gathering places (such as pubs, clubs, soccer matches and so on).   There seems currently little empirical evidence to go on- how you do prove that a fatality would have happened if the assailant had had access to a firearm rather than a knife or a club of some kind?

A dilemma for which it seems that  differences in UK and US cultural norms might mean that the UK may not be able to gain learnings from US experience in resolving civil liberty issues surrounding gun control problems.

George Sassoon commented: When we were in Kingman, Arizona the local sheriff told us that the state had the most lax gun controls and the lowest gun-crime rates. RH: I said: I doubt it.  John Heelan could consult the Justice Department statistics. The UK I grew up in was very different from the UK of today.  Not even cops carried guns, and the crime rate was about the lowest in the world.  Probably drugs and immigration have changed all that. John comments: It is all relative.  Arizona ranked 15th in 2001, with a violent crime rate of 540.3 per 100,000 population, with 404 murders, 1512 rapes, 8808 robberies and 17,693 aggravated assaults.  A person is murdered every 22 hours, 43 minutes according to the 2002 Arizona Crime Index, some 384 people were murdered in 2002, [in 2001 71% of the 821 deaths- including homicide, suicide and accidental shootings were by firearms].
[Source: htp://www.acjc.state.az.us/pubs/home/newsletter <http://www.acjc.state.az.us/pubs/home/newsletter> ]

The vast majority of the crimes occurred in Arizona's metropolitan areas, with rural areas like Kingman Az., as described by George Sassoon, being fairly quiet.


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Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: December 26, 2004