UK, October 2, 2014, (Alochonaa): I grew up with guns. Country guns. Shotguns. .45s and .38s and beer cans on fence posts. That was back before public gun violence became a daily routine. If somebody got shot, it was a drug deal or domestic violence. There were guns all around me, practically under my pillow, and nobody got hurt. No one I know ever threatened another person with a gun. The few violent men I knew fought with their fists. Pulling a gun to settle a score wouldn’t be worth the shame. Guns were for targets and critters. It seems like some kind of mythical world now.
From my experience traveling in northern Europe consistently the past few years, I offer a theory that is beginning to take shape in my mind. I’m in the UK now; their gun laws are famously rigid. The Olympic pistol team had to leave the country to practice. Intentional homicide rate is maybe a third to a quarter of the U.S., but I don’t think the stringent gun laws are entirely responsible.
More interesting to this essay are other countries I’ve been to regularly: The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland. Canada is notably similar in that there are a lot of guns, but not much gun violence compared to the U.S. Almost every grown man in Switzerland has an assault rifle issued by the military. They have gun festivals with shooting competitions for the kids.
All these countries also take care of their citizens. You can go to school, see a doctor, or take a year off work and have a baby without worrying about losing your home or other financial catastrophes. Taxes are high, of course. Gotta pay for that stuff. Canada is closer on the scale to the U.S.: lower taxes and less social spending than most of northern Europe, but more than the U.S.
In the U.S. you are mostly on your own. If you have a strong family and/or community, you’re set. If you don’t you’re screwed. 50% of foster kids become homeless when they turn 18. Three million U.S. citizens are homeless. That’s one percent of us, sleeping on the ground, going to jail to get a decent night’s sleep and breakfast. College? You know how that goes. I have friends in their forties who are finally paying off their student loans. Need mental health care? That’s not covered. The ACA is not a national health care plan. It’s a way to force everyone to pay for the same miserable shit that was available before. Very few people are better off with it. I’m one of them and I can still see it’s a bad deal for the country. If you lose your job in the U.S., it can be life-threatening. How would you react to a life-threatening situation?
When millions of people live close to the bone in a country that doesn’t seem to care about them, and the most effective weapons in the world are widely available, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to paint the resulting picture. It’s not much harder to own a gun in Germany than it is to own one here. We have laws that prohibit convicted felons, the mentally ill, and non-citizens from owning guns. There are loopholes, but that’s also true elsewhere. For instance, self-defense is not an acceptable reason to own a gun in the Netherlands, but being a member of a shooting club is. If you want a gun for self defense, you join a shooting club. Duh.
The availability of guns seems to be a problem in our country, but not a problem in others. As always, extreme viewpoints are suspect- “Guns are the problem” is just as extreme as “I should be able to openly carry an assault rifle into a department store.” We do have laws. Colorado, one of the most gun-lovin’, property-rights-conservative states in the union, passed a great piece of legislation after the school shooting in Columbine, legislation that was successful largely because part of its focus was to protect the rights of gun owners.
I appreciate everyone’s passion on the issue. Sharing links from far-left and far-right sources is not likely to generate a productive discussion. Real people don’t think that way. Real conversations don’t happen in platitudes and memes.
Americans have a constitutional right to bear arms. Elected officials have a directive to ensure public safety. Humans have a responsibility to take care of each other. We’re not all keeping our end of the bargain. I think socialism and the second amendment ought to meet and work things out. Education, health care, and a living wage might make guns fun again.
I’m not a political guy but it seems important to talk about this national crisis- a spiritual crisis, really. Does this sound foolish to anyone? Does it feel like a new way of looking at it? Did anybody else have a time in their lives when guns were kind of innocent and fun?
*Jonathan Byrd is an American singer-songwriter based in Carrboro, North Carolina. He is best known for his narrative tales of love, life, and death in America. In 2003, he was among the winners of the New Folk competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival.
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