The problem with American gun freedom

(I wish to direct people to What A Witch, who also blogged on this matter a couple of days ago. As an American, she perhaps gives a more grounded and rounded interpretation of the issue than I can.)

And so again we are faced with the news of yet another mass shooting in America. As it stands at the moment, The Age newspaper in Australia is reporting that 20 children (aged between 5 and 10 years), and eight adults are dead. Killed at a primary school in Connecticut by a single assailant wielding two handguns and a rifle.

When I heard about this, my first thought was, “oh, not again”, because I wonder how a seemingly intelligent people can continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Pondering this found me arriving at a cross-roads of three conclusions in relation to the unending gun violence in the States: either Americans are more violent by nature; Americans “enjoy” greater access to guns than others; or Americans are so enamoured with their “rights”, that they feel it is their patriotic imperative to possess a gun.

Now, although the Yanks gave us Rambo and the UFC, I’m inclined to dismiss the first assumption. So too, the second, because other countries – particularly Switzerland – have a similar level of access and ownership of firearms, but do not have to put up with the same level of violence. So that leaves us with the third. This finds us in a situation where guns are not so much owned for protection – as a single handgun would suffice for this purpose, as opposed to shotguns and multiple semi-automatics – but as symbols of fervent nationalism. The household that possesses “many guns to necessitate a (gun) rack” does so to show that they are more American than the next house.  One only needs take note of its place in the Amended Constitution to realise that the American psyche is predicated more solidly on gun ownership (2nd Amendment) than it is on due process (5th Amendment), abolishment of slavery (13th Amendment), and gender equality (yet to be ratified).

To an outsider, one who can only speak from didactic rather than lived experience, it appears that Americans, perhaps more than any other cultural group, place personal liberties above all other concerns. A good friend of mine who is American believes in absolute freedom of speech, even arguing that racial vilification laws are problematic. He also says that he is prepared to accept some innocent deaths at the hands of guns, in return for the freedom to own them.

To me, this thinking is completely anathema to a modern civil society.

For let us look at the notion of freedom in America, or for that matter, anywhere with a modern liberal democracy. Freedom in these places is largely an illusion, or at least, absolute freedom is. We are prohibited from doing any number of things because in their doing is an increased chance of something bad happening, especially to others. Driving too fast in your car is a perfect example. As is driving drunk. We are prohibited from smoking indoors, from jaywalking, from owning some species of wild, exotic animals. We are unable to own large quantities of recreational drugs. As much as I would love to, I can’t operate a street-food stall without a permit and as much as I would hate to, I am prohibited from practicing law unless I have met certain criteria.

Some of these may sound pretty silly – and that’s because we all take them for granted – but they are all examples of encroachments on our absolute freedom imposed by the state. We do not have the freedom to do whatever we want, because if we did, there would be chaos. Humans are not loveable little creatures by nature, and a Lord of the Flies mentality is what awaits a world which does not impose restrictions on our actions. Laws restrict freedoms and do so to protect the society and enable it to (ironically) allow for the greatest possible freedom for the greatest possible number.

Further, these laws should be able to adapt with the times and with additional information. My home state of Victoria, Australia was the first place in the world where wearing your seat belt was mandatory. This was in response to the experiences and experiments of many that concluded that seat belts greatly reduced the incidence of serious injury and death in the case of an accident. Left to our devices, and for any number of reasons, we may choose to not put on our seat belt when we drive. Ergo, we don’t always act in our best interest. And so the freedom to not wear a seat belt was stripped, and we are all the better for it.

Americans who champion the 2nd Amendment are not locked in a battle protecting their freedoms. They are promoting conservatism, a belief that things should remain the way they are, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. It is a blinkered, illogical, and perhaps amoral view that has run its course. To argue against gun control because it impinges on your personal freedom to own one, is selfish in the extreme. Furthermore, it is anachronistic, the citizenry no longer needing to protect themselves against their government, nor from invasion.

Championing freedom over all other concerns is by no means unique to the ole’ US of A, but to my mind, no other state-sanctioned freedom enjoyed by any citizen, anywhere in the world, results in 47,856 people being killed in a five year period. Primarily because they do it for the wrong reason, Americans have proven that gun ownership is a freedom they are ill equipped to enjoy, and so it should be taken away. For when the right to bear arms is more important than the right for a 5-year old to learn without being shot in the face, you are clearly doing society wrong.

And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.

12 comments on “The problem with American gun freedom

  1. Pat says:

    I could not agree more… we had a similar incident and within months we had changed our gun laws…

  2. “A good friend of mine who is American believes in absolute freedom of speech, even arguing that racial vilification laws are problematic. He also says that he is prepared to accept some innocent deaths at the hands of guns, in return for the freedom to own them.”

    And this is really the problem. As Americans we are taught about rights but not so much about responsibility. So people will run off at the mouth about the RIGHT to free speech and the RIGHT to bear arms but you won’t hear those same people talk about responsible speech or the negative consequences that people with unfettered speech and responsible gun ownership.

    Most Americans don’t really understand our Bill of Rights.

    • Molly Reynolds says:

      As an American, I think you hit the nail on the head here. We are taught that we have these “God given rights” – these entitlements. Responsibility isn’t part of that teaching – not real responsibility. As a result, we are becoming less and less concerned with public good because it might infringe on this “entitlement” we are so convinced we deserve. It is gross and beyond disturbing.

    • The problem is that alot of Americans who talk about “mah rights! mah rights!” don’t think it is inappropriate at all for you to sacrifice YOUR right to live in a world with unnecessary gun play whizzing around our heads. So our security should be sacrificed for their need to play John Wayne.

      Same for their right to “freedom of speech”. They get to blab all day long (the people defending this right are almost always saying something totally offensive and/or insensitive), but when you utilize the same freedom by criticizing them, they pull out the “mah rights!” crappola.

      I always pay attention to these people because they are UTTERLY SELFISH. They expect you to make sacrifices that they themselves have never/will never make. Plain and simple; they are assholes. We need to stop giving assholes due time on America’s stage because they are not interested in being in a mature society; they are only toddler interested in their immediate wants without a care about anyone else.

    • I couldn’t have said this better. So few people have any concept of responsibility, to themselves , to their families, and to their community. On average, an American household is in over $100,000 worth of debt, according to some statistics. According to, almost 1500 babies PER YEAR are killed by their own parents. More people are divorcing and less are taking part in community activities that don’t directly benefit them. America, as a whole, has an attitude of entitlement that it seems few other countries have. Children also do not learn any compassion or empathy. They are taught to go for what they want and are shown that they can rely on only themselves by parents who are focused on themselves. We need to turn our focus, as a country, back on community and ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’. The things that are truly good for one are good for the whole and vice versa. If we start teaching kids this mindset now, of looking out for our fellow citizens, no matter our opinion of them, I believe crimes and violence will greatly decrease in the coming generations.

  3. Greg says:

    Identification of the underlying causes and actually ameliorating the situation are two different things. Assuming your analysis is correct, the standard method of dealing with the problem would simply not work, since the genie is out of the bottle (has been for a long time).
    Even if the lawmakers has the guts to act, so many would simply disobey any buybacks/amnesties that it would be of no consequence.
    The issue is too big to resist as a political ‘wedge’ issue. Just like we have the ‘illegal refugees’, they have guns – the conservatives have the progressives over a barrel and will always exploit the issue for political gain.
    Lastly – regardless what the right answers about guns are, there remains usually untouched the access/availability of mental health care. Every time such a massacre occurs everyone talks about gun control but nobody demands proper funding of psychiatric services…
    It is not only taking guns away from people that would prevent such events, putting the (potential) perpetrators in hospital and treating their demons would work just as well.
    If you really care about this issue I suggest you all shouldn’t so quick to champion cutting health budgets so you can enjoy (minimally) lower taxes and surpluses.

    • “Even if the lawmakers has the guts to act, so many would simply disobey any buybacks/amnesties that it would be of no consequence.” There’s no reason to assume that. gun laws WORK. They’ve worked in the past in the US and more stringent gun laws will work if implemented. Yes, there are some who will break the new laws to keep their guns. Those people make themselves criminals because, you know, crime does that. The “it’s gone too far” excuse is a canard. If this were a disease killing 30,000ish people per annum, NO ONE would accept “it’s gone too far,” as an excuse.

      The issue is not too big, that is also an excuse. The issue is actually very simple. More guns equals more deaths. Fewer guns have and will again, lead to fewer deaths.

      Mental health care is an issue but it is a separate one. Incidents of mental illness actually don’t seem to have a causal affect on gun violence.

      That said, mental health care = good. But this isn’t a mental health issue.It;s a gun issue.

    • Sam Loy says:

      Hi Greg. Thanks for your thoughts.
      As isobeldebrujah and Rosie have stated below, not implementing something because it may be difficult is not really a good reason, nor is it historically aware. Desegregation happened. Slavery was abolished. In Sweden in the 70s, they changed the side of the road they drove on. Just like that! Furthermore, it is my understanding that all guns in the US must be registered by law, so if the gun owner was a law abider, them wanting to turn the gun over is not really an issue.
      You are correct about mental health, but it would be foolish to think that all of the close to 9,000 gun related deaths in the US in 2010 were the result of poor mental health. What’s more, the journey to sound mental health can be a long process. Taking someone’s gun away would take…ooh, about a minute?
      I actually think it is more an issue of gun culture, rather than gun ownership. But culture is ingrained, ownership is transitory.
      Now, if nothing is done, this will happen again. It’s not a question of if, but when. Ask yourself: what is the easiest and most effective method of ensuring (or at the least increasing the chance) it does not? If you truly believe it is to implement a national mental health scheme, then, as someone who works in mental health, I would love to hear your ideas about how this would work.

      • Greg says:

        Thank you for your replies – but I’m not suggesting changing gun laws should not be done – just that I’m pessimistic about their success if they were. Gun culture is in fact so strong that I believe a significant proportion of Americans would disobey, still leaving a large pool of weapons in the community.
        I am NOT saying that all murders are the result of mental illness, but I certainly suspect that most massacres such as this one indeed are. MI is a big issue for me due to having lost 2 close people to suicide within 1 year.

  4. Rosie says:

    The idea of not implementing a system that ‘may’ work (gun control) because it ‘may not’ is ridiculous. Problems can only be fixed or lessened by change so while the implementation of stricter gun laws in the states may be difficult and not complied with 100% it’s definitely better than not doing anything. Short example = Martin Bryant. I’m fairly certain not every gun owner participated in gun buy back however the impact on australian society seems evident.

    As for the mental health issue: it’s not simply an issue of identification of possible perpetrators it is also about learning and educating about what can be done to stop these cases from happening. It’s too easy for the ‘evil’ tag to be applied to these people which results in minimal analysis of how society may have failed in these cases. And I believe it is a failure of society when this happens be that because of lack of personal responsibility or lack of understanding around fragile mental states.

    The first step would be to scrap the second amendment. As Sam said, society has proven they’re not responsible enough to deserve the right to bear arms. There’s no logic in the thought that gun ownership makes you safer (it’s so illogical that the truth of the matter is completely the opposite) and as time progresses it’s important that society and its ‘rules’ progress too. Are you listening, catholic church?

    • Or, you know, update it out if the 1780s so that it even ephemerally applied to modern weapons.

      As for the mental health issue? I blogged about that today as well as the tendency in America for people to silence those of us who want to talk about gun control.

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