Where’s the right to not be shot?

It will surprise some to hear it, but if I were an American I don’t think I’d be against gun ownership. Guns are part of the American tradition, and they’re not going away anytime soon. We Europeans struggle to understand one fundamental point that doesn’t exist here or in the rest of the industrialised west, and it’s this: a huge number of Americans believe that other Americans will try to murder them. Imagine living in a society where fear permeates to that level. It’s akin, say, to life under the Soviets, where ordinary citizens feared the KGB appearing in the dead of night at your home. Only in the US, it’s been privatized. It’s not the state, it’s other citizens.

We struggle to grasp that. We’re naïve because our children don’t have lockdown drills but, you know, just go to school. We can’t buy child-sized flak jackets easily. Just go onto the NRA’s excellent website and watch their videos. The worried father, who loves his family, fears for their safety and wants to protect them. What’s more decent than that? We can’t understand that. Not the desire to protect family, but his fear. He lives in one of those countries, like Colombia or Brazil  or Pakistan, where life is cheap. We just can’t understand that, and that’s why we roll our eyes when we watch the video. His brain actually works differently from ours, and you can’t blame him. Your brain would work differently if you lived in a country where you believed your fellow citizens are trying to murder you on a daily basis. Yes, we do have gun crime and tiger kidnapping and home invasions, but even with all those there is not a single serious Irish politician who advocates US gun policies.

The response of the NRA is always the same: President Obama is “politicising” gun shootings, as if he was blaming a typhoon or an earthquake on the Republicans. They then follow it up with a call for more guns. Always. In short, the logical NRA outcome is that every person over 18 years old (I assume: even they don’t want to arm children, right?) should be armed all the time and permitted to bring whatever weapons wherever they want. It’s an interesting concept, in that it would address the NRA argument that unarmed people can’t defend themselves. If the entire adult population is armed, it almost certainly would reduce the number of people killed by some lone nut. But it would also increase the number of emotional episodes that turn into gun incidents. Funnily enough, I’ve never seen the NRA apply the “more guns” argument to 9/11. Have I missed that? You know, the NRA suggesting that if every passenger on a plane was carrying a gun, planes would be safer from hijackers. They don’t seem to make that argument.

Still, as a lobbying organisation, you have to give it to the NRA. They are the masters. They have actually managed to create a political environment where the government even trying to gather data on gun crime has been politicised. What’s incredible is that they have created a scenario where the right to own weapons, up to the moment you go on a killing spree, is regarded as sacrosanct, whereas the right to not be shot is regarded as an aspiration that is nice, but come on, we have to be pragmatic about these things.

It is true, guns don’t kill people. People do. So at least exercise care in who you give them to. Yes, gun owners should be required to pass a psychological evaluation. Start there: at least we’ll get the entertainment of watching the NRA having to defend why crazy people should be given automatic weapons. Of course, the NRA would probably steer the debate towards “what’s crazy?”. Are people who think Donald Trump is 100% right about everything crazy? People who think President Obama is not an American, or is a Muslim? What about people who think the Holocaust didn’t happen? Or that the world is secretly run by Jews? That’ll be a fun day out.

A well-known right wing Irish commentator recently pointed out that the only thing that’ll really work will be to actually confiscate guns, and that’ll start a near civil war. As indeed the abolition of slavery actually did, and the abolition of segregation nearly did. But is there anyone who really thinks America is not a better country today for having endured both those massively disruptive periods?

(Edited 4th October 2015)


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