Gun Violence in the USA… NOT a complex problem

I have been an advocate against guns for as long as I can remember. Maybe it is a Canadian thing, although many Canadians own guns. I am not against freedom of choice; I abhor most types of censorship and am not a big fan of government regulations. However, as a social marketer I do believe there are some issues worth fighting for. It seems that almost every week I hear about innocent people being killed by guns in the USA.

However as I pointed out in a recent blog over the many years working in the world of business and the public sector and following politics there is one issue that has constantly baffled me … gun control. It seems that this is one issue where common sense seems to be non-existent and you wonder if normally intelligent people seem to lose their mind when confronted with this issue.

Announcing that he would send proposals on reducing gun violence in America to Congress, President Obama mentioned a number of sensible gun-control measures. But he also paid homage to the  views about the many and varied causes of this calamity — from mental health issues to school safety. As Fareed  Zakaria   pointed outs in his  article The solution to gun violence is clear ”the killing of young children and many other mass murders using guns is not a complex problem that will require a complex solution. In fact, the problem is straightforward and the solution is blindingly obvious to any thinking person.”

Zacharia points out that people point to three sets of causes when talking about events such as the shootings of young kids and their teachers in Connecticut:

  • First, the psychology of the killer;
  • Second, the environment of violence in our popular culture; and,
  • Third, easy access to guns.

Any one of these might explain a single shooting. What Americans should be discussing is not one single event but why they have so many of them. Much more than any of the industrialized countries. The number of deaths by firearms in the United States was 32,000 last year. Around 11,000 were gun homicides.

To understand how staggeringly high this number is, compare it to other industrialized countries. England and Wales for example have about 50 gun homicides a year. Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But again, the data clarify. For most crimes — theft, burglary, robbery, assault — the United States is within the range of other industrialized countries. The category in which the U.S. rate is magnitudes higher is gun homicides.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries. Note, Canada with the tenth of the population of the USA had 173 firearm homicides in 2009.

So what explains this difference? If psychology is the main cause, Zacharia points out the USA should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people. But they don’t, actually the USA does take mental disorders seriously and invest more in this area than do many other industrialized countries. (Note: the United States could do better if they had a more universal health care system hopefully this will be resolved in the next few years with Obamacare).

Is America’s popular culture the cause? This is highly unlikely, as largely the same culture exists in other industrialized   countries. Think Canada for example, we are exposed to the same movies, TV shows, and video and internet games and have a fraction of the gun murders than the USA.

Zacharia points out that youth in England and Wales are also exposed to virtually identical cultural influences as in the United States. Yet the rate of gun homicide there is a tiny fraction of the USA. Why? Britain has tough gun laws.

I can remember being in Japan many years ago and video games are sold everywhere, the Japanese are video game crazies and are at the cutting edge of the world of video games. Yet their gun homicide rate is close to zero! Japan has perhaps the tightest regulation of guns in the industrialized world.

With respect to Canada they have much stronger gun laws although Canadians do have millions of guns. Private citizens owning assault rifles or handguns is rare. In Canada it takes up to 60 days to obtain a firearm, after registering, taking a course and going through background checks.

So when you look at the  data it would strongly suggest to anyone with common sense , yes pure common sense that  the USA have so much more gun violence than other countries because they have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns.

It is hard to believe that the USA which has 5 percent of the world’s population has 50 percent of the guns. There are more guns in the USA than people and gun deaths will be overtaking traffic deaths in the USA by 2015, a stat which is hardly imaginable in any other industrialized country. You would think that intelligent people would see that there is clear evidence that tightening laws — even in highly individualistic countries with long traditions of gun ownership — can reduce gun violence. But this is not the case in the USA.

In Australia, after a 1996 ban on all automatic and semiautomatic weapons — a real ban, not like the joke of a ban enacted in 1994 in the USA with 600-plus exceptions — gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over the next decade. The rate of suicide by firearm plummeted 65 percent. (Almost 20,000 Americans die each year using guns to commit suicide — a method that is much more successful than other forms of suicide.)

The deaths of 16 children aged five and six together with their teacher in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996 was one of Britain’s worst incidents of gun-related violence. The massacre stunned the country, but what did the UK do to try to prevent such a tragedy happening again?

Within a year and a half of the Dunblane massacre, UK lawmakers had passed a ban on the private ownership of all handguns in mainland Britain, giving the country some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world. After both shootings there were firearm amnesties across the UK, resulting in the surrender of thousands of firearms and rounds of ammunition.

In 2010/11 there were 11,227 offenses, 53% below the peak number, according to the official crime figures. Crimes involving handguns also fell 44%from 5,549 in 2002/03 to 3,105 — in 2010/11.

Let’s face it in any society there will always be mentally deranged or people with severe mental illness. And some might be influenced by popular culture. But if the movies and video games is the problem why is the killing of innocent victims by guns on a weekly basis not a problem in a country like Canada.   (Yes we have had a few mass shootings in Canada but nothing like they have in the USA and the guns used for many of these mass murders were smuggled into Canada from the USA)

Why not have government do something much simpler and that has proven successful: limit access to guns. And as Zacharia points out not another toothless ban, riddled with exceptions, which the gun lobby use to “prove” that such bans don’t reduce violence. (Note the NRA keeps on pointing out that the last ban did not work, what they do not say is they did not work because of their organization’s influence on weakening the regulations).

So what do the brilliant folks at the NRA come up as a solution to killing kids in school… more guns of course? Armed guards in every school.

The NRA does not use any common sense in their suggestion as they are ignoring two elements that strongly favour the shooter going into a school. First is the element of surprise. If there is only one armed guard that would be the first person taken out and, given it’s in a school, an armed guard cannot simply fire on the first kid that looks threatening. Can you imagine the uproar if an armed guard shot a kid he or she thought was armed but was just reaching in his coat for something else?

Second, armed guards would have to be concerned about hitting innocent bystanders so they cannot simply fire away. Lethal Weapon where police can blast away and never hit a bystander is a movie not reality. The shooter would not really care who he hits giving him a significant advantage. Besides, he could simply go somewhere else were young people hang out like the mall, football field, hockey rink, or even a school bus. What about summer camps or theaters where you will find lots of kids? Are they going to put armed guards everywhere?

The point is that there is plenty of room for discussion on gun policy and plenty of room for defining the common ground around reasonable restrictions that gun-owners and advocates can agree on. There is no reason that in the US they can’t increase background checks, and make it more difficult for people to buy 100-drum magazines and assault rifles that have no function except to kill as many people as possible as fast as possible.

This all falls under common sense, yes simple common sense.

About jimmintz

Managing Partner, CEPSM Jim Mintz is a veteran marketing professional with many years of experience as a practioner and academic. He is presently Managing Partner at CEPSM and Program Director of the “Professional Certificate in Public Sector and Non-Profit Marketing” at Sprott School ... Specialty Areas: Social Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communications, Public Sector and Non Profit Marketing
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One Comment

  1. Alissa 29-12-2012

    The White House says curbing gun violence is a complex problem that will require a “comprehensive solution” … America has more guns that it does citizens. … The challenge we are confronting is NOT a gun problem.

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