Lest We Forget: America Has A Gun Problem

Somewhere in the shithousery of 2020, I forgot about America’s gun problem.

Since the start of 2017, the U.S has suffered mass shootings in Las Vegas, Parkland, Santa Fe, El Paso and Dayton – to name only a select few. One would have thought, therefore, that gun legislation would be a key campaign point for the Democratic nominee who wound up facing Donald Trump in this year’s Presidential election, yet since Joe Biden became that man, he has barely ushered a word on the topic. What was once destined to be an issue America’s increasingly partisan population would fiercely debate in 2020, has been pushed to the side; forced to make way for facemasks, vaccines, and three key letters: B.L.M.

I am not blaming Mr. Trump for America’s mass shootings. I doubt he has helped stop them, and it is worth noting the number has risen under his watch, but don’t forget: San Bernardino, Sandy Hook and Orlando (to again only name a few) all took place during darling Barack’s premiership.

Blaming no.45 for everything wrong in America is the fashionable thing to do these days. Not only is it deeply flawed thinking, but doing so undermines how entrenched many issues in fact are, including guns. Don’t get me wrong: Trump is a deceitful, vindictive, resentment-fuelled tyrant; but he is the symptom, rather than the source, and I do not mean to make this about him.

For of the world’s most developed nations, only in America could the opening of a car door be seen as a threatening act. But it is. When compared to the universal outrage which followed the suffocating of George Floyd, Jacob Blake’s shooting seems to have divided more opinion simply because he opened his car door. Though seven shots in the back from point blank rage is undeniably wicked, and, in my opinion, constitutes murder, I must say: I have seen – in this internet age – how instantaneously Americans can produce guns from their cars and turn them on unsuspecting victims. 

The issue is not just that guns are legal in America, but absurdly prevalent. According to the Small Arms Survey in 2018, there are 120.5 guns for every 100 residents in America. I will say that again: 120.5 guns for every 100 residents. Encountering armed citizens is a genuine, realistic possibility for U.S police officers every time they go on duty. This does not excuse putting seven holes in the back of a man without a gun. Police must be trained to handle suspects who resist without the use of lethal force. But the amount of guns in America has to be acknowledged in order to understand, and indeed then to try and solve, its issue with police brutality.

Because, though racial discrimination is not unique to America’s law enforcement, I believe its existence is exacerbated by the sheer number of guns. Not because minorities are more likely to be armed, but because fear (no matter how unfounded it may be) brings out the worst in people’s characters. I am not using fear to justify racially charged murders; nor am I claiming fear is always present in these crimes – look at the deaths of George Floyd, Eric Garner and Walter Scott as blatant examples of malice. I am reiterating, that although they are not mutually exclusive – i.e.: American police can become less racist without the country fixing its gun problem (and vice versa) – there is an overlap between these two ginormous issues, and both need tackled in order to eradicate police brutality altogether.

It is perhaps through the lens of open-carry guns that systemic racism in the U.S.A is most evident. Before the death of George Floyd, in the midst of the first brief American lockdown, it was common to see predominantly white, anti-Covid protestors, standing on the steps of government buildings armed with assault rifles. No riot shields, tear gas or rubber bullets met them, as they did Black Lives Matter protestors. And five days ago, in Boise, Idaho, a group of unmasked, armed white protestors pushed past police officers to get inside the state legislators hall, in order to protest Idaho lawmakers’ handling of the ongoing pandemic. Afterwards, the police explained they let them through because they did not want to escalate the situation. Ask yourself: what would have happened if a group of armed black men stormed a government building?

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The American gun problem extends far beyond police brutality. According to the CDC, 39,773 people died in 2017 as a result of guns. That’s 109 a day. Over 200 more are shot and survive each 24 hours on average. Since 1982, the U.S has seen 118 mass shootings, 63 of which have taken place since 2012, despite just one so far this year (Statista). Though they attract the headlines and are becoming increasingly common, mass shootings constitute less than 1% of annual U.S firearm deaths, and America’s gun homicide rate is 25x higher than in other high-income countries. (Everytown).  

No matter how often I see these numbers, they still shock me. I would hope most consider them dire enough to admit that some sort of gun reform is necessary.

Well, good news, for I have a wild proposal as to what it could be: Once one reaches a certain age (if a beer is 21, I’d say a firearm should be 65) they qualify to sit two tests. They must take both a written and practical exam in order to prove their gun competence and safety. Once they pass both exams they are given a gun license. If they fail either exam, they can come back and take it again. Operating a gun without having passed the exams would be illegal. Misuse of a gun could lead to the license being suspended. I must admit, while conceiving this in depth proposal of mine, I may have potentially borrowed a little from the system currently in place to get a driver’s license.

I know it is an oversimplification. You cannot compare guns and cars. I know, even if those measures were implemented on a federal level, it would be nigh on impossible to manage and black-market weapons dealing would continue. I suggest it as much as anything to highlight how backwards America’s gun laws seem to me.

Driving licenses are widely accepted, considered reasonable, necessary and fair, because when misused, cars can be deadly. Guns, even when used as instructed, are deadly. They are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to kill.

While I fail to see any reason for killing machines in a modern, developed society, I understand their use and their intrinsic link to American identity. I do think it is reasonable, at the barest of minimums, however, to apply the same safety measures for a gun as for a car.

*******

Some stories hit harder than others. Waking up on the day MLB celebrated Jackie Robinson Day to news of the death of Chadwick Boseman, after a four year, private battle with cancer, was one of them. The world is unfair, now seemingly in particular, but I am healthy and I am here. I am incredibly lucky. Time I make the most of it.

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