Great guns? Good grief!
By Kit Pancoast Nagamura
The other morning, from the hallway, I heard my son and husband talking in the kitchen. Below the gurgling of the coffee maker, I could hear my son quietly ask my husband, "Do you know how many people own guns in the United States?" This was guy-to-guy talk, so I hung out in the hall to listen. "Can you believe, 90 guns for each 100 people?" my son continued. My husband made some noise of surprise. "Maybe even more," my son said grimly.
Later that morning, I kept wondering, were there really that many guns in the States? Checking the figures, I came up with wildly varying numbers, anywhere from the FBI's out-of-date records of 200 million, to guesstimates of 450 million, and a few admissions that no one, in fact, really knows how many firearms are held by the U.S. public. And this is in addition to a massive cache of illegal, unregistered, and smuggled weapons. The assumption that continually surfaced on the Internet, I noted, was that there are more guns than men, women and children in the States. An astounding arsenal (note the first four letters of that word).
People who support gun ownership claim "People kill people, not guns." OK, sure, but when guns are always within reach, the chance that people will misuse them — under duress, when angered, in fear, or by accident — multiplies exponentially. When guns outnumber the people in a society, it suggests that that society is ruled by fear, not faith, by muscle, not morality, and by force rather than fairness.
The U.S. has tried, on occasion and by half-measures, to exert some control on gun proliferation. The Second Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights, which gun owners say guarantees their position, grants civilians the right to "keep and bear arms." However, the amendment was written during a time when hunting for food, protecting the homestead from invasion, and being called to war were normal activities in a largely unsettled nation. Certainly the landscape has changed since that time, but it may well take another millennia for the U.S. to mature enough to realize that guns belong "home on the range," perhaps, but not in civilized towns and cities.
Gun proponents suggest that they need firearms to protect themselves from criminals who carry guns; it's an argument that can only escalate in mutual threats and increased violence.Proponents also point to Switzerland, where trained members of the militia keep automatic weapons at home. Personal use of such, though — even taking a photo of oneself pretending to use the gun — results in severe penalties. A friend of mine piped up with perhaps the most compelling argument: "Guys just really love guns." Really? Oh, shoot! Well, if that's all it is, let's set up theme parks for barrels of fun. Call them Uziworld Attractions or Glock Gardens, and use the proceeds to benefit victims of crime.
Of all the things I love about Japan, the one I wish most could be exported to the States is the blueprint for managing a society where guns are nearly non-existent.
Shukan ST: February 18, 2011
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