The American Paradox

“The death toll from small arms dwarfs that of all other weapons systems — and in most years greatly exceeds the toll of the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In terms of the carnage they cause, small arms, indeed, could well be described as ‘weapons of mass destruction’.”           

(Kofi Annan, Freedom from Fear: Small Arms, Report of the Secretary-General to the Millenium Assembly of the United Nation, 2000)

Tucson, Arizona, January 8: Jared Lee Loughner, 22, opened fire during a campaign event, killing six people and wounding 13. This gun massacre seems almost usual in the American landscape, writing another line in a national history already soiled by the notorious names of Columbine or Virginia Tech among others.

What is the aftermath of such a tragedy this time? An amazing increase of gun sales, not only in Arizona but also all over the United States. According to figures from the Federal Bureau of Investigation obtained by Bloomberg which compare January 10, 2011 with the corresponding Monday a year ago, gun sales rocketed more than 60% in Arizona and around 5% across the country. To gun dealers’ opinion, demand increases as people fear the Tucson shooting rampage could lead to tighter gun laws, and the same situation happened after the Virginia Tech in April 2007 shooting spree or the election or President Obama in November 2008. As I live in a country where even police forces most often only use the “flashball”, a non-lethal weapon, I can’t imagine this public attraction for guns, all the more after having been witness of such a massacre… Wanting to understand the reason why such a developed country praises so dangerous seeds of conflicts, I have analyzed the so-called American need of “protection”.

This need is formulized as a right since 1791 with the Second Amendment to the United State Constitution: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed[1]”. Guns are paradoxically associated with the notion of “freedom”, far from the perception of “threat” that French citizen have. Charles Heller, founder of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, even says that the Tucson event “shows more than ever why people need to have the tools of defense”[2]. This idea of guns as self-defense means is developed by the Republican congressman Trent Franks on his own website: “Criminals have always preferred and will continue to prefer unarmed victims. Prison surveys indicate when a criminal considers breaking into a home, the greatest deterrent, in his mind, is the fear that his intended victims might be armed.”

Unfortunately, the result of the 2009 study ‘Investigating the link between gun possession and gun assault’ by Charles C. Branas et al. for the American Journal of Public Health, is that “individuals in possession of a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not in possession[3]”, figures that let me think that the “tools of defense” mentioned by Charles Heller seem rather be incitements to violence. Every American citizens should analyzed the FBI data from its annual Crime in the United States study: I have learned that over the 9,146 homicides committed by firearms in 2009[4], only 215 (meaning 2, 35%) were “justifiable homicides[5]” by private citizens.

What is more interesting however, is the fact that in 2009, 24.2 percent of homicide victims were slain by family members[6], which really questions the pertinence of holding guns at home… Who can still support guns only as a protection tool for a household, after knowing that one in four murders in the United States is caused by someone who most often live in your house and who may use the family gun to kill you?

I know that many political leaders have come to the same conclusion: if gun abolition seems unconstitutional, sensible regulations could save lives. This is even what advocate G. Kleck and M. Gertz as a conclusion to their analysis about armed resistance to crime: “regulatory measures which do not disarm large shares of the population would not significantly reduce beneficial defensive uses of firearms by noncriminals[7]” after having studied that “victimization is spread out over many different victims, while offending is more concentrated among a relatively small number of offenders8”. Why does it seem to be such a political impossibility?

According to the Reuters congressional correspondent Thomas Ferraro, Democrats stopped supporting anti-gun stances since the defeat of Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore, known for his commitment to tighter gun laws probably cost him votes in decisive rural areas. Nowadays however, even if powerful gun-supporting lobbies such as the National Rifle Association tries whatever they can to fight against strengthening gun laws, the fact that the mass shootings have become almost “commonplace” is changing the deal. In 2008, NRA spent millions of dollars discrediting Obama in several states, almost all of which he won anyway. Furthermore, in the 2010 midterm elections, 27 NRA-endorsed Democrats lost reelection, whereas only two of the 101 Democratic representatives who had co-sponsored gun-control legislation lost their seats.

Maybe one day this great country will learn from its past mistakes, and will take into account that this escalation of gun violence shouldn’t be the price of “Freedom”.

[1] United States Bill of Rights, 1791

[2] Nathan Thornburgh, After Tucson: Why Are the Mentally Ill Still Bearing Arms?, Time, Jan. 10, 2011

[3] Charles C. Branas et al., Investigating the Link Between Gun Possession and Gun Assault, Vol 99, No. 11, American Journal of Public Health 2034-2040, Nov. 2009

[4] FBI, Crime in the United States, Expanded Homicide Data Table 8, 2009

[5] FBI, Crime in the United States, Expanded Homicide Data Table 15, 2009

[6] FBI, Crime in the United States, Expanded Homicide Data Table 10, 2009

[7] Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, Armed resistance to crime: the prevalence and nature of self-defense with a gun, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 1995

Anais Lebreton