It may surprise some of my more conservative readers, but I couldn’t be more indifferent about the fate of pending gun control legislation now before Congress. My indifference comes from a couple of sources.
First, neither increased background checks (which I support as a matter of record-keeping) nor limits on magazine capacity (which I believe to be wholly impotent, if not outright irrelevant) stand little chance of making any difference in the American culture of gun violence.
The things that would — i.e. removal of all private ownership of handguns — will never happen. The combined forces of the gun lobby, reactionary fear mongering and gun idolatry will ensure that never occurs (Note to detractors: I’m familiar with all the “Hitler disarmed the populace” rhetoric, so you don’t need to waste your time).
Moving from the realm of fantasy to fact, there are inescapable realities. A common trope among the gun culture goes something like “if there were no handguns, people would still find a way to kill one each other.” That’s certainly true, but the usefulness of that truth is more restricted than folks might want to acknowledge.
According to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division report, Crime in the United States 2011, Expanded Homicide Data Table 8, Murder Victims by Weapon, 2007-2011, 12,664 people were murdered in the U.S. during 2011. Of those victims, 6,220 were killed with a handgun. Another 2,363 were killed by some other type of gun (of that number 1,587 were killed by an unknown type of gun). This means that 8,583 of the 12,664 people murdered in 2011 were killed with a gun — almost half with a handgun.
The only other weapon type to top 1,000 victims is knives or cutting instruments (n = 1,694). Blunt objects and hands (feet, fists, pushing, etc.) together barely top 1,200. No other categories with a known weapon type make it out of double digits — for the entire nation. Even combining rifles and shotguns, the total is 679.
Believe whatever you need to believe so that your own personal habits and proclivities are palatable, but don’t kid yourself about the true nature of murder in America. More often than not, when we kill one another, it’s with a handgun.
Even so, no politician has the temerity to propose what would change the situation: complete and total registry and proof of ownership for every single firearm in the country, coupled with a plan to end private handgun ownership (again, spare me the fatuous Hitler reference — people point to Hitler only when they know they have nothing else).
Of course, the foregoing are a mere recitation of statistics — well-composed numbers that will not change the minds of those who worship gods of steel and black powder; or those who have been reared in an antiquated culture of hyper-masculinity, where all who are different pose a threat. Nor will it loose from their cold dead hands the instruments they claim as the bulwark between their families and overlord enslavement by the government and street thugs. No, numbers are insufficient in this task.
Interestingly, our most embarrassed mathematician, Albert Einstein, once made an observation relevant to these matters, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”
I pity people who worship guns and pretend that they are a necessary stop-gap. I pity them because of the fear in which they live. The noted psychologist Carl Jung once wrote, “Whatever you resist, persists.”
Einstein phrased a similar thought as, “You can’t simultaneously prevent and prepare for war.”
Your enemy always draws strength from the energy you devote to his defeat. As a person — as a people — we have to decide what we’re preparing for: war or peace. You can’t have both, at least not for long.
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Matthew Pate, a Pine Bluff native who holds a doctoral degree in criminal justice, is a senior research fellow with the Violence Research Group at the University at Albany. He may be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.