Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Gun Fetish

Fetish:  A material object regarded with superstitious or extravagant trust or reverence.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings gun control advocates have proposed pretty mild measures to address gun violence – the kind of measures championed by Ronald Reagan in the ‘80s. In response we’ve seen a convulsion of gun advocacy that is mystifying in its paranoia, extremism, and sheer lack of foundation in reality. The bottom line: Most of what is held up as true about guns is just plain false.

I’m not against gun ownership, but think they should be respected with levelheaded reverence, not fetishized.

The typical TV news gun debate leads us astray from the get-go. The discussion is all about protecting ourselves from bad guys. But most guns deaths have nothing to do with “bad guys.”

The majority of gun deaths in American are a result of accidents and suicide, not crime. But the fetish argument is all about protection, then cascades through a long list of hollow arguments.

When people tell me knives can kill as easily as guns, I start by asking them, “Then why don’t just buy a knife? It’s cheaper and requires no ammo.” Then I challenge them to a dual to solve the debate once and for all: "We are both armed. We walk out 10 paces, turn and attack each other. The person who lives wins the argument. I get a gun and you get a knife. If both are the same, you shouldn’t object."

But they always object.

That’s because guns change everything. Children playing with a knife might cut themselves. Children playing with a gun might kill themselves. People committing suicide with pills or carbon monoxide might get the dose wrong or be found before the poison does its work. People who use a gun usually succeed. And they’re called “drive-bys” because you can kill someone from a car window with a gun. Kinda hard to do the same thing with a knife.

Guns change everything.

“If you ban guns, only criminals will have guns.” Only problem with this argument is that in pretty much every country with gun control (nearly every other western industrial nation), criminals have a hard time getting guns and violent crime and gun deaths are comparatively low. In a typical year America has nearly 13,000 murders. In Japan, a typical annual number is around 10. In England during the past 10 years, an annual number is a low of 18 and a high of 52. Typical year for Germany: 178. I could go on and on, but you get the point. And please don't tell me it's because they're smaller countries. England has a 4th our population. Multiply their murders by 4 and it still won't make you feel any better.

There is even a story going around social media lately claiming that when Australia tightened gun control “12 months ago” gun crime went up. Actually, it wasn’t 12 months ago, it was 16 years ago, and since that time gun deaths have decreased markedly.

I’ve been to Switzerland a couple times. The image at right is about as unlikely as any you’d see there. Guns are issued by the government as part of civil defense. People don't buy them. The guns usually sit in the backs of closets, waiting for a civil defense drill. The country essentially has no gun culture Americans would recognize. But increasingly the Swiss government is rounding up the guns and putting them in armories and depots. That’s because Swiss gun death statistics show what American gun statistics show; put a gun in a home and you increase the chances that someone in that home will be killed with a gun – mostly by suicide or accident.

There are countries with higher gun death rates than America, but you have to go to countries at war, third world countries, or those in Central and South America to find them. Among our international peers, our rate’s the highest. Hands down. No contest. Not even close.

Those with the gun fetish will tell you it’s because we’re soft on crime. Also not true. We have a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other country in the world. We are 5% of the world’s population and house 25% of the world’s prisoners. China, a communist country with 4 times our population, comes in 2nd.

This little "straw man" message at left . . . this is the most disturbing kind of thing I find online from gun rights supporters. First, I don’t know anyone in a position of power proposing that gun owners turn in their guns. And “the government’s out to kill us” stuff? I can only shake my head in dismay. This one was posted twice on my Facebook feed, both times by college educated Hoosiers.

Women need guns to protect themselves? This notion is maybe the cruelest of all. Why? Because people with guns are more likely to be killed by someone they know than by a stranger. This is especially true for women, who are most likely to be killed by a boyfriend or husband, not an unknown assailant. So ladies, if you’re buying a gun, you’re actually bringing it home to the person statistically most likely to use it against you. When there is a gun in the home, the chances that domestic violence will end in the murder of the woman is multiplied times 8. Women living in a home with a gun are nearly 3 times more likely to be murdered than women living in a home with no gun.

I believe in the 2nd amendment. Our Constitution protects the right to own a gun. But I don’t own a gun because I know it makes me less safe. I don't hunt and I already live in one of the safest places in the world; Hamilton County, Indiana.

If more guns will make us safer, America should be the safest country in the world. We have more private guns per capita than any other nation on earth. Instead, we have the highest gun death rate among developed nations and a higher percentage of our population in prison than any other nation on earth. Clearly more guns aren’t the answer.

Not all gun owners have the gun fetish. Many understand how dangerous they are. They’re hunters or folks who live in a dangerous neighborhood. They train themselves and their family how to use them properly, lock them up when not in use and don’t glamorize or defend beyond reason the ownership of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. They’re not afraid of background checks and they’re not conspiracy-theory loonies who think they need a gun to protect themselves from Obama's government. They don’t laugh off gun-buy back programs, understanding that people who don’t want a gun in their homes are the last people who should have them (and they probably also know that many criminals get guns by stealing them from the homes of law-abiding citizens).

But those with the gun fetish seem to think guns solve everything. In the wake of Newtown, they actually think more guns in schools is the answer, not knowing or caring that when a gunman killed 13 and wounded 21 at Columbine High School there was an armed guard on duty, or that when a gunman killed 32 and wounded 17 at Virginia Tech, the university had it’s own police force, or that when a gunman killed 13 and wounded 29 at Fort Hood, it happened on a !MILITARY BASE! where guns are bountiful. If armed soldiers on a military base can't prevent a mass shooting, what good is a rent-a-cop at North Elementary!

Ignoring such realities is what fetishes are made of; irrational, blind affection focused on an object.


  1. From where do you get your statistics? Numbers don't mean anything and as we all know can be skewed to anyone's point of view. Both proponents and advocates are guilty. Gun's are not the problem, people are the problem. Treatment of mental health issues has declined markedly and is a big part of the issue. Our culture is stressed to the max and unfortunately murder and suicide are one way of releasing "pressure." Abandoning the Judeo/Christian moral code is a huge factor and I am not talking about the "western" evangelical talking points of a shallow christianity, I am talking about the deep traditional spiritual relationship with the God of grace and mercy. His moral code. Without it we would just use another weapon, a club an axe, a sword. History demonstrates the bloodlust of humanity existed long before guns were a reality. Nice try but I don't buy your talking points.

  2. the fetish is strong with you, young bob. staggering, overwhelming evidence can't penetrate the fetish

  3. Join the dark side, Kurt! Actually, I am not so young and I really couldn't hold an indepth conversation about guns so I doubt whether your "insight" is credible as well as your statistics. Like I said anyone can pull statistics off of their favorite liberal or conservative websites and bravely run the gauntlet of political rhetoric. which is what you seem to have done here. Nice job on the homework, tho. Try holding a civil, open minded discourse on the subject you might actually learn something. Just because you were a teacher and are suppossedly a journalist and author doesn't mean much if what you are teaching isn't objective. And by the way the only fetisch I have is to be skeptical of people who think they have all the answers. I guess we will agree to disagree

  4. Hope this isn't a double post. Tried it on my pad and didn't seem to go through.

    I want to say thanks for the excellent writeup. I have argued these same points 100x over on the "occupy the nra" boards on G+ but have never been able to sum them up quite as well as you did here!