Monday, October 24, 2005

On Guns

The Brazilians have decided that they don't want gun sales banned:

Brazilians soundly rejected a proposal to ban the sale of guns in a national referendum Sunday, striking down the bid to stem one of the world's highest firearm murder rates following a campaign that drew parallels to the U.S. gun control debate.

Brazil has 100 million fewer citizens than the United States, but a staggering 25 percent more gun deaths at nearly 40,000 a year. While supporters argued that gun control was the best way to staunch the violence, opponents played on Brazilians' fears that the police can't protect them.

"I don't like people walking around armed on the street. But since all the bandits have guns, you need to have a gun at home," said taxi driver Mohammed Osei, who voted against the ban.

Forty thousand deaths a year. How many terrorist attacks would that correspond to? But we don't think of gun deaths that way, and the reasons are many and complicated. There is something similar in all this to the way we react to statistics about car accident deaths. We are used to certain small-gesture ways of dying. It is the mass murders or mass accidents that still make us feel a little uncomfortable.

In any case, once guns are out of the bag, to coin a bad simile, it appears too late to stop the killings. The bad guys already have them, you see, and so the good guys need them, too. And then they will be available for children who play around the gun cabinet and for married couples who are having a spat and so on. It is a one-way process, the spread of guns into a society. I am quite despondent about it, as you may have noticed.

It's no longer possible to count the times I've heard someone say that idiotic thing about guns not killing people but people killing people. Sure. But it's only true in the same way as saying that it's not airplanes that take me across the Atlantic but people. Without the planes I wouldn't get there very fast and without the guns the people who do the killing would have a much harder time to kill.

The only solution to the gun dilemma I can imagine is the development of something even stronger than firearms. Maybe little personal nuclear bombs. Or we could always try to build a community and work on the issues that breed crime but it's hard work and so many of us don't believe in communities or our abilities to change them in any meaningful way. So we are more likely to get the personal bombs, probably in a choice of pretty colors.