Who can actually be bothered to feign surprise when they hear about another mass shooting in America? We all know the drill. The number of victims will be added to the tens of thousands who have died in gun-related incidents across the United States in the last 12 months. There will be a frustrated realisation that the same hillbilly politicians who viciously attack abortions, hypocritically continue to make gun ownership a higher priority than human life. When enough has been said to placate the Left, and nothing has been done that will enrage the Right, the nation will take a deep breath and then settle down to wait for the next Columbine. Or Sandy Hook. Or Virginia Tech. Or Oregon. When it inevitably arrives, Americans will take a perverse solace in the comfort of this familiar routine. Only rarity breeds horror. Regularity makes us blasé.
In 2013 almost 100,000 Americans were killed or injured in an incident involving a gun (excluding the 21,000 incidents of suicide by gun). 100,000 dead or wounded people as a result of firearms is an imperceptibly small proportion of the nation’s population. But staggeringly, fewer Americans died or were wounded over the combined course of the post-9/11 Afghanistan and Iraq wars. During the 14 year life of the Afghan war, 21,000 Americans have been killed or wounded. In Iraq that number was slightly less than 37,000. Bizarrely, if an American wants to avoid being shot today, they should join the army and pray to be deployed.
It’s not just the number of deaths that conjure up the theatre of war. It’s the incomprehensible firepower held by the American citizenry. The United States has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world. It is estimated that in a country of 319 million people there are some 310 million guns. But it’s not a case of every adult owns a single gun. Just one third of Americans report owning a gun; this means ‘a’ gun equals, on average, three guns. Americans as a whole possess three times more small arms than the 20 armies with the largest small arms inventories combined. This is accepted as normal by a significant portion of the country. Indeed, some alleged patriots actually believe it is irresponsible that the remaining two thirds of Americans don’t own guns.
What would drive 106 million people buy 310 million guns? The usual suspect - an outdated Second Amendment right to bear arms - can at most be said to only aid and abet the proliferation of firearms, as does the ease with which they can be purchased. For most people, the need to buy a gun comes from something far more primal. It comes from fear. Sixty per cent of American gun owners said they have a firearm to protect their personal safety. That fear tops this list does not come as much of a surprise - the citizens of the United States have always been a rather jittery bunch . What should be raising eyebrows is that the only way to make 64 million people feel safe in their homes and communities is to give them loaded guns.
Making these people feel safe again without their guns is not an easy proposition. Logically, you would think that it is acts of violence that begat this fear of violence, and so all that needs to be done is hit crime hard. That’s certainly the simplistic view that has been adopted by many governments. However, surveys have shown consistently over the past two decades that even though crime rates, including the rate of violent crime, have been falling in the United States, Americans still perceive crime as being on the rise. In the case of sixty per cent of Americans, they think that crime is an extreme or very serious problem for the country. Why wouldn’t they when they are constantly told by politicians that the American people need a government that will be tough on crime and boost police numbers. Egged on by politicians and the NRA, people go out and buy a gun under the misguided assumption that this will keep themselves and others safe.
Here’s the thing though - not even 2 percent of gun-related deaths and injuries are in the name of self defence. Accidents involving guns is a bigger cause of death and injury. Gun-related suicides are the most common of all. It is a fact that all forms of violent crime (murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault) only affect 0.3 per cent of the American population, and just 0.031 per cent of Americans are victims of gun violence. People are buying guns to feel safe, but almost none bought for this purpose are ever used to protect their owners. The numbers instead suggest that they do they exact opposite. Whether it is a fit of anger, a moment of deep despair, or just plain bad luck, people are dying because it is too easy to access a gun in America.
Logically, to reduce the number of gun-related deaths and injuries the government should be doing its utmost to correct the American public’s misperceptions about crime. The chance of an American being in a situation that requires them to defend themselves with deadly force is practically zero, so why buy a gun? Fewer guns mean a lesser likelihood of people being shot, fewer shootings make people feel safer, people who feel safe don’t buy guns, and around and around the cycle goes. But there are no clear answers to the question of how to make Americans realise they are not as imperiled as they believe, particularly when they have been astutely ignoring evidence to the contrary for twenty years. Any release of official statistics gets swamped by the wall-to-wall multi-platform coverage of the most grisly, gruesome, confronting and terrifying crimes committed that day and opportunistic politicians stirring the crime pot for their own electoral gains. For now it remains a futile exercise.
An alternative and oft suggested solution is strong statutory controls on the types of guns available in the United States and on who can legally own them. Such a regime has been proven to work in Australia and is simply an extension of the numerous limits governments around the world place on the ownership of particular items of property and how owners may use their property. However, for better or for worse, Americans remain legally entitled to own a weapon for the purpose of self defence. And since the US Supreme Court went to the effort of analysing the Second Amendment in District of Columbia v Heller, I can tell you that that means the Government can’t even legislate for something as simple as the mandatory use of trigger locks. They impede a person’s ability to defend themselves from the dangers they aren’t facing, you see.
At this point, government generally throws up its hands and walks away. The political climate is such that only the faint whiff of gun control is required for Congress to kill a law and by extension the people it would have protected. This needs to stop. The reason the meek have to inherit the earth is because they don’t have the courage to shape it on their terms right now. The American people don’t elect governments to be their friends, they elect them because they trust their judgment when they are presented with difficult choices. Governments in turn need to trust the public will support them for doing what they believe is right and legislate gun controls within a whisker of constitutional illegality. Nobody needs an automatic machine gun. No civilian needs ammunition powerful enough to pierce armoured vehicles. Certainly not everyone in the country has demonstrated they can be trusted to have a gun in their possession. So ban them. Ban the insane guns. Ban the military-grade bullets. Ban the unfit owners.
The efforts cannot stop there though. Only a lazy government believes legislation is the only and most effective weapon in its arsenal. Governments have the authority of leadership and a pulpit from which to preach. Public advocacy resulting in a change in society’s behaviour because people see the inherent value in changing is a far more powerful tool that black and white laws, and one the Government must use more often. It must relentlessly promote responsible gun ownership. That means the use of anchored gun safes. It means ammunition stored separately from firearms. It means storing guns in a disabled state. It means using trigger locks. None are uncommon practices, so don’t demonise the thousands of responsible gun owners out there following them - enlist their help. Hold them aloft as an example to be followed. Police officers, soldiers, veterans, people who are known to use guns regularly and safely, will have infinitely more authority with gun owners than politicians, and for that reason must be the government’s primary partners this effort. Make people want to be better gun owners instead of legislating that they be better gun owners.
Undeniably there is something alluring about guns. You hold in your hand the power to summon Hades and cast death upon the world. It is intoxicating. It is perilous. A cultural shift is needed if the American people are to feel safe from gun violence. Yes, sparing every American from a bullet infused death is impossible. What is possible, however, is starting the country down a pathway that we hope will come close. Changes to the laws and norms of gun ownership will reduce the number of unacceptably dangerous guns in its community, lessen instances of accidental shootings and make it harder for people to impulsively react with savage and deadly brutality. It will make people feel safer in their homes and communities. Eventually, it might even make them realise that they never needed a gun in the first place.
 Over the course of their relatively short history, Americans have been scared of, in no particular order, the British, Native Americans, Mexicans, the Soviet Union, Cubans, Germans, Persians, Arabs (except when they were the Arabs who were fighting the scary Arabs), China, the Japanese, other Americans, pirates, alcohol, drug cartels, women voting, freed slaves, immigrants, homosexuals, witches, the spread of communism, the fall of communism, racial equality, and killer bees.