It has often been said that America has a gun culture. Some would go as far as to say that America has a love affair with the gun. Recently though this gun culture has been highlighted and criticised on a worldwide scale due to what is an almost entirely American phenomenon, that of school shootings. To put this in perspective in the last 100 years Canada recorded 10 incidents of shootings at schools, with 26 fatalities. In the month of January this year alone America has recorded 8 shootings in schools with 5 fatalities. That is within a single month. For the year of 2012 this rises to 10 shooting incidents and a staggering 41 fatalities, more than the whole of Canada over the last 100 years. Since January 2000, just 8 months after the infamous Columbine shootings, there have been 63 shooting incidents, 138 fatalities and 131 woundings. The most telling statistic is that in almost every case the assailant was another pupil at the school, sometimes as young as 13.
Given then that the majority of incidents are not the random events such as the Newtown shootings in December 2012, where the assailant had no direct link to the school at that time it is therefore telling that the NRA’s response to school shootings is to advocate more guns in schools. In fact there are even some that issue permits to pupils to allow them to carry concealed weapons, notably the University of Utah. Several schools have also taken to hiring armed guards, with one school making the news when the retired police officer that they had hired famously left his pistol unattended in the rest room. Advocates of the armed school often cite the lower incidence of gun violence in other countries where teachers are allowed to openly carry weapons, such as in Israel. However, this argument is flawed by the simple facts that due to military training that almost every Israeli citizen receives by serving in the IDF every teacher carrying a weapon not only has had extensive training in handling firearms, but almost every person owning a firearm has received training on how to maintain and keep firearms safe and out of their children’s hands. Something America clearly seems incapable of doing.
To help understand this culture I have enlisted the help of one of my friends in America, ex US Marine Scott Floyd.
1. You served as a US Marine. What rank were you when you left?
I was a Marine for twenty years. I got out as a Gunnery Sergeant, E7.
2. Given your military training and background would you consider yourself pro gun ownership?
Even without it I would still be pro gun ownership.
3. Would you consider America’s obsession with the gun to be a healthy or harmful one?
I don’t consider all American’s to be obsessed with guns. I own five firearms, but I am not obsessed with them. Some people are, it’s like a hobby. Some people like stamps, some like coins, some like guns. If someone is obsessed with guns and likes to hunt or target shoot, I would not consider it harmful in any way.
4. The NRA used to be pro gun control, at least to a degree. Since December 2012 their rhetoric would certainly seem to suggest that the answer to gun violence is more widespread gun ownership. Is the NRA right in your opinion?
I believe they are right to an extent. If you plan on going on a shooting spree, are you going to choose a place where you suspect people are armed or unarmed? If there is a psychopath threatening you or your family with a gun, you better have a gun. Would you rob someone’s house if you knew they had a gun? Probably not. You would choose a softer target.
5. Most gun related violence in America is crime related, with guns being the weapon of choice in robberies and gang related crime. Many of the gun controls being advocated are aimed at making it harder for criminals to obtain guns, such as a ban on unregistered sales at weapons conventions. Should all gun sales be registered?
Handguns and assault weapons are registered I believe. You can still go into a Walmart and purchase a .22 or a shotgun with just an ID saying you are of age. The majority or crimes that are committed with firearms are not the ones purchased at Walmart. Criminals will use guns for violence or crime that are usually stolen so the weapon cannot be traced to them. So no I do not believe you should have to register your shotgun for rabbit hunting.
6. It is estimated that there are more guns in private ownership in America than there are people living in America. Given how prevalent gun ownership is and the protections the constitution affords American citizens do you think the gun lobbyists arugument that gun control is about removing guns from private ownership is a valid one?
No I do not. I hope I understand this question correctly. If guns are lawfully removed from private ownership, then who will have these weapons? Criminals and Law Enforcement. We all know that when you need a cop, they are never there, so you have to protect yourself. Otherwise the cops will be photographing your corpse and interviewing your raped wife. Removing firearms from private citizens would start a crime spree unlike this country has never seen.
7. Many of the most famous gun related crimes in the last century have been committed by the mentally ill. In the last few weeks we have seen a school bus driver murdered and a child kidnapped as well as a decorated war veteran murdered by another ex-soldier who was being treated for PTSD. Should part of gun ownership be proof that you are mentally stable enough to own a gun?
Well, it is. Before you purchase a handgun, you have to obtain a permit. To get this permit you have to go down to the police station for a background check, fingerprints, etc. Then after you get the permit you have to wait a certain amount of time before you can make a purchase. Mentally ill people do not go through that process. They will steal, borrow, or obtain their weapons any way they can. I have never heard of a case where a mentally ill person committed a crime with his own legally owned gun
8. School shootings are almost always perpetrated by one or more students from the school. Should more be done to ensure children have no access to weapons outside a controlled environment?
Of course. In my state you can serve between 5 and 10 years in prison if you store a firearm within access of a child. The parents are just as guilty if their child commits a tragedy with their parents gun.
9. What, in your own opinion, is the one thing that America can do to help reduce the incidents of gun violence within its educational establishments?
We have had metal detectors and armed guards in schools for years. It may sound far fetched, but I have heard suggestions to arm the teachers. I can see this. We certainly can’t arm the students. If teachers are armed and some kid brings a gun to school and starts shooting. A shot from a teacher’s gun can end the killings and possibly save lives that might have been lost. In all school shootings, by the time the police arrive, it’s too late. Arming the teachers may not be the best idea, but no city has enough cops to guard schools, nor is there any money in the budget to hire enough security guards. The teachers are already there, and underpaid. Pay them a bonus for being armed?
When I decided to write this article I started looking at the gun culture in America from a British standpoint. Gun control is almost a none issue here because so few people actually have them. It’s seen almost as an upper class pastime, played out at weekends by the idle rich or by farmers supplementing the pot with pheasant and rabbit. It’s quick and easy for those who sit this side of the pond to state the answer is to remove guns from those that abuse them. What I’ve found is that the argument for gun control is flawed. In almost every case where gun control has been advocated it has been as a direct response to a shooting in a school. The guns used have been legally owned and even with stricter gun controls in place would most likely not have been prevented. Instead we have a media hysteria polarised between two camps, one saying we need to remove guns from private ownership and another saying we need to arm everyone who isn’t a criminal. What is not discussed are the facts. Statistically you are still more likely to die from being shot if you own a gun. This is simple logic, when someone robs your house, they don’t know what weapons you own. If they find any, you have armed them, and knowing you have one gun they are more likely to shoot first than find out if you have any others. Arming the entire nation is not an option, but in a nation where every burglar could be armed it is also hard to argue against owning a weapon for self defence. The flaw in owning a weapon for defence though is what happens when you shoot the wrong person. Only last year a home owner, believing he was protecting his family’s property, shot and fatally injured his own son when mistaking him for a burglar. Even in self defence it must be seen as a last resort.
Arming teachers cannot be the answer either, in doing that you are asking that teacher to make the impossible choice. You are asking them to be prepared to shoot and kill a child, one who for years they may have been teaching. Since January 2000 over half the school shootings in America have been committed by children under the age of 16, the youngest being aged just 6 years of age. In almost every case the assailant has been male. No amount of gun control will prevent the parents of these children from owning a gun. Instead of advocating stronger controls that will do nothing to limit the number of weapons that are already in private ownership what I believe is needed is stronger controls on storage. Quite simply no weapon should ever be accessible to someone who is not the permitted owner of the weapon. Nothing can be done to prevent the next Columbine or Newtown without first ensuring weapons are properly controlled in the home. Any parent who allows through their own carelessness a child to gain access to their own weapons is in effect culpable for the actions of that child. And any parent who allows their child to possess a gun must also be ultimately responsible for that child’s actions.