Monday, December 17, 2012

The Gun Problem

Round about 1860 a monumental advance occured in firearms development. The metal cartridge was invented. Until then a round of small-arms ammunition consisted of a normally lead projectile, then some form of wadding, and a flammable or explosive powder ignited by a spark produced from a flint, burning cord, or percussion cap located on the outside of the weapon. Cartridges of the day sometimes wrapped all but the cap  in paper in order to make loading faster and easier. Then people got the idea of replacing the paper with metal, usually brass, and then adding a percussion cap at the end, and voila, the modern cartidge was born. Now ammunition was effectively weatherproof, durable, self-contained and safely stowable. This technological advance also allowed for new kinds of magazine-fed firearms, from hunting and target rifles, to handguns and assault rifles. The marvels of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism permitted the mass production and distribution of reliable cartridges and firearms that continues to this day.

People could now possess a device that would accurately propel a small piece of metal faster than the speed sound for purpose of killing living things from a distance. The power that represented was phenomenal. It changed warfare from set piece battles to prolonged and exponentially more lethal wars of attrition. It also allowed a person possesing one of these new devices the power of life or death over others in a way unseen in human history. A pistol fits in a pocket, a rifle over a shoulder, and allow the bearer to kill from a distance whereby the risk to themselves is minimised and the kill is or incapacitating wounding of their target or bystanders is very nearly assured.

That kind of power is incredibly seductive to a fearful-minded and untrusting tribal primate only a few evolution-years out of the caves and trees.

Somewhere along the way the possession of that power became normalised, as if Remingtons, Glocks and AR15s always existed and aren't products of culture, ingenuity, and economics. For some, the gun became part of their culture and even their indivdual identity. Some nations put them on their flags, some people insisted on the right to carry them anywhere they pleased. Governments passed laws allowing greater or lesser distribution of firearms depending on the sentiments of their varying electorates.

The narrative of the gun and the empowerment it gave the individual spread with other techologies. Cinema genres evolved around the lone gunman gunslinger fending off hoards of improbable nasties to save himself/family/children/community/country/civilisation. Live and virtual ranges were created where men and women could shoot at cardboard or computer-pixel improbable nasties.

However within all this mythmaking, real people used their gun-provided godpower to kill other real people. The ready access to firearms made it possible to walk into a workplace, a school, or a street and kill whomever one wished, while other people argued and lobbied for the 'right' that made firearms available to murderers.

The cost of 'gun-rights' are massacres, murders, and accidental deaths. Arguing for looser controls on firearms means that you're willing to accept that periodically someone is going to walking into a school or workplace and kill a lot of people. It means that somewhere some toddler is going to accidently shoot themselves or their sibling. It means that somebody's spouse is going to die after abuse or rejection.

Gun-rights also mean that small arms industries do grow to the point where economies of scale make light weapons and ammunition easily affordable in the poorest places on Earth. Places where warlords flourish and mass graves fill.

Firearms are a social attractor. They are something that members of society for differing reasons congregate around because they have value to those members. In order to limit gun violence two things need to happen. The physical attractor, guns, need to be removed from play. The second thing that must happen is the reduction in the symbolic value and therefore importance of firearms. Yes, guns are a large part of certain cultures, but cultures are not static and the things they value can and do change under the right conditions. Turning gun-fanatics into social lepers, combined with severe restrictions on firearm types, sales, and distribution will go a long way to removing their importance. It could be done in under a generation.

The gun culture of today did not exist 150, 50, or even 20 years ago. It emerged with advancements in firearms technology and the progression of culture, war, and economics that followed the metal cartridge and it can disappear when the social impacts of those developments are no longer tolerable. It does not have exist 20 years from now.


the salamander said...

Uggh ..

this gun problem is like the tar sands.. We don't know who exactly it will kill.. but we know it will.

Now we see that Stephen Harper is pro gun/NRA... Where did that bold new insight come from Stevie ? I don't quite recall that from your electoral platform or campaign ..

Is this to bolster your adrogenous public image ?
Lend some high velocity backbone to your nonsense ?

Steve said...

when your losing the argument its not the time to debate the subject

Gun Nuts

Unknown said...

...and what about the arms merchants? Why are they not the focus of gun control efforts too? Can't we make legislation to limit manufacture and sale to standing armies only? Put these Merchants of Death out of business. (Yes, I know about the military-industrial-government complex but it too is a cultural artifact that can change...)
Go to the source of the pollution, don't just tinker with the edges.

just sad said...

really? its the guns? Violence and the whole "shock" factor as "entertainment", reducing humans to be equal with animals, contempt for the unborn, glorification of just such an event by the media, declining economies, outsourcing, corporate greed ... all this, has nothing to do with it?

Edstock said...

"It does not have exist 20 years from now."

Let's assume that is possible. What will it take to achieve that in the United States?

It's a big country, and circumstances vary from Canadian-type lack of gun violence to environs that are like Beirut on a bad hair day.

Canadians cannot appreciate the damage and distortion the War On Drugs and the 1% rip-off has done to the bottom half of American society. The 1% has turned them into penniless unemployed with right-to-work, downsizing, rightsizing and contracting-out, and the War On Drugs has incarcerated millions, who cannot get jobs when they get out, because they have to admit prior conviction when they apply for work. The gangs, like the Crips that rule their part of LA are very much a creation of the War On Drugs. Just about all the State governments are broke, so psychiatric services for disturbed people in private-medicine-land are effectively zilch.
So, there's a lot of desperate people. Add the right-wing nutsos and a land awash in cheap firearms. Add the history of the Civil War and the resentment to Washington — makes anything we feel about Ottawa seem tame.

100% of this is due to the social/political policies of the US since Reagan.

Conservatives do not understand that there will be consequences from their failure to share equitably: there always have been, everywhere and everywhen.

You look at the cluster-fuck, and again, what will it take to achieve that in the United States?

I don't know.