El Paso and Dayton - Banning guns will not work

Last weekend, there were two more mass shootings in the United States. Nevertheless those who are in favor of guns have disproportionate strength. To address the question of how to mitigate mass murders in the U.S., we need to consider the deeper historical connection between guns and liberty

Demonstration in El Paso
In El Paso demonstrators demand a ban on assault rifles during the visit of US President Trump / picture alliance

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George Friedman ist einer der bekanntesten geopolitischen Analysten in den Vereinigten Staaten. Der 67 Jahre alte Politologe leitet die von ihm gegründete  Denkfabrik Geopolitical Futures und ist Autor zahlreicher Bücher. Zuletzt erschien „Flashpoints – Pulverfass Europa“ im Plassen-Verlag.

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Last weekend, there were two more mass shootings in the United States – one in El Paso, Texas, carried out by a white supremacist, and another in Dayton, Ohio, carried by someone who supports the left wing of the Democratic Party. Among all of us there is a hunger to find some motive for such violence. We believe that if we could find one, we could perhaps do something about it.

Since 1999, the year of the shooting at Columbine High School, the U.S. has experienced 88 mass shootings – defined as a shooting in which a lone perpetrator killed at least four people in a public place. In two decades, 738 people have died as a result of mass shootings. The killers were, overwhelmingly, angry men who took their anger to an extreme level, killing people in a black church in South Carolina and a white church in Texas; a gay nightclub in Orlando and a country music concert in Las Vegas; a university in Virginia and an elementary school in Connecticut – and many more. There is no external marker for these men. And while it is tempting to look for the motive behind their action, I focus on their choice of doing evil. The motives behind mass shootings vary; what does not vary is the evil behind them.

An extraordinary number of guns

So, instead of trying to understand individual motives, let us examine the value that many Americans place on guns. I, like many other Americans, own guns. I am horrified by these killings, and I am prepared to accept any sort of limitation on weapons that will make my grandchildren safer. But I am also aware that banning guns will not work. The U.S. has imposed bans on products that some of its citizens want, like drugs. Laws may limit access to those products, but empirically speaking, bans only intensify the products’ presence among the lawless. Banning weapons would have that effect, concentrating them in the realms of the lawless. Banning drugs has not worked. Neither would banning guns.

The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimates that there are 393 million guns in the United States. That is an extraordinary number, and there are far fewer per capita in other countries. To address the question of how to mitigate mass murders in the U.S., we need to consider why there are so many guns here. It begins with the special role of guns in the United States.

The domain of the nobility

In the 18th century, guns were extremely expensive, and they were made for the nobility’s use in hunting – an activity that in Europe and Britain, in particular, was aristocratic. Most hunting lands were off-limits to others, and the penalty for poaching game on those lands was death. Peasants, meanwhile, lived hard lives and died early. For them, access to food was sometimes uncertain. The possibility of eating meat depended on committing a crime for which execution was the punishment. Getting a gun and killing game could save your family from starvation – but at great risk.

There was no such limit in North America as that continent was being explored and settled. The forests were full of game, and guns, though still expensive, were obtainable. Having a gun made settlers self-sufficient. But it was also a symbol of freedom from the hated regime they had left behind in Europe, where guns were the domain of the nobility. In America, it was possible to have a gun and, therefore, stand equal to the nobility.

A symbol of autonomy

That was what the American Revolution was about: The common man was to be the new nobility. The rifle or musket was bound up in the assertion that the nobles could not write the rules in America. The gun, as a symbol of autonomy and as a real economic tool, was far more important then than it is now. The poacher’s fear of the noble is long gone and, with it, the gun’s ability to make one free and equal to the nobles. But the idea of a gun being linked to liberty persists. The cord linking it is hard to see, but it persists.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms. The only other countries with that constitutional right are Mexico and Guatemala. America’s founders felt they had to include that provision in the Constitution not only to ensure a well-armed militia, but also because of the symbolic meaning of the gun. In today’s cultural web, that meaning still resonates. The right to own guns, enshrined in the Constitution, is exercised by many as a guarantee of liberty.

The country is, of course, divided on this. Those who are unyieldingly in favor of guns are in the minority, and yet they have disproportionate strength. That strength doesn’t come only from the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers, but also from the deeper historical connection between guns and liberty. And gun control can’t succeed until those deeper roots are understood. There are many who are not attached to this idea or who may even dismiss it. But in doing so, they miss a crucial dimension of American history that compelled the framers of the Constitution to enumerate that right.

Asking the right questions

American society is saturated with guns for reasons cultural and prudential. I have weapons because I live outside of Austin and, should something happen, the police would get here in time to write a report. That is true in much of the country, including in cities. I like shotguns for home defense, and I can easily live without semi-automatic weapons. But I don’t think banning them will get rid of them.

We are still left with the questions: Why now? Why this intense? Why such varied motives? Is this a sudden concentration of evil or some other force? I don’t know how to get rid of guns, I have a practical but not a cultural commitment to weapons, and I am at a loss for what to do. We all want to blame someone, but I will leave that to others. First, we must make sure we are asking the right questions.

George | So, 11. August 2019 - 17:27

I believe guns ensure political stability and can't be substituted by policies. Any democratic system is vulnerable in a state in which the press and the parties go hand in hand. A political system change becomes a matter of organization. There are just no other effective controls but a "defensive & respected" public to preserve the political status quo. I don't know anything about psyche of a shooter, but logically the evil is triggered by the social environment and executed by encoded gens. If this is true, someone could hypothesize whether a "shooter" would poison drinking water to kill fellow citizen if there were no guns?

Dominik Roth | So, 11. August 2019 - 20:48

Thank you for your insight on the matter!

Europeans oftentimes claim the moral high ground, something they're very good at; isn't it then ironic that our own flawed history is one reason for the Americans' fixation on guns...

A disproportionate number of Americans support the right to gun ownership. But majorities existed for all kind of fallacies, in many countries, at any time, around the world. If some law, entitlement (or habit) is rooted deeply in tradition, it still can change. Something is not written in stone only because two hundred years ago it was considered to become a constitutional right. How long did it take until women suffrage became self-evident? Wasn’t death penalty a fact for centuries in practically each and every country, but has been abolished in many places?
One shouldn’t mix up the very personal interests of Donald Trump and the motives of the gun industry (which has supported Trump massively) with the very legitimate safety concerns of the American population. It sounds cynical when a Donald Trump claimed some of the mass shootings could have been prevented (or their severity mitigated) if those attacked had been armed as well.

Applied to the mass shootings in schools, that would mean that teachers and support staff, maybe senior students should have be encouraged to bring their own weapons – and simply to return fire. Likewise, should churchgoers, praying men in mosques, young people visiting dance clubs and discotheques be armed? Such a thought doubtlessly creates highly absurd ideas of the Wild West, were everyone fought for him-/herself, wherever necessary. Haven’t Americans changed since then?
Of course, many have. They have understood that in a civilised country, it is not the individual who takes care of public security, with a gun in his hand, but that it is the state who is responsible. They may not yet form a majority. Many US-Americans might stick to some perverted idea of individualism and rather outdated concepts of today’s world,encouraged by a president who presents himself as a “fighter”. They cherish some gun fetishism, because every American should be able to defend himself, they claim.

Mind you, it is always the bad guy who brings his weapons. So making that more difficult by restricting the sale of weapons is the obvious decision. Which, however, neither Trump nor the gun lobby would support.
Societies change, so there is no reason why some overdue changes may not take place in the US.
We Europeans shouldn’t patronize the US-Americans with our views someone wrote in her comment.
But haven’t we criticised other countries, and we still do, when we just feel like, from Erdogan’s Turkey to Maduro’s Venezuela?
So why shouldn’t we exempt the USA, which seems increasingly in a sorry state?

nor the idea of a democratic society. The sale of firearms, not weapons, is restricted on every administrative level. Notwithstanding every law abiding citizen is permitted to build firearms for his own use! And usually has knowledge and capability to do so.
Consequently there is no reason to even listen to anti gun mongers, for they offer nothing but lies and display typical a subjects thoughts, not those of a free democratic citizen.

Gisela Fimiani | So, 11. August 2019 - 23:25

The article impressed me for three reasons:
1. The author admits that he doesn‘t know the right answer.
2. The author knows that we have to ask the right questions first.
3. The author doesn‘t believe in „scapegoatism“.
Aside from gun control, there is a deeper message conveyed here: We should be honest and have the stature to admit that we don‘t know the answer, instead of pretending to be omniscient. Moreover we should ask the right questions. This provides that we have to truthfully describe the problem. And, finally and importantly, looking for a scapegoat only exposes our unwillingness or incapability to seriously deal with problems.
The numerous problems in Germany should be approached in this fashion. This though is wishful thinking on my part, since our presumptuous (historically illiterate)„elites“ consider themselves morally superior and therefore omnipotent.
Thanks for some profound thoughts.

Horst Weber | Mo, 12. August 2019 - 16:58

......hat eigentlich jedes Land der Welt anzubieten.
Die Jagdgewohnheiten sind eher Teil europäischer Aristokratie-Privilegien, als Argumente für die Unausweichlichkeit nordamerikanischer Selbstverteidigung mit frei käuflichen Waffen.
Der "Wilde Westen" ist eine filmisch oft verklärte Demonstration von Brutalität, Lynchjustiz und Schlimmerem. Ausrottung der Indianer und Okkupation deren angestammter Ländereien sind
seit Existenz der USA Elemente US-amerikanischer
Grundlage für die gnadenlose Machtausübung mit Rifle und Colt. US-Amerikaner empfinden das Privileg von Polizei und Militär Waffen zu tragen und anzuwenden als unerträglich und daher sehen sie ihre (missverstandene) "Freiheit" in der Gleichberechtigung, als Bürger/innen ebenfalls unter dem Vorwand der Selbstverteidigung Waffen tragen und anwenden zu dürfen. Auch in Deutschland gingen junge Leute an Vaters Waffenschrank - so er offen war und lieferten Amokläufe. Im Vergleich aber selten. - Warum wohl ?

.....wir alle wissen ja um die Intelligenz US-amerikanischer Umgangsweise mit Waffen.
Da benötigt man keine Belehrung von Deutschland aus.
Wir können ja auch nicht mithalten, wenn es um die Anzahl von Amokläufen geht.
Da sind wir ganz kleine Lichter.
Allwissende sind wir schon garnicht. Aber viele von uns schauen fasziniert auf die gesellschaftliche Entwicklung in USA. Manche wünschen sich ähnliche Verhältnisse -
einfach mehr "Äktschen" - als jetzt schon in Schulen, Einkaufszentren und bei Großveranstaltungen. Ansätze sind ja schon erkennbar, wenn auch mit einer anderen Vorgeschichte als in den USA.

nimmt man aus der US-Deliktverteilung die Schwerpunkte heraus, dann ist trotz shooting sprees 99% des Landes auf europäischem Niveau.
Es wird gern vergessen das 2/3 der SW Delikte auf knapp 2 % der bebauten Fläche stattfinden.

Leider haben wir inzwischen in
Deutschland das andere Extrem. Hier wird inzwischen sogar schon der Besitz von eventuellem Ausgangsmaterial für zivile Feuerwerkskörper verboten und der Erwerb sogar Fachleuten in Fachunternehmen selbst zu ganz anderen Zwecken der Forschung im chemischen/medizinischen Bereich präventiv abgewürgt, um 100% jedes einst erlaubte Wunderkerzen-Herstellungsexperiment zu unterbinden. Überall vermuten Vehörden Bau von illegalem Feuerwerk oder Drogenkocherei.
Der Handel wurde extrem angespitzt, Unternehmenskunden LKAs zwecks Hausdurchsuchung leichtfertig anzuzeigen.
Das geht schon so weit, dass Forschungsabteilungen weltbekannter Pharmakonzerne polizeilich belästigt wurden und Pharmahersteller manche interessante Wirkstoffe aus Angst vor Ärger gar nicht zu untersuchen wagen und auch andere Hochtechnologieunternehmen ihre Forschung aus Angst vor Razzien mit negativ-PR aufgeschoben haben. So viel staatliches Misstrauen kostet zig neue Arbeitsplätze.

Untertanengeist und Bildungsmangel.
In den USA waren HA 10 Jahre verboten, das Gesetz wurde nicht verlängert weil kriminalpräventiv unwirksam...
Noch dazu haben die DEMs eine Waffenkategorie erfunden, oder sich einreden lassen, die es technisch gar nicht gibt. Wenig schlau für ein Land in dem jeder Unbescholtene Waffen für den Eigenbedarf konform gun act 1934 ff herstellen darf und meist auch kann!
Friedmann hat nicht viel verstanden, jedes gezielt ausgesuchte Set Stahlrohr reicht um bis zu 30 Schuss die Minute über deliktrelevante Distanzen wirksam abzugeben, wer nach Anleitungen von Luty, Holmes oder Metral, gar "defense distributed" baut kann Halb- und Vollautomaten relativ einfach erstellen. "R9-Arms" fertigt illegale MP-Serien per CNC in Südeuropa und überschwemmt den Markt....

Joachim v. Hauff | Di, 13. August 2019 - 11:40

"Evil" people exist in other countries aswell. What most industrial countries lack, are guns and frequent mass shootings. But not for the US. Having to derive the necessity for owning guns from a 300 year old romantzized founding myth is a little far fetched and is no excuse for not searching for possible solutions at all. This apathy is just unacceptable. Start with regulating the selling of assault and long range weapons from the manufactures to the public. Or create incentives for gun owners to give their weapons away. Introduce a functioning gun registry and the obligation to store guns in a gun vault and regulate the number of guns and ammunition you are allowed to own. 400 Million guns are a rediculously high number that can't be justified and still wouldn't offer protection against the overbloateted US Armed forces, if the the reason for the 2nd amendement would come true. It's not the state inflicting terror on it's people, it is these gunman and the irresponsible gun laws.

"Assault weapons" are fiction, and full auto is already banned, so dont foster these fake news. By US standards yuo turn out to be a "fashist gun grabber", as "registration is confiscation", sad but true.
Why, do you blatant arrogant german think you know th "right way"? Hell, you dont and nobody cares.
By US-Standards guns are regulated well enough.

Thomas Neumann | Fr, 16. August 2019 - 23:34

@CICERO
Ich finde es ja eigentlich auch cool, mal wieder in englisch zu kommunizieren. Ich lebe aber in Deutschland und wenn George in den USA oder auf der austretenden Insel lebt und arbeitet, dann lässt man seine Texte einfach von einem Programm übersetzen und druckt sie dann in ein DEUTSCHES BLATT. Dank Internet können wir alle englische Artikel ohne Ende lessen - auf US- oder GB-Seiten. Das ist doch wirklich kindisch, dass hier Leser in englisch antworten und diskutieren. Bei erinnerlich um die 65.000 Leser in vermutlich hauptsächlich Deutschland eher lächerlich, hier neue, intellektuelle Lesesr für den Cicero zu gewinnen zu wollen. Also ich liebe Cicero. Und wenn ich englisch lesen oder diskutieren will, dann gehe ich auf die NYT,COM oder thepost.com oder huffpost.com (ooops, die ist ja übersetzt!?).

Sehr geehrter Herr Neumann,

offen gesagt verstehe ich Ihre Aufregung nicht.
Erstens sind die Übersetzungen von Programmen nicht schön zu lesen.
Zweitens bleibt es den Kommentatoren selbst überlassen, ob sie hier auf Englisch oder Deutsch kommentieren wollen.
Und drittens: Wenn Sie auf unserer Seite keinen englischen Text lesen wollen, dann können Sie es doch einfach lassen.

Mit besten Grüßen
Christine Zinner

es mag ja möglich sein das der Autor auch mal Kommentare liest? Und nicht zuletzt darf daran erinnert werden dass Übersetzungssoftware bei Fachthemen regelmäßig scheitert.

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