In America, violence and guns forever

By Bernd Debusmann
January 14, 2011

Another American mass shooting. Another rush to buy more guns.

On the Monday after the latest of the bloody rampages that are part of American life, gun sales in Arizona shot up by more than 60 percent and rose by an average of five percent across the entire country. The figures come from the FBI and speak volumes about a gun culture that has long baffled much of the world.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation compared January 10, 2011, with the corresponding Monday a year ago.

So what would prompt Americans to stock up their arsenals in the wake of the shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 14, including Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was the target of an unhinged 22-year-old who has since been charged with attempted assassination?

To hear gun dealers tell it, demand went up because of fears that the Tucson shooting might lead to tighter gun laws. There was a similar spike in sales after the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, where a deranged student killed 32 people and himself in the worst such massacre in American history.

Fear of regulation also drove up gun sales after President Barack Obama won the presidency in November 2008. In the first two months of 2009, about 2.5 million Americans bought guns, a 26 percent increase over the same period in 2008.

According to a CBS poll taken two days after Jared Loughner shot congresswoman Giffords in the head, Americans are almost evenly divided on the issue of gun control – 48 percent said gun laws should remain as they are or be made less strict, 47 in favor of more regulation. That is down from 56 percent in 2002 and confirms a Gallup analysis this week that found public support for stricter gun laws has declined over the past two decades.

That prompts one to wonder how many Americans see gun violence as the inevitable by-product of a free society – and whether the gun lobby has been right all along in saying that gun control advocates are out of touch with much of the country.

As one of the staunchest opponents of more gun regulation, John Lott, puts it in a book entitled More Guns, Less Crime: “American culture is a gun culture – not merely in the sense that in 2009 about 124 million people lived in households that owned a total of about 270 million guns but in a broader sense that guns pervade our debates on crime and are constantly present in movies and the news. So, we are obsessed with guns…”

That obsession has long secured the United States the number one position on the list of gun-owning nations. There are more guns in private hands than anywhere else on earth. On a guns-per-capita basis (90 guns per 100 residents) it is comfortably ahead of second-ranked Yemen (61 per 100), according to the authoritative Small Arms Survey issued by the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva.

That obsession, in the eyes of gun control advocates, borders on insanity and some of the wrinkles of America’s permissive gun laws are so bizarre they beggar belief. To wit: “Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law.” Neither does inclusion on the government’s ever-growing terrorist watch list.

So found the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the research arm of Congress, after looking into the background checks of prospective buyers gun dealers are required to file to the FBI. According to a GAO report read at a congressional hearing last May, sales of guns and explosives to people on terrorist watch lists totaled 1,119 in a period of six years.

The National Rifle Association (NRA), one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington, came out in opposition to proposed legislation that would have barred people on the list from buying guns. Why? They are placed there on “reasonable suspicion” of terrorist links and the NRA argues that suspicion is not enough for Congress to take away the constitutional right, enshrined in the second amendment to the U.S. constitution, to own and bear arms.

After the Tucson attack hurt one of their own, members of Congress are worried about their safety but whether that will translate into greater willingness to tighten gun regulations remains to be seen. The test will come when a New York Democrat, Carolyn McCarthy, introduces a bill to ban extended magazines, such as the 33-round clip used by Loughner.

Such magazines were illegal from 1994 to 2004 as part of a ban on assault weapons the Bush administration let lapse, a move that prompted gun control advocates to predict a sharp increase in the number of gun deaths. That did not happen. The rate of gun deaths – by murder, suicide or accidents – has held steady at around 31,000 a year and the murder rate has actually dropped.

Which is an argument gun enthusiasts and their lobby are certain to field when McCarthy’s bill is debated. After that, the topic will fade – until the next mass shooting.

(You can contact the author at


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As a matter of fact there was an armed, law abiding citizen in the crowd. Joe Zamudio. He rushed to the scene and helped restrain the psycho. He’s done several very enlightening interviews that you can look up on YouTube if you like.

By the way, bloody rampages are most certainly NOT part of American life. You are far more likely to be knifed in Scotland than shot in the US. In fact, violent crime in the US has fallen to historic lows in the last 20 years, even as gun laws have relaxed, and even as 90 million new guns have been sold.

How does that compare to the 89% increase in gun violence in the UK from 1999 to 1009, even as you “civilized” Brits were abdicating your responsibility of self preservation? Hmm?

Posted by 032125 | Report as abusive

@Anonymous. You say ” World leader in privately owned guns is probably Afghanistan….Yemen is also most likely ahead of us if we admit that per every registered gun there are some not registered and therefore not making the stats.”

You are guessing and you probably forget that in Afghanistan and Yemen it is only men who have guns. In other words, half the population have no guns. In the U.S., the 90 guns per 100 residents applies to men AND women.

Posted by Komment | Report as abusive

guns and violence? I would rather guns and violence than be a slave.with camera’s everywhere fines for anything,no privacy,no least we can defend ourselves and our loved ones.

Posted by akal | Report as abusive

WellEnough: You are asking an apple and oranges question:

“you have been shot twice – so your bio says. Did you ever think about what you might have done to defend yourself? Whose fault was it you were shot? The people that made the gun that shot you?”

What happened to me happened in a country at war and in a complete state of anarchy (Lebanon). Reuters journalists do not carry weapons in combat zones lest they be confused as combatants by one or the other side. So, the question of defending myself didn’t apply.

If I were shot by a nut case in the United States, I would wonder both about the shooter and the system that allowed him to buy a gun.

As to presenting the view of both sides, it may have escaped your attention that this is an opinion column, not a news story.

Posted by BDebusmann | Report as abusive

A person’s right to keep and bear arms is related to a person’s right to be prepared for unforeseen events. The chances of your house being broken into, for example, is slim, but you have every right to prepare for such an eventuality if you choose. Another example: if the power goes down on the east coast and stays down, it’ll be Mad Max Thunderdome in a short period of time. That is a real possibility and, again, you have the right to prepare for it (protect your home, put food on the table).
Secondly, I would be interested to see how many “gun deaths” are more accurately described as “drug deaths”, i.e. shootouts between dealers, etc. Then ask yourself: Which is causing the violence, the inanimate object or perverse gov’t policies that put a market worth billions into the hands of armed gangs? The war on drugs occurs at all levels of society. Stop that insane war (regulate narcotics) and drug-related “gun” violence will drop or disappear.

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive

You know, there are two interrelated factors that contribute to much of the “gun” violence in this country: 1) the wasteful and counterproductive War on Drugs (or whatever Pres. Obama is calling it), and 2) the condition of our inner cities. Large swaths of most cities are no-go areas and simultaneously open-air drug markets. Therein lies the problem: participants in an unregulated market must provide for their own security and defend their market share with violence. The US gov’t needs to REGULATE the narcotics trade. We have plenty of pharma companies and pharmacies capable of handling the business, let them do it and give intelligent, mostly African American young men an opportunity to make better decisions and do something productive.

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive

Anyone who thinks more gun laws will solve the problem have obviously failed to notice that he clearly, willingly and actively disregarded the laws already present. What mental defect would make one think he wouldn’t just disregard another one? On the other hand, armed law abiding citizens have the ability to neutralize such a threat following the first shot. Idaho has open carry, even in banks, and I never felt safer. I was also never a victim of a bank robber. Apparently, the criminals prefer unarmed victims — they’re much safer.

Posted by justsayin2011 | Report as abusive

“…How does that compare to the 89% increase in gun violence in the UK from 1999 to 1009, even as you “civilized” Brits were abdicating your responsibility of self preservation? Hmm?…”

Murders with firearms (per capita)

# 8 United States: 0.0279271 per 1,000 people

# 32 United Kingdom: 0.00102579 per 1,000 people

Hmmm me thinks Brits are much more “civilized”

Posted by dan445566 | Report as abusive

A gun culture will eventually lead to shootings.

Posted by joao_s | Report as abusive


Posted by Htos1 | Report as abusive

Gun sales go up because people are afraid that the left will enact more laws preventing honest people from obtaining guns. If there had been someone near this nutcase in Az. with a gun it could have ended with fewer dead an injured and without the million dollar show trial this fellow will surely get. In anaother incident, a security guard shot someone shooting up a city council meeting and he was afraid he would be in trouble! The police can’t be everywhere and people should have a right to protect themselves.

Posted by zotdoc | Report as abusive

Excuse me, Title implies that only Americans are violent. Truth is, you take away the guns, you still have violence. Look at GB and Australia. Bernd must be a control advocate by his writing. I don;t care what stats you pull, GUNS DO NOT CAUSE VIOLENCE, people do. And ALL humans are subject to violence, has been around since first standing up right. Really, if you want to write an article at least be fair, half truths only hurt you reputation.

Posted by RenegadeMav | Report as abusive

I can certainly confirm the comment ‘a gun culture that has long baffled much of the world’. In Australia some years ago when we had one of these crazy massacres the then conservative Prime Minster, John Howard, great friend of George W Bush put on a flak jacket and went out to speak directly to his right wing constituency and told them that gun restrictions would be tightened to avoid such future abominations, gun crimes have diminished since the change in the laws. It is beyond the rationality of the rest of the western democratic world that in the US you seem to be quite willing to have criminals armed to the teeth, crazies able to access military style weapons and live in continual fear as long as everyone can arm themselves to the teeth. An acquaintance did a teaching swap with an American teacher. The first thing the Australian was shown was where the numerous guns were kept in the house. I’m glad to live in a relatively gun free society.

Posted by JohnAdel | Report as abusive

Miller holds that the ”Second Amendment guarantees no right to keep and bear a firearm that does not have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia”’ itution/amendment02/

Posted by adamt78 | Report as abusive

The nutball Right still has the usual problem with facts. Fits the ideology of superstition, fear, hatred and cowardice.

Posted by Eideard | Report as abusive

Incest- and pedophilia-praising right-wing science fiction writer Robert Heinlein is undeservedly famous for writing: “An armed society is a polite society”. Rarely has a claim and concept proved to be more notoriously, mass-murderingly wrong!

Instead, ridiculously easy and effectively unlimited access to semi-automatic handguns and anti-personnel rifles and high-capacity clips simply emboldens and quite overtly encourages one particular sub-group of gun owners — conservative-authoritarian gun owners — to spew Eliminationist hate speech and anti-liberal genocidal rants and death threats without any apprehension or fear whatsoever that anyone can stand up to these vicious bullies without being murdered. The truth is, an armed society is a recklessly belligerent and murderous society.

Now, we all know that these same particular hate-fueled gun owners who rule the NRA — the oligarchical power ruling everyone in this country when it comes to guns — will never permit this to be a sane and rational country. A sane and rational America is utterly incompatible with the NRA’s goals. Sanity and reason is their enemy, and they will never yield. To the NRA, virtually unhindered access to cop-killer ammunition and plastic or ceramic handguns that can evade detection is a sacred right delivered directly from God.

To this category of gun owner and the NRA, the Second Amendment isn’t merely a Constitutional amendment, it’s Inerrant Holy Writ that was delivered unto sacred parchment when the Abrahamic Deity took physical control of the Founders’ arms and hands and, as if telerobotically, brought The Sacred Right of Remote-Control Murder to mankind.

Fact 1: In the U.S., there are 90 guns for every 100 people, vastly more than anywhere else in the world. Fact 2: In the U.S., there are vastly more gun murders annually than anywhere else in the world. But to conservative-authoritarian gun owners and the NRA, there’s absolutely no connection between these facts (or, more accurately, they often know better but lie anyway). What more evidence do we need to know that sanity and reason are utterly incompatible with the NRA’s goals and politics?

Finally, the extreme defensiveness from the Right in this last week since Tuscon is compelling proof of their justifiably guilty consciences. In his first comments after the shooting in Tuscon, Sheriff Dupnik never named individuals or groups or political parties. Yet the Right again became utterly unhinged with defensiveness and denial at Dupnik’s plainly honest and non-specific first comments, demonstrating and emphatically highlighting their plainly guilty consciences.

Was Loughner directly motivated by Palin, Beck, Limbaugh and their hate-fueled ilk? The clear answer is no. I have seen no one claim or argue otherwise, although the Right falsely pretends he claimed there was a direct link. But look at what the hateful Right is arguing in response: “Since we’re not responsible for Tuscon, we’re completely and utterly faultless and innocent of everything, ever. The biggest victim of the Tuscon shootings was poor eternally innocent and perfectly sane Sarah Palin. Everything bad that happens in America is deliberately caused only by liberals, so we are morally right to pursue their final genocidal elimination with our God-beloved remote-control murder devices.”

Read Urbanjack3l’s and other “guns = freedom” responses for clear evidence of this. That author writes: “Are we the same people who subdued and settled a continent???”. Yes, you are: You’re the same kind of people who from the very first moment of the Eurpoean discovery of this land mass, insanely enslaved and viciously murdered everyone else to get your way regardless of the morality of your decisions and regardless of the consequences.

Conseratives are always on about “personal responsibility” — how a just and moral person takes personal responsibility for their words and deeds. Yet you never see a public conservative actually DO that! And that speaks volumes. Volumes and volumes of hate and hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty.

Posted by Spection | Report as abusive

@Spection: how ironic that you accuse the right of “rants”, “hate”, and “unreasonableness”. John Stewart did a great piece (incidently parodying S Palin) about people who accuse others of various infractions while simultaneously perpretrating the exact same things themselves. You should watch it.

Posted by mheld45 | Report as abusive

If guns = freedom, Afghanistan and Iraq are the most free countries in the world.

Great post, Spection.

Posted by Gaius_Baltar | Report as abusive

I am an American Citizen. I own guns. My life, my families life, and my property are protected by my guns and I. I sleep like a baby, every night, knowing my Semi-Automatic 9mm pistol is by my bed, within arm reach. If an intruder ever came into my house, it would be his last moment alive on this earth. Period.

The only thing that keeps us civil, is our laws. Those who wish not to abide by them, risk losing there life. Either by my gun and I, or by a jury of there peers.

Anything less or different from that, means Zero to me or mine.

“Live Free or die.”-Gen.Stark. American Rev. War Hero.

That says it all about this great continent my European Ancestors took by force, using guns, from the natives.

Posted by Av8ts | Report as abusive

Your guns won’t save you from strangers gone nuts or from your government. Nor from other people being paid to take you out.

Posted by dann77 | Report as abusive

Im just so happy that in the UK we dont have guns readily available like you do in the US. God only knows what would happen if they allowed guns to be sold over here.

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