Home > Society, United States > Of the two Americas, I love and admire only one

Of the two Americas, I love and admire only one

assault weaponsBecause there are two, clearly defined and quite separate. Aware of the difficulty of reducing people and society to a few bullet points, I’ll still forge ahead. No apologies. I’ve been sickened enough over the last few years and particularly in the bruising electoral cycle we’ve just been subjected to by the sorry spectacle of red America—bigotry, pig-headedness, tea-party extremism, the poison distilled by Rush, Bill and co., the running amok of the “gun- and Bible-toting” simpletons denounced by Obama in a rare un-pc statement. I feel personally insulted that a Sarah Palin could become an icon for a benighted part of the population, this in a country with the highest percentage anywhere of extraordinary brain power.

To be fair, I’m not personally familiar with that America, very different from the one I live in. I can only read about it, hear about it, and be appalled by it. In my circle of family, friends and connections, no one is for the death penalty, for not giving women the right to choose, for deporting illegal immigrants or preventing gay unions. No one talks about intelligent design. No one I know questions the importance of the role of a federal administration, its right to levy taxes on the wealthy or help the needy. And definitely no one I know is in favor of raving lunatics being allowed to order Glocks over the internet to then walk into a school, a movie theatre, or a shopping mall, and gun down our children, our teachers, our neighbors.

About guns, about assault weapons. If you burn your hand on your stove, you’re not going to say the sun shining outside is responsible, or a flash of lightning. You know enough to understand there’s a direct relation between the hot metal and your blistering skin. So, if the number of massacres by deranged creeps is increasing, one can safely assume their easy access to murderous weapons allows them to enact sick fantasies. The NRA and the late Charlton Heston statements notwithstanding, guns—in the hands of people—kill people. What’s complicated about understanding that if you ban them, less people will die? Would authorities stand by and watch repeated accidents on a particularly dangerous stretch of road without lifting a finger to make it safer?

I voted twice for President Obama—his heart is in the right place, even though the same can’t always be said of the people around him. But like many of his supporters, I can’t help but wish for more forcefulness on his part, more sense of purpose. The present issue certainly requires that. Guns are dangerous, Mr. President. You have to encourage Congress to renew the assault weapons and rifle ban and make it permanent, no sunset provision this time around. In Newtown, Connecticut, twenty tiny tots and the six adults trying to protect them were wiped off the face of the earth within minutes. You have the power to prevent the next tragedy, and the next one, and the one after that. Surely, you won’t hesitate.

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  1. Agostini
    December 16, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    Excellent commentary thank you

    Like

  2. December 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    The immediate obsession with gun control following a glaring tragedy is unsurprising. Personally, I have no problem with an assault weapons ban. But the focus on guns may be excessive. And the available evidence indicates that the efficacy of regulation in reducing criminal violence is likely to be less than many may hope.

    Here is a Justice Dept. study of the impact of past efforts to ban weapons:
    https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/173405.pdf

    The long-term trend from that time to the present has been toward a substantial decrease in crime of all kinds, including violent crimes. So statistically discerning the additional contibution of weapons regulation is not trivial. The analysis in the Justice study suggests that gun bans reduced relevant crime metrics by about 10% or less. That result may be worth achieving, but it is not a panacea.

    Regarding the recent incident, gun control laws in Connecticut are stricter in many other places. Another study of several European countries indicated that the relationship between gun ownership and national murder rate was either neglible or even negative:
    http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf

    Moreover, mass murderers need not depend on guns to commit heinous crimes. Anders Breivik, whose two assaults in Norway last year claimed 115 victims and 69 deaths used bombs as well as guns. As did Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the disturbed teenages who attacked Columbine High School.

    Tim McVeigh used a homemade bomb composed of diesel fuel and fertilizer to attach the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, killing 169 peole and injuring 680. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, mailed homemade bombs to victims over nearly two decades, killing three and wounding 23. Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park Bomber, planted bombs that killed two people and injured over 150 others.

    As many or more lives have been taken by the worst serial killers than many of the perpetrators of mass assaults:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_serial_killers_by_number_of_victims

    Yet serial killers rarely use guns.

    The common thread among perpetrators of mass murder is that they are usually if not always mentally deranged, even though the insanity defense is rarely effective or even used for those who are prosecuted. (They are just about always male too.) That seems to be the case of the young man who committed the attack on the school in Newtown, Conn.

    So attention really should be focused more on the mental health of these criminals, and less on the particular weapons they employ. In several of the recent incidents in this country, the killer had sought or received some sort of mental health treatment. Others were thought to be mentally unstable by people they knew, but for one reason or another they got no treatment. And one way or another, what passes for our mental health system failed to disarm the fatal impulses of these human time bombs.

    That is the dilemma which really warrants serious inquiry.

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    • December 17, 2012 at 12:27 am

      Lewis,

      I respectfully disagree. following the logic of your arguments and observing the vast gap between murder rates in the US versus other western democracies, we could only conclude that American are disproportionally violent or mentally disturbed. I do not subscribe to either theory and the only other explanation I see is that the ease of access to guns, especially of the semi-automatic variety, enables unstable and/or criminal Americans to reflexively commit more murder and more mass murders. How many Anders Breivik have we seen in Europe over the last 50 years?

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      • December 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm

        We weren’t discussing murder rate, but mass killings. In that regard see:
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_rampage_killers

        In that list, the number of incidents in Europe and in the Americas is about even.

        The list of the top 15 ‘school massacres’ includes 5 incidents in the US and 5 in Europe.

        Of course this only accounts for crimes committed by individuals. Europe’s recurring civil wars and ethnic cleansings including two World Wars and the Holocaust, with tens of millions killed, are unrivaled for mass slaughter.

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      • Mac
        January 13, 2013 at 9:23 am

        That is only because you have a very simplistic understanding of US homicide rates, and insist on comparing apples to bananas. The facts are that the US homicide, currently, is at the lowest rate in over 50 years, it’s now half of what it was in 1992. It stands at 4.8 per 100,000, about 3 times what the UK’s is at 1.4 per 100,000……..That is where the simplistic conclusions come in ‘It must be the guns’…….Sorry, that’s not supported by the evidence. The UK has virtually banned private ownership of firearms since the 1990’s……..But prior to that the UK allowed private firearms ownership. For the 100 years before they abolished firearms, the UK homicide rate correlated to the US homicide rate in the same way it doesn, or specifically, that the US homicide rate was 3 times the UK rate……..Guns weren’t the difference. The US, in general, has consistently been a more violent society. Why is that you ask? One difference is that the UK is a homogeneous society, at 92% of the UK population being ethnically western european. The US society, however, is far more diverse. How does that play out? Well, here’s how……..12% of the US population is African American. 52.2% of ALL US homicide are committed by African Americans. Another 23% or so is committed by various hispanic communities……….A full 75% of the US homicides are committed by 30% of the population. Why? Certainly not legal access to guns, because the vast majority of that 30% live in states and cities where guns are tightly controlled. So it isn’t easy legal access driving those rates. Converserly the areas of the countries with the HIGHEST concentration of legal guns, and least restrictions, such as Wyoming, with about 60% of the ENTIRE population armed, have homicide rates equal to the UK’s, at approximately 1.4%……..So legal guns don’t drive homicide rates. The presence of guns does not make people want to kill each other any more than they would if they were unarmed. So what is driving the US homicide rate? I’ll call your attention to two very different phenomenon’s in US history……1) Slavery and racial striff……2) A draconian response to drugs……….The issue is linked. African Americans have faced generations of slavery and post-slavery repression and poverty……..But until the 1960’s the african american family remained relatively strong and intact. But during the 1950’s and 1960’s many african americans accelerated a trend seen previously, they began leaving the poor rural south and began flooding in to the major urban areas of the upper-midwest, north east and west coast, searching for better economic opportunities. This disapora had some unintended consequences. While blacks initially hoped to advance economically by this move, they still encountered poverty and discrimination in the urban areas as whites fled from the urban areas. During that same time the rapidly growing youth population in the US began embracing counter-cultural drug usage at unprecedented levels. The government moved to clamp down on drug use by passing large numbers of state and federal laws. Urban african american males, still stuck in poverty with a perception that they were not going to be able to get a legitimate opportunity to succeed in US society turned to drug distribution as a way of bringing in revenue to their communities. The response of the government to this was a mobilization to crack down on drugs by targeting the inner-cities and minorities, with the idea that they were going to ‘stop the drug problem in THOSE communities’ to prevent those drugs from reaching white suburban youth. The result was massive incarceration of african american youth in highly segregated US prison systems where they were indoctrinated in violent prison cultures, which they then brought out to the streets starting an expanding criminal street culture. Meanwhile, entire generations of african american youth were raised in fatherless abject poverty, reliant on the state, and embracing the prison to the street gang culture of their fathers, uncles and cousins……..The communities became less and less trustful of the police, and the drug dealing accelerated along with the violence. The result being an epidemic of urban violence that made a black male 7 times more likely to commit murder than any other group, and 8 times more likely to BE murdered. This violent culture spread in to the neighboring hispanic communities, which had likewise sought the large urban areas for the very same reasons, starting a cascade of violence and criminal gangs in those communities as well. Fully 75% of the US homicide rate is directly or indirectly attributable to the combination of the drug war in the marginalized minority populations of this country, a population group, again, not seen in places such as Japan, the UK, Germany, etc…….Making comparisons absurd. It is the drug war and it’s racist policies that have driven the US homicide rate up, not legal guns. We see the same thing being played out in Mexico, a country with strong firearms policies, with horrendous violence as a result of drug and drug profits. Meanwhile, in the rest of American society we see rapidly declining homicide rates, with most of the rest of the country, not directly touched by the drug war, not experiencing higher homicide rates than the UK or Canada or Germany. Likewise, mass shootings are not on the rise, they peaked in the 1990’s, and have stayed at a consistent rate of approximately 20 per year. Moreover, the fixation on ‘Assault Weapons’ is statistically unsupportable given that according to the FBI they are used in no more than 100 homicides per year, while handguns are used in more than 6,000. Want to save lives? Stop the drug war and reform the prison system. Gun control hasn’t be shown to be a successful preventor of violence

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  3. CS
    December 17, 2012 at 3:00 am

    If this tragedy does not wake up this nation, I don’t know what will. But i’m not very optimistic. I hope I’m wrong.

    Like

  4. SM
    December 17, 2012 at 10:49 am

    It staggers the imagination beyond any limit how an intelligent, educated, successful professional like Mr. Lewis Perelman can selectively focus to such an extent that you start to wonder about his motives. How, in the name of sanity, can he ignore the obvious?

    For example it was reported several times this week (see Piers Morgen for one) that in England, where all guns are forbidden, there were less than 40 gun killings in 2011. For the same period in America the number is over 10,000. Even if you scale up to account for population difference (~312 to 62 million) we are still talking about a ration of over 50 to 1. That seems pretty straight forward and yet according to Mr. Perelman, the Justice Department says

    „The analysis in the Justice study suggests that gun bans reduced relevant crime metrics by about 10% or less „

    and then there is this one:

    „Another study of several European countries indicated that the relationship between gun ownership and national murder rate was either negligible or even negative“

    Absolutely amazing. I mean really, really, really amazing.

    And then we have another gem:

    „And one way or another, what passes for our mental health system failed to disarm the fatal impulses of these human time bombs. That is the dilemma which really warrants serious inquiry.“

    Inquiry? Dilemma? Is the cause that difficult to understand? Sadly, Mr. Perelman is in good company here because evidently, according to a frightening number of experts, there is an insignificant , I repeat insignificant correlation between violence in the media and violence in society.

    See, for just one example of many:
    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_violence_research#Relationship_between_media_violence_and_minor_aggressive_behaviors )

    They mean to tell us that all the violence with weapons our kids see in the movies, magazines, computer games, TV, on-line games, music, books, smart phones, dumb phones, I-pads, I-pods, tablets and so forth is without consequence? Really?

    Then tell me why does industry spend billions, literally billions on advertising every year trying to get inside our minds and influence our behavior? And a great deal of this is directed at our youth.

    Am I missing something here? I don’t think so and I also think that our “experts” would be amazed at how many grass-root people with good old common sense just shake their heads at them in disbelief.

    Most of us know you also have to use your head once in a while. And that last sentence isn’t funny…..because ignoring what it says can obviously be dangerous.

    Like

    • Mac
      January 13, 2013 at 9:28 am

      There is a reason that folks who are anti-gun focus on the bogus ‘gun crime’ statistic…..The UK homicide rate is 634 homicides per year, not 34……..And prior to their banning of firearms, their homicide rate INVOLVING guns was 64, or double what it currently is now……..But before you jump on the ‘aha, proof’ bandwagon, know this…….The UK homicide rate has fallen in half altogether between then and now…….BUT, so has the US homicide rate at EXACTLY the same rate, having fallen in half to levels not seen for 50 years. The UK cannot claim that their drop in homicide rates is coming from their massive gun control, and that the US needs to follow suit, IF the US homicide rate has FALLEN at the exact same rate of having fallen to HALF of what it was. The UK can’t claim that gun control cut their homicide rate in half if the US rate fell in half as well…….How do you explain the US decline? Clearly not gun control, since we’re decrying the fact that the US has ‘more guns than ever’ as justification for new gun laws……..But it doesn’t have more HOMICIDES than ever, they are now at the lowest point in 50 years. How can this be?

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  5. December 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Lewis Perelman is wrong. More gun control is the solution, specifically on semi-automatic, war-ready, assault-style weapons (Bushmaster XR-15, for example).

    The statistics making the rounds comparing US to European countries’ murder rates is the only one we need. Our assault weapon-loving compatriots in the Red states have helped made America’s name an abomination, one which the rest of us have to live with in in shame knowing we are a part of it, too. If Obama has the moral fiber I think he has, he will deliver its comeuppance to the NRA by imposing the ban once again; either that or we the people ought to organize a referendum. My head spins just thinking that some of my fellow Americans feel the need to keep a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle in their personal armory.

    Yes to private gun ownership.
    Yes to single-shot rifles and guns in the home! By all means. It’s everyone’s right to protect themselves.

    NO to the highly deadly assault weapons.

    Like

    • Mac
      January 13, 2013 at 9:30 am

      It’s the only one you need even if it isn’t accurate? Lol…….Come now. How many lives do you think you’re going to save by banning future purchases of the firearm used LEAST among homicides? 100 homicides a year for ‘assault weapons of war’…….Versus 6,000 for handguns, nealy 600 for shotguns, and 350 for all rifles. Hands and feet are responsible for 7 times more deaths than assault weapons. I mean, lets be honest……The numbers don’t really support the talking point.

      Like

  6. December 19, 2012 at 3:22 am

    I am not American. When I see the politics of the USA, I am thankful that I am not American. I agree wholeheartedly with you, Saideh. Though I think Obama’s hands are tied by the Republican majority in the House. His big mistake was not to push enough of his agenda through during his first two years in office. I have seen Australian governments fall down that hole also. The government that introduced most change in to Australia, that of Whitlam, did so within a few months, and much of it with a temporary Cabinet of only two men. The trick is to have one’s policies thoroughly thought out before gaining office.

    I hope he does manage to ride through this one on the basis of outrage, but I have my doubts with that huge Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Let as just hope their are some folk of goodwill and good sense on that side of the American political divide.

    Like

  7. December 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    As the late Patrick Moynihan liked to say, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” Some of the commenters here, SM in particular, prefer not to be confused by facts.

    It is true that the US has a much higher murder rate than many other countries, although that along with the crime rate generally has significantly declined in recent years. This year homicide dropped off the list of top 15 causes of death for the first time in half a century. Nearly half the adult population in the US possesses guns. There are other countries though (e.g., Switzerland) where gun possession also is widespread but the murder rate is notably lower. Handguns account for only about 1/3 of all guns owned in the US but for about 3/4 of homicides using firearms. Over 55% of deaths caused by firearms are suicides — people determined to kill themselves presumably would do so by other means were guns not available.

    Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world (even though its constitution also has an equivalent to the US Second Amendment). Yet 60,000 Mexicans have been killed in the last several years in what is virtually a civil war involving drug traffic cartels.

    Most of the firearm homicides in the US also involve people with criminal records.

    Here are a few more salient facts: http://j.mp/R9503d

    But again,the problem of murder and firearms is separate from the topic here: the occasional, notorious incidents of rampage killing, often by crazed individuals. Again too, these incidents are no more common in the US than in other countries where overall murder/crime rates may be lower. And the available evidence indicates that while banning or regulating assault weapons or even guns more broadly may make some marginal difference, it is not a panacea for either problem.

    While improving mental health services needs to be looked at, it is probably not a panacea either. The inevitable existence in a large population of a number of individuals with a latent propensity for extreme violence, but who have not yet committed any crime, poses a troubling legal dilemma. Most citizens are rightly uncomfortable with the prospect of the state detaining and/or forcibly medicating people because of something that they might do but have not done.

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  8. CS
    December 22, 2012 at 3:20 am

    Today, NRA suggested we post armed guards everywhere. I don’t know about the gun violence but it would certainly solve the unemployment problem.

    Like

  9. December 30, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to visit LaeLand, read a post and ‘like’ it.

    Please, come back soon.

    Have a great New Year.

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