Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The agony of America's guns

Like many of those reading this post, I am very opposed to the current lax regulation of guns, though I come to my gun opposition from a somewhat different route than most of the people I know.  Because my father was afflicted with a number of problems, including the problem of considering himself a "country boy" despite living well within the limits of a major midwestern city, we had quite a few guns in our home.  At the age of 12 I already owned a bb gun, a 22-caliber rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun.  My father, meanwhile, owned a rifle, a shotgun and a pistol along with other weapons I'm forgetting now.  The stock of my father's shotgun was made of a special kind of wood -- tiger tail maple -- that he sought out and fetishized.  My father would clean his guns while watching television... somehow he found this relaxing.  He would take me skeet shooting -- a ridiculous waste of time -- and my performance at shooting skeet was so miserable that my father was (yet again) profoundly embarrassed by me.

Despite my ineptitude at the absurd practice of skeet shooting, I liked guns well enough as a youngster.  After my early triumphs blowing up ant nests with fire crackers and "mating" angry bees with docile slugs, I graduated to shooting pigeons and squirrels in our densely populated neighborhood.  The people living behind us once had their dinner interrupted by several of my shots going through their windows, and the spinster living in the mock Tudor house beside ours once ran hysterically out of her screened porch to stop me from finishing off a pigeon that had fallen into her yard.  I was simply amazed at how many bb shots a pigeon could take to its head without dying.  Not many years before, that same spinster had told me out of the blue that I had beautiful eyes... a compliment that left my young mind aghast with confusion.  What did she think of my eyes as I used them to aim pellet after pellet into the head of that dazed, harmless pigeon she was defending?

Fast forward to the present and my intense loathing for guns.  I would never own a gun, and cannot imagine what goes through the minds of gun advocates on an emotional level to defend gun ownership so fanatically.  My father died many years ago at a comparatively young age, leaving me quite free to develop my loathing of guns and my appetite for so many things he would have disdained or hated.  Where in the world are my father's beloved guns, and where are my own weapons, today?  As for my mother, she does not even recall the plethora of guns we had in our home in the good old days and dared to suggest in a recent conversation that more guns rather than fewer of them might solve our problems in this country.  When my mother said that I knew that she really has given her mind and identity over completely to the conservative media that provides her with the "news" and entertainment she prefers to imbibe.  Like the spinster's intimate compliment so long ago, my mother's state of mind -- her political values and viewpoints -- leave me aghast with confusion.

I believe our country's problem with guns is largely a by product of a toxic culture that promotes passivity, worships overconsumption, adores violence and encourages paranoia together with a host of other pathologies.  The bizarrely tenacious historical legacy of the United States as a "frontier nation" and, worse, as a "Christian nation" provides one emotional underpinning to our country's love of weapons and violence.  The other emotional foundation of our gun culture is an amalgam of primitive ideas, such as the idea that a man with a gun is somehow more of a man... or the idea that "individual rights and individual responsibility" trump our collective responsibility to one another.  I believe our country is sick and guns, more than anything else, are a symptom of that sickness.

And yet, as unshakable as the gun culture seems to be, there is something even more powerful and that is our money culture.  Money culture is the true root of all our problems, but once in a while the golden worm turns ever so slightly and today (18 December 2012) that worm actually turned:  private equity giant Cerberus Capital will sell its huge gun subsidiary, "Freedom Group," which takes in over $1 billion a year marketing exactly the type of weapon used to kill 26 people in Sandy Hook, CT.  Freedom Group...don't you just love how people who make and do vile things give those things a superficially pretty name?

Cerberus, which eagerly assembled a variety of gun and ammunition makers to create "Freedom Group," is only taking this action because a large public pension fund, the California State Teachers Retirement System, said it would be reviewing its investment in Cerberus given the prominence of lethal weaponry in Cerberus's investment portfolio.  So here's the point... if you participate as the beneficiary of a large pension fund then you can insist that your pension fund divest its stake in all weapons manufacturers.  Divesting large sums of money out of weapons manufacturers is far and away the quickest route to taming gun violence in the USA because Americans love money even more than they love guns.

If owning gun companies were to become radioactive to investment companies, then the value of gun companies would plummet, depriving them of capital and of legitimacy.  That, in turn, would hurt the gun merchants quite a lot.  Of course, this would be the financial equivalent of pumping pellets into the head of a wounded pigeon in that it will take quite a few of those financial "pellets" to finish off the gun industry, but if we all pressure our pension funds to divest it should have quite a beneficial impact.

Please bear in mind that the ultra-extremist National Rifle Association derives much of its money from weapons manufacturers.  So divesting weapons manufacturers from pension funds could help to dry up the torrent of blood money being recycled from gun manufacturers into one of the worst organizations ever devised by humankind.

I have just one last point to make on guns -- a statistical exercise.  As reported in the Guardian (see the link below), there are 270 million civilian firearms in the U.S., equating to 89 guns for every 100 people in our country.  This makes the U.S. the scariest place, by far, on the planet, but this awful statistic greatly understates our gun problem.  Here is how I would calculate the actual number of guns per adult in the United States:

     2010 population:  308.8 million... minus
     2010 population under 10 years old:  40.5 million
            equals an "adult" population of 268.3 million
     Of 268.3 million people, assume 50% own at least one gun (based on Gallup Poll -- see link below)
     ...so 134 million people in the USA own guns -- this is the denominator of our ratio

The Guardian's tally of 270 million firearms doesn't capture them all, not by a long shot (no pun intended).  If we conservatively assume 20% of guns are not reported because they are illegal, this raises the number of civilian firearms in the United States from 270 million to 338 million.

And now for the really exciting conclusion:  If we divide 338 million guns by 134 million citizens 10 years old or older we get a ratio of 2.7 guns per adult in the United States, which is triple the rate reported by the Guardian.  This number of 2.7 guns per adult is five times as high as the next worst country, Yemen.  Beating Yemen that badly in terms of guns per capita is a pretty appalling result for the United States and really underscores the deeply pathological nature of our violence-ridden country.

The wonder of it isn't that tragedies like the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School take place.  Rather, when we consider how completely unhinged and well armed our fellow citizens are, we can feel grateful that atrocities like the one at Sandy Hook happen as infrequently as they do.

The Guardian's gun map... very interesting although quite simplistic:

Here is a link to a Gallup poll on guns... also very interesting and quite sad: