In America the gun debate is a political issue. Those on the Right tend to be very vocal about citizens right to bear arms as stated in the second amendment to the American constitution. Republicans often claim those on the Left have no respect for the constitution.
Those on the Left reject this criticism. Few Democrats argue for a total ban on weapons. However they are critical of America’s National Rifle Association (NRA) and see it as a group with far too much influence and control on government. Broadly speaking, Democrats want to limit the availability of guns, hence Obama’s recommendations.
I still maintain (as I wrote here) that ultimately us Brits won’t get our heads completely around this important debate. But we can move beyond a simplistic “guns are bad, let’s ban them” attitude that shows complete ignorance of the real issues.
Britain and America are incredibly close in many ways. But when it comes to ‘gun culture’ we couldn’t be more different. We must keep this in mind when we think through political issues that are foreign to us.
I’ve chosen to focus on arguments for guns, plus short responses from the other side of the debate. The reason for this is I think among Brits there’s a lack of understanding of why Americans would want to own guns in the first place. If Brits understand just a little bit of why guns are so important to Americans, perhaps we can help move the debate forward, rather than writing off Americans as crazies and loonies (like I’ve seen so many people doing recently). Just because someone has a different strongly held opinion to you, doesn’t mean their an idiot. I had hoped this was common sense, but recent comments suggest otherwise…
Three Top Arguments FOR Guns, plus responses
1. The Constitution
For a lot of Americans the Constitutions is holy. It’s set apart and not to be messed with under any circumstances.
The second amendment says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
This single sentence explains why in the eyes of many Americans, it is necessary for gun ownership to be legal: It’s seen as a law which allows America to be free and secure.
The initial response is often an emotional one: “How many more massacres does America have to endure before tighter restrictions are put in place? How many more lives need to be lost? What’s more important – saving lives or saving the constitution?”
The constitution has been changed before (hence the word “amendment”), and some argue that now is the time for it to be changed again. But most Americans don’t want to rip up the constitution. They are happy for some people to own guns.These people who advocate for tighter restrictions are desperate to find a way of preventing more massacres. Those such as Obama believe part of the answer lies in tighter legislation.
2. Individual Protection
Why is there a “right to bear arms” in the first place? It’s because Americans want to be able to defend themselves.
Those on the Right tend to be sceptical of big government control in Washington. They would balk at some UK legislation (such as it being illegal to drive while using a mobile phone) which in their eyes limits the individual’s freedom.
This scepticism of authority structures results in a greater emphasis being placed on the individual to take care of themselves and not rely on institutions such as the police. How do you take care of yourself? You get a gun. These people rightly point out that if you get burgled, drawing a gun on the intruder is going to sort things out a lot quicker than dialling 911 and waiting for the cops to arrive.
Anti gun campaigners tend to have a lot more faith in authority structures. They would argue that America isn’t the Wild West anymore and would doubt the necessity of carrying a firearm 24/7 to protect you. For those who want to bring religion in, the argument here would be “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” (to quote Ghandi misunderstanding Jewish law). In other words you don’t stop violence and bad people by buying a gun, otherwise the cycle of violence in society becomes never-ending. “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword”.
3. National Protection
Talk to a gun rights activist long enough and this issue will come up. It sounds a little conspiracy theory-esq until you realise history is very much on their side.
The argument goes like this…We don’t know who is going to be elected to the White House next. Democracy doesn’t always work. If we end up with a dictatorship or a tyrant, we want to have the power to overthrow them. Owning a gun gives us that power.
Modern European history proves dictators can quickly rise to power – even in a democracy. As much as those on the Right dislike Obama, they aren’t concerned he’s going to turn into a Middle Eastern style dictator. “But who knows what the future holds?” gun rights activists say. These Americans would rather be safe than sorry. They’d rather be able to defend themselves but not need to than not be able to defend themselves when they do need to!
On a much smaller level, there’s the issue of crime. Gun rights activists argue that statistics show that the more guns there are, the less crime there is. “Why do you think gun stores never get robbed? They know someone will fire back!” one person said to me recently. It’s also true that mass shootings often happen where guns are completely banned – shopping malls, schools and cinemas. The argument goes that if guns weren’t banned in such places, it could a) act as a deterrent as b) if something terrible were to happen, people could respond by firing back.
Response: Few historians would argue against the premise that very bad people can work their way to the top of entire nations. What is disputed is whether citizens owning guns would be any real threat to a government in charge of one of the world’s most powerful armies.
As for crime, this is very much a battle of statistics. The more guns there are, the more gun deaths there are. But it’s also true to say the more guns there are, the less overall crime there is. No single statistic tells the whole story, as this helpful info-graphic states.
Opening this post with anything other than a tribute to those who were killed on Friday would be wrong.
Whether you are pro or anti guns is irrelevant. Everyone agrees this was a terrible tragedy.
Now, the following historical cycle must be broken… 1) A tragic shooting in America 2) Calls for ‘now is not the time to debate guns’ 3) The tragedy remembered, the debate forgotten.
The predominant view of UK residents re American gun laws is one filled with a total lack of understanding. Many admit to this. “I just don’t get it,” said one tweeter.
Of course you don’t get it! You haven’t grown up in a country where a huge percentage of the population own a gun. You’ve never walked into their community, sat down and asked questions about gun control. You don’t understand why people would own a gun because you’ve had the chance to ask a gun owner that very question.
Those currently sitting on their high horses think it’s a simple issue. Get rif of the guns, then no one can kill anyone.
But as proverbs says “The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines.”
This group of “we-know-it-all-uk-residents” (one of them even dared to call America ‘the facepalm nation’) aren’t hearing the other side of the argument. They’ve made up their mind and don’t want to be confused with the facts.
Gun ownership isn’t a moral issue. UK Christians need to stop attacking US Christians who own guns. It’s not morally wrong to own a weapon. In the same way it’s not morally wrong to own a kitchen knife! Now is it a good idea? Well that’s very much open for debate. But it’s a debate. NOT a black and white moral issue.
Those reading this post as a defence of guns are mistaken. It’s not. It’s a defence of Americans and America. They aren’t stupid. They understand the issues better than any UK resident ever will. The gun debate is for US residents to have. I’m not saying those of us in the UK have nothing to offer, but at the moment it’s probably best if we all shut up. Including me.
While I was not alive in those decades, I have been aware of the television presenter’s fame. TV programs like Jim’ll fix it are so legendary that those born long after its final broadcast have some knowledge of it.
Everyone has been quick to believe the claims about Savile, and I don’t blame them. Witness after witness is coming forward with terrible stories. We must be quick to believe and slow to doubt when people are brave enough to come forward about cases of possible sexual abuse.
Yes, there will sadly always be people who lie, but they are in the minority and it’s far better, in these cases atleast, to err on the side of belief, rather than doubt.
What angers me the most about this sorry affair are the celebrities and those who worked at the BBC who have said they “always suspected” something was going on, or that their were rumours about abuse, yet at the time they said nothing and they did nothing.
Their defense is always the same “no one would have believed me”. My reply is simple: “Who cares?”
I honestly don’t know how some of these celebrities can live with themselves knowing they had reasons to believe Savile was abusing children and yet said nothing.
Let’s assume they had come forward and nothing was done about it. We can say two things. Firstly, the celebrities concerned did what was right. They had a moral backbone and they stood up for the most basic of beliefs – the belief that every person has the right to do what they want with their own body and this should never be abused.
Secondly, if all of these people in television centre who suspected something had come forward, there would have been enough of them to make executives think twice before ignoring “yet another” claim. Even if I’m wrong about that, it’s irrelevant. If you see something that’s wrong you have a duty to blow the whistle. People’s lives are at stake.
And nevermind BBC executives. I may not be familiar with 1970s culture, but it was hardly the dark ages, was it? People knew that touching young girls sexually was wrong. Why did celebrities not think to give the police a call?
As Simon Hughes said on Question Time last night, it’s hard to believe no one went to the police. If they did then questions must be asked about why nothing was done. If they didn’t then that shows there was (and perhaps still is) a widespread problem in society.
I do not blame anyone who was abused for not coming forward. I can only imagine how horrible such an experience must have been. Victims should always be encouraged to report such offenses, but I do not blame any of them for keeping quiet.
Instead I blame those who suspected something was wrong and said and did nothing.
The only good that can come of this is a lesson to the rest of us.
We have the slogan “if you suspect it, report it” for all kinds of things. An unattended bag at a station is the only that comes to mind right now, but the principle runs through society today. I’d like to think that this slogan extends to all crime, but especially the worst crimes – rape and sexual abuse being two of them.
If this case does nothing else, it reminds us all to speak up.
I’ll end with this:
“Evil prospers when good men do nothing.” – John Philpot Curran / Edmand Burke
The story of school girl Megan Stammers and Maths teacher Jeremy Forrest has shocked my home town of Eastbourne and the whole nation.
After taking Megan to France without the knowledge of her parents, Jeremy was caught and is due to be extradited back to the UK. He will face the criminal charge of ‘abduction’ which carries a maximum sentence of 7 years. From a quick reading of case law, it looks like he could be locked up for around 18 months at most.
But some have claimed any legal action would be a waste of time and money.
“It could be that they are madly in love,” said one Daily Mail commenter.
For me, whether they are “in love” or not is irrelevant. It’s disturbing that people are rushing to defend Forrest.
The Crime of Love?
Another commenter, this time on an Independent article said:
“As his lawyer said, his only crime was that he fell in love with a 15yr old…he was stupid the way he went about it, but I don’t think there will be any more than 5-10% of anyone who knows about this story that thinks he did it with any malice or force/manipulation of the girl, and that she didn’t know what she was doing. Again we’re casting judgement…but all I’m said is that I agree with Martin – love has no boundaries.”
His “only crime” was not to fall in love with a 15 year old. That is not a crime. Taking a 15 year old out of the country against the knowledge and will of her parents is a crime. The fact that he was a teacher and therefore abusing his privileged position only makes it worse.
If the UK government did not prosecute Mr Forrest they would send the message that it’s OK for any adult to take any child wherever they wanted in the world – as long as “love” was involved!
A Willing Abductee?
Forrest’s best defence will be that Megan went willingly. I have no problem with this lowering his sentence, but it does not and should not let him off the hook. ‘Abduction’ may not be the best word to use as it implies Megan was taken against her wishes – but I wholeheartedly defend UK law stating that someone other than a child’s parents taking a child out of the country without consent is illegal, morally reprehensible and totally unacceptable.
Anyone who suggests otherwise need only put themselves in Megan’s parents shoes. Imagine a stranger taking your daughter out of the country and not being able to contact either of them. Once you think that scenario through, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s right that Jeremy Forrest is brought to justice.
As for the sentence, I think we can all agree 5 years in prison would be harsh. But some are saying that any prison sentence would be harsh.
Sending a message
But if Forrest is not locked up, that sends the message that if a teacher runs away with a pupil, the worst that will happen is they lose their job. That will be a risk some are willing to take. Being locked up in prison for running away with a pupil is a different risk to take. I think a prison sentence would be a good deterrent. And in this area, a deterrent is clearly needed to stop such incidents from happening in the future.
There are related issues here. Anyone under 18 is a child. Young people don’t like this. Plenty of teenagers want to be “grown up” and will chase “adult relationships” – many of which will be inappropriate. At the same time there’s an epidemic of adults in their 20s and 30s who don’t want to grow up, get a job and contribute to society. They’d rather live with their parents, remain on JSA and play COD all day long. The children want to be adults and the adults want to be children.
I’ll stop there before I make any more sweeping generalisations that are likely to get me into trouble.
Over to you…Would love to hear your answers to the question in the headline…
I’m in the habit of writing tweets that never get read.
That’s not because I have 0 followers, but because I’ll write a tweet, stare at it and think “do I really want to say this?”. Quite a lot of the time the answer is “no way” and the “tweet” button will never be pressed.
I don’t mean to make out that I’m wonderfully controlled and am always really careful what I say on Twitter. Sadly that’s not true. I’m a work in progress in all areas of my life, including this one.
Nevertheless, three recent stories in the media have really made me think.
1. The first was the case of Liam Stacey who has been sentenced to 56 days in prison after he made racist comments on Twitter.
The tweet in question? “LOL. F*** Muamba. He’s dead!!! #haha”, presumably without the stars.
2. The second story broke about this time last night. Mrs Speaker tweeted she was tempted to try the drug Mexxi before it’s made illegal.
“Am I the only one now slightly tempted to try mexxy before it becomes illegal? I won’t, obvs”. Her comments came just days after the drug has been linked to the death of at least two people, leading to her being labelled “insensitive”. I found both the Daily Mail‘s Headline “Will She Ever Learn?” and Mrs Speaker terming the paper the “Daily Fail” pretty amusing.
3. Finally, according to Reuters, Kuwaiti authorities arrested a man on Tuesday for insulting Mohammed over Twitter.
That’s three stories about Twitter in one week. Oh wait, I’m wrong. The biggest story about Twitter this week is that the company has admitted there’s a bug going around that will make your account unfollow people randomly, without your permission (thus providing all of us with a wonderful excuse the next time someone asks why you’re not following them).
Presumably the legislature that allowed Liam and the Kuwaiti man to be arrested applies to Facebook too, and, come to think of it…this blog. I’m hardly the most controversial of bloggers, but it’s still a scary thought that what I write here could get me arrested.
I would not defend any of the above tweets. But I would question if arresting people for what they say on Twitter is fair. It’s a grey area.
Some would argue that just as someone walking up to me in the street and hurling racist language warrants arrest, the same rules should apply in the online world.
On the other hand, millions of views are expressed on Twitter every minute. Fanatic and offensive views aren’t normally read by thousands. And if they are, a large percentage of those thousands will write back and give the tweeter plenty of grief!
This happens all the time with celebrities. Let’s say I tweet that Dom Joly is the least funny person on the planet. He’ll retweet my message, sending it to his 133,000 followers. 10,000 of those followers will then hurl abuse at me in turn. It’s basically Karma. And it’s beautiful.
So which of these two philosophies on Twitter and free speech is best? I err on the side of the latter, but I’m open to persuasion either way. I look forward to reading your comments and watching the wider debate grow. I think this is an issue that will run and run as time goes on…
Southampton is a pretty good place to live. I came here to study at the better of the two universities three years ago and enjoyed living here so much, I’ve stuck around. There’s always something going on, some beautiful parks and a number of excellent music venues. People tell me the clubbing and shopping isn’t bad either, but I wouldn’t know!
But there’s one thing that Southampton has a big problem with. It may sound like I’m being petty or focusing on a tiny issue, but it’s one that has effected me three times in three years.
In my first year of university I was stupid enough to leave my bike outside Southampton Central station with no lock. I biked to the station just in time to catch a train to Brighton to meet my then girlfriend, now fiancee. As I parked the bike I realised my lock had broken. So I was faced with a choice – either risk leaving it without a lock or miss my train to buy a lock and not see Stacey. I think I made the right decision.
Nevertheless, I vowed never to leave my bike without a lock again…and I haven’t!
Bike number two was locked outside Southampton Central, next to at least 30 others. When I returned it was gone, and so was the lock.
I reported it to the police (as I had done before) and went through a very lengthy process which ended with the news they had (finally) found the CCTV footage. Excellent! Bad news followed immediately, because it was dark they couldn’t make out the thief’s face. The police officer on the other end of the phone helpfully informed me that the person who stole my bike was a tall male in a white t-shirt, so if you ever find anyone matching that description please do let me know, and I’ll be sure to beat him up.
I can’t remember exactly when all this happened, but it couldn’t have been much longer than 6 months ago.
I felt like a little kid again when Christmas rolled around again. My father had very generously bought me a bike, done it up and gave it to me Christmas morning. A bike for Christmas! I might as well have been seven years old again. It felt so good to have some transport again, and get exercising. All was well. A lot of love had gone into the bike renovation, it really was as good as new. It didn’t look 2nd hand at all. All the gears worked (an unusual feature for most of my previous bikes), it had a good set of lights and that all important lock.
Last night, that bike was stolen.
I had parked it maybe half a mile from where my other bikes had been nicked. It was just outside a popular pub on a well lit, well travelled road. I parked it at 7pm and went into the pub with some good friends, and we chatted away for a couple of hours.
I came out again and my bike, which had been locked to a tree next to a full bike rack was gone. Not even the lock was left.
As a real kick in the teeth, I could see my bike from where I was sitting in the pub. But I rarely glanced in that direction, and when I did a bin just obstructed my view. I told myself to stop worrying about keeping an eye on it. “it’s there, stop panicking” I told myself.
That kick in the teeth clearly wasn’t enough. There’s another one, and this time it came from the police themselves. The street my bike was parked on has signs all down it. On every lampost there’s a really helpful sign that explains people cycling on the pavement will receive a hefty fine. Lovely.
Might I suggest the police focus their attention on getting any of my three bikes back. I really don’t mind which one! I just need some transport again. I can’t afford a car and walking around such a big city eats into my already limited time.
It’s been 24 hours, I should probably just get over it. But I haven’t. So I thought I’d write a meaningless blog instead. Hope you enjoyed it bike thieves. If I ever catch you…