One can empathize with “the tears, the thoughts, the prayers and the broken hearts” (a synthesised quote from several newspapers) that Americans are expressing/experiencing in relation to the murder of 26 people in Connecticut. The murders of the 20 mostly 6 or 7 year old school children naturally create a feeling of deep sadness and, indeed fear, for all parents. But the sense of having heard all this before and that absolutely nothing will change in the US creates despair at how far Americans have moved away from being a decent society.
The US with 270 million guns in private hands has the highest level of per capita gun ownership of any country and, apart from Mexico, one of the highest murder rates attributable to shooting in the world. The fraction of US citizens living in households with guns is 47%. The US has almost double the gun-ownership levels of Yemen, a failed state combatting terrorism. It is an almost unbelievable indictment.
These statistics suggest several things. First, that gun ownership in the US is anything but an aberration. To the contrary gun ownership has broad community acceptability – as American as apple pie. As a consequence, political moves to limit gun ownership will fail because many Americans want their damn guns.
Paradoxically, these statistics also suggest that the “gun lobby” argument, namely that the Connecticut problem stemmed from the fact that child-carers didn’t have guns, makes a weird and tragic sense.
It makes some sense both because the political popularity of guns is strengthened by Prisoner’s Dilemma disincentives for individuals to retreat from high levels of gun ownership. Accepting a gun buyback would be unattractive to citizens who would recognize high levels of overall gun ownership in the community and, hence, their own personal increased vulnerability if those with criminal intent acted rationally and kept their weapons. There will be adverse selection issues here with the criminal class and mindless white trash Republicans-cum-libertarians tending to retain their weapons. America will remain a society stuck in a 1960s western movie where grievances and misdeeds are seen to be reasonably addressed with guns.
People will not want to unilaterally give up guns – indeed murderous rampages, if anything, provide incentives for those with this American view of social reality towards, if anything, still higher levels of gun ownership.
One alternative to ever increasing “tooling-up” of armament ownership is to learn to live with more Connecticut-type events, with more senseless murders and with more tears, threats and prayers. This might follow a moral minority giving up their killing utensils in a weapons buyback but with the mass of weapons remaining extant in the hands of criminals and right-wing fanatics. Things have gone too far in the creation of a self-destructive, violent US society for it to revert to anything that might approximate common sense. At the current gun-based culture seems likely to persist for many, many years along with the periodic slaughter of innocents. (1991)