- Department of Neurosurgery (ret) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.), Mercer University School of Medicine; President, www.haciendapub.com, Macon, Georgia, USA
Miguel A. Faria
Department of Neurosurgery (ret) and Adjunct Professor of Medical History (ret.), Mercer University School of Medicine; President, www.haciendapub.com, Macon, Georgia, USA
DOI:10.4103/2152-7806.103542Copyright: © 2012 Faria MA Jr. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
How to cite this article: Faria MA. America, guns and freedom: Part II — An international perspective. Surg Neurol Int 16-Nov-2012;3:135
How to cite this URL: Faria MA. America, guns and freedom: Part II — An international perspective. Surg Neurol Int 16-Nov-2012;3:135. Available from: http://sni.wpengine.com/surgicalint_articles/america-guns-freedom-part-ii-international-perspective/
The need for reducing gun violence is discussed along with the necessity for citizens to assume some responsibility for protecting themselves, their families, and their property from criminal elements because the police cannot physically be everywhere to protect us all of the time. The problem of sensationalization of gun crimes by the media, multiple shootings by deranged individuals, accidents with firearms, suicide rates, and children with guns are discussed.
Keywords: Civilian disarmament, firearms, genocide, gun control, multiple shootings, tyrannical governments
In his celebrated book, The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy, author and gun rights attorney, David Kopel, makes the point that disparate countries such as Japan and Switzerland have low crime rates, regardless of gun control laws, because of close ties engendered in the traditional family. In those countries, parents spend time with their properly reared children, who are then imbued with a sense of civility as well as civic duty[
Dr. Mark Rosenberg, a former American public health official, once stated, “Most of the perpetrators of violence are not criminals by trade or profession. Indeed, in the area of domestic violence, most of the perpetrators are never accused of any crime. The victims and perpetrators are ourselves — ordinary citizens, students, professionals, and even public health workers.”[
According to the United States Department of Justice, the typical murderer has had a prior criminal history of at least six years, with four felony arrests in his record, before he finally commits murder.[
Much has been said about “crimes of passion” that supposedly take place impulsively, in the heat of the night or in the furor of a domestic squabble. Criminologists have pointed out that homicides in this setting are the culmination of a long simmering cycle of violence. In one study of police records in Detroit and Kansas City, it was revealed that in “90% of domestic homicides, the police had responded at least once before, during the prior two years, to a disturbance,” and in over 50% of the cases, the police had been called five or more times to that dysfunctional domicile.[
These are not crimes of passion consummated impulsively in the heat of the night by ordinary citizens, but the result of violence in highly dysfunctional families, in the setting of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or other criminal activities. Violent crimes continue to be a problem in the inner cities of the large metropolitan areas, with gangs involved in robberies, drug trade, juvenile delinquency, and even murder. Yet crimes in rural areas, despite the preponderance of guns in this setting, remain low.[
Gun availability to law-abiding citizens does not cause crime. However, a permissive criminal justice system, with revolving prison doors in the context of gun prohibition, exacerbates the problem of crime by making it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, their families, and their property. In fact, there was a modest increase in both homicide and suicide rates in the United States after prohibition in the 1920s and again following the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 [
As to how citizens can protect themselves from criminal assailants when the police, more often than not, are not there to protect them, the National Victims Data suggests that, “while victims resisting with knives, clubs, or bare hands are about twice as likely to be injured as those who submit, victims who resist with a gun are only half as likely to be injured as those who put up no defense.” Of particular interest to women and self-defense, “among those victims using handguns in self-defense, 66% were successful in warding off the attack and keeping their property. Among those victims using non-gun weapons, only 40% were successful.”[
Although not all citizens would want to carry a concealed firearm for self-protection, criminologists point out that criminals do make quick “risk-versus-benefit” assessments about that looming, potential threat. Thus, criminological studies consistently reveal that just the knowledge that one in five or six citizens in a public place could very well be armed can deter crimes and could very well avert massacres, as has been the case in Israel, after the infamous Maalot Massacre,[
Now, let us consider the recent case in Norway. After bombing a government building in Oslo and then taking over Utoya, an island in a nearby lake, a homicidal killer perpetrated a horrible massacre.[
Yes, there still may have been a massacre, but not 69 people shot haplessly in a virtual dove shoot. Just one individual armed and willing to protect his / her life and the lives of others was all that was needed to stop the carnage. Furthermore, even if the intended victim was prosecuted later for killing the madman in self-defense and for standing his / her ground, it would have limited the massacre and saved the lives of others. This is true not only for Norway, but for any country, even a European country with draconian gun control laws.
However, in most European countries guns have long been registered, or banned and confiscated. Citizens are disarmed in the course of “progress,” and in those countries, no one even thinks about self-defense anymore. They depend on the government completely for protection. Where guns are banned only criminals have guns.[
In Macon, Georgia, USA, we recently had the case of a business woman (also a grandmother), who was attacked by two thugs bent on robbing her and perhaps even raping and killing her. They followed the woman home at 1:30 a.m. as she left one of her convenience store businesses. The thugs pulled guns on her and demanded cash as she sat in her car. However, the grandmother was armed. Shots were exchanged. The woman wounded one of her assailants, who was later apprehended as he rushed to a local hospital. The other criminal also fired shots at her, but escaped. She is safe and sound. “I carry a gun all the time,” she told a local newspaper reporter![
Of course in the southern United States this grandmother is a heroine and no one would consider prosecuting her.[
The way the subject of guns and violence is reported by the popular media brings us to another problem. Many reports are saturated with media bias and sensationalism. The mainstream American press, just like their Western European counterparts, is overtly for gun control and look askance at citizens possessing firearms for self and family protection. With that in mind, let us take a look at how the media reports mass shootings in America. Four illustrative cases will help us draw inferences as to the nature of these incidents in the United States and the associated media coverage.
In 1997, in Pearl, Mississippi, 16-year-old Luke Woodham used a hunting rifle to kill his ex-girlfriend and her close friend and wound seven other students. Assistant Principal Joel Myrick retrieved his handgun from his automobile and halted Woodham's shooting spree. Myrick held the young delinquent at bay until the police arrived. Later it was discovered that Woodham had also used a knife to stab his mother to death earlier that morning. Even though this shooting incident was widely reported, the fact that Mr. Myrick, an armed citizen, had prevented a larger massacre by retrieving and using his handgun was ignored by the media.
Then in 1998, in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a deadly scenario took place when 14-year-old Andrew Wurst killed one teacher and wounded another teacher as well as two fellow classmates. The shooting rampage in Edinboro was halted by local merchant James Strand, who used his shotgun to force the young criminal to halt his firing, drop his gun, and surrender to the police.
And in another unreported incident in Santa Clara, California, Richard Gable Stevens rented a rifle for target practice at the National Shooting Club on July 5, 1999, and then began a shooting rampage, herding three store employees into a nearby alley, and stating he intended to kill them. When Stevens became momentarily distracted, a shooting club employee, who had a .45 caliber handgun concealed under his shirt, drew his weapon and fired. Stevens was hit in the chest and critically wounded. He was held at bay until the police arrived. A massacre in the making was prevented. The armed employee, an unsung hero, was ignored by the major media. Why are these and other similar incidents, where the tables are turned, and citizens use guns to protect themselves and others, only seldom reported by the mainstream media?[
Finally, the more recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado, on July 19, 2012, resulted in the death of a dozen people because a deranged individual with criminal intent, James Holmes, was able to enter a theater with a posted “gun-free zone” sign, a designated public place where armed law-abiding citizens are not allowed to carry their concealed firearms. This theater had a “no guns policy,” similar to the situation in Norway, which amounts to a potential dove shoot, where only the predator, a hunter of humans, is armed. Interestingly, the United States media did not report another shooting incident that took place three months earlier in, of all places, Aurora, Colorado, where a law-abiding citizen, an armed church-goer, shot another human predator and stopped a shooting rampage, saving his life and that of others in the process.[
As we have described in Part I of this essay —thanks to the study of Dr. Edgar A. Suter, former Chairman of Doctors for Integrity in Research and Public Policy, and others, whose studies we have cited — we now know that in the United States the defensive use of firearms by law-abiding citizens surpasses the illegal use of guns by criminals:
The defensive use of firearms by citizens amounts to 2.5 million uses per year and dwarfs the offensive gun use by criminals. In the United States, between 25 and 75 lives are saved by a gun in self and family protection for every life lost to a gun in crime. Medical costs saved by guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens are 15 times greater than costs incurred by the criminal use of firearms. Guns also prevent injuries to good people and protect billions of dollars of property every year.
Unfortunately, the American media does not give those defensive uses of firearms the attention they deserve, and they go unreported. By and large, to read about the cases where law-abiding citizens use firearms for self and family protection, one has to read independently published books such as Robert A. Waters’ excellent tome, The Best Defense.[
Several gun researchers have written about suicides and have linked these fatalities to the availability of guns.[
A child's death from any cause is a tragedy. In the United States in the year 2000, 600 children and adolescents died of accidental gunshot wounds, 2,700 perished in motor vehicle accidents, 3,600 children died from burns, 3,900 died from drowning, and 12,100 died from poisoning. These are all tragedies, but do we want to ban automobiles, matches, swimming pools, and household chemicals? Firearm accident rates in the United States have been declining steadily since the turn of the century, because of the emphasis placed on gun safety and education courses, including the National Rifle Association's Eddie Eagle program, which has touched an excess of 11 million youngsters in the United States[
As far as adolescent violence is concerned, more than 20,000 laws are already on the books in the United States, including a sizable number of laws pertaining to the proscription of handgun possession by minors and banning guns on school grounds. Yet, despite all the media's sensationalization of crime, the available FBI statistics for the year 2000 show that, like the not-so-well-known drop in gun accident rates, there has also been a steady decline in homicide rates in every segment of American society. In fact, in the United States, murder and violent crimes have reached 30- and 25-year lows, respectively.[
Australians learned the lessons of indiscriminate, draconian gun control laws the hard way. In 1996, a criminally insane man shot to death 35 people at a Tasmanian resort. The government immediately responded by passing stringent gun control laws, banning most firearms, and ordering their confiscation. More than 640,000 guns were seized from ordinary Australian citizens.[
As a result, there was a sharp and dramatic increase in violent crime against the disarmed law-abiding citizens, who in small communities and particularly in rural areas were now unable to protect themselves from brigands and robbers. That same year in the state of Victoria, for example, there was a 300% increase in homicides committed with firearms. The following year, robberies increased by almost 60% in South Australia. By 1999, assaults had increased by almost 20% in New South Wales. Two years following the gun ban / confiscation, armed robberies had risen by 73%, unarmed robberies by 28%, kidnappings by 38%, assaults by 17%, and manslaughter by 29%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.[
Interestingly, the same phenomenon occurred in Great Britain. Following a 1996 massacre of school children by a madman in Dunblane, Scotland, the British government banned and ordered the confiscation of most firearms. Since then, a horrific crime wave has taken place in England and Scotland. In 1998, the United States Department of Justice declared that the rate of muggings in England had surpassed those in the United States by 40%, while assault and burglary rates were nearly 100% higher in England than in the United States. To make matters worse for England — and this is also true for Canada — in those countries where citizens are disarmed in their homes, day burglary is commonplace and dangerous because criminals know they will not be shot at if caught in flagrante delicto. The criminals have nothing to fear from disarmed and helpless homeowners. Not so in the United States, where burglars not only prefer night burglaries, but they try to make sure homeowners are not at home to avoid being shot at by the intended victim.[
The Sunday Times of London, on January 11, 1998, wrote, the rising tide of thievery and burglaries in England dubbed Britain “a nation of thieves”. The same article further noted, “More than one in three British men has a criminal record by the age of 40. While America has cut its crime rate dramatically Britain remains the crime capital of the West. Where have we gone wrong?”[
It does not have to be this way. A study performed by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention tracked 4,000 juveniles aged 6 – 15 years, in Denver (CO), Pittsburgh (PA), and Rochester (NY) from 1993 to 1995. The investigators found that children who were taught to use firearms with parental supervision, as in hunting or target shooting, were 14% less likely to commit acts of violence and street crimes than children who had no guns in their homes (24%); whereas, children who obtained guns illegally, did so at the whopping rate of 74%.[
Depending on the level of culture and social progress, violence can take different forms in different societies.[
More recently, in 1994, the Hutu-led Rwandan government massacred between 800,000 and 1.1 million people, mostly Tutsis, in a genocide carried out largely with machete-wielding government forces. The massacres took place despite the presence nearby of the United Nation “peace-keeping” forces, armed with automatic weapons, who failed to intervene. The Tutsis were not only surprised, but also unarmed and helpless.
Civilian disarmament has always preceded genocide in authoritarian and totalitarian states. In the gruesome, but monumental book, Lethal Laws, we learn that repressive governments that conducted genocide and mass killings of their own populations have first always disarmed their citizens.[
When presented with these deadly chronicles and perilous historic sequences, the popular opinion is “it cannot happen here”. As to the dangers of licensing of gun owners and registration of firearms, the same uninformed respondents frequently retort: “If you don’t have anything to hide, then you don’t have anything to fear!” Followed by, “I see nothing wrong with gun registration and some restrictions on gun ownership, because we have to do something; there are just too many guns out there that fall into the wrong hands.” These naïve attitudes ignore the penchant of governments to accrue power at the expense of the liberties of individuals.[
Civilian disarmament is not only harmful to one's freedom and potentially deadly to one's existence, but also counterproductive in achieving safety. This has been further attested by University of Hawaii Professor, R. J. Rummel, in his book, Death by Government (1994), and by the French scholar Stιphane Courtois and his associates in their monumental volume, The Black Book of Communism (1999). These books make it clear that authoritarian governments that limit their citizens’ freedom and proscribe them from owning guns are always dangerous to liberty — and the health of humanity. During the twentieth century, more than 100 million people have been exterminated by their own repressive governments — police states bent on destroying liberty and building communism, socialism, collectivism, and other utopias that turn out to be hells on earth![
In debunking the myth that “guns increase violent crime,” Richard Poe, the former editor of FrontPage Magazine, has rebutted the false assumption that America is more violent than other nations, again emphasizing that more people during the twentieth century were killed in other countries by their own governments than by war, while reaffirming that gun control laws have almost always preceded genocide or mass murder of the people (democide) by their own governments.[
While the United States and Switzerland have more guns per capita than any of the other developed countries, they also have more freedom in general than countries with draconian gun control laws. Even Japan, a country that has embraced democracy and Western mores in many ways, still has the centuries-old tradition of subordination of individualism to the state, and the collective Japanese citizens have less individual freedom than those of Switzerland, where virtually every citizen is armed and individual freedom is paramount [
Japan may have a low crime rate, but citizens live in a virtual authoritarian state, where the police keep full dossiers on every citizen, and “twice a year, each Japanese homeowner gets a visit from the local police to update files” on every aspect of the citizen's home life.[
Switzerland, on the other hand, a small, landlocked country, stood up against the Nazi threat during World War II, because each and every male was an armed and free citizen. (The Swiss republic was the “Sister-Republick” that the American Founding Fathers so greatly admired.) Nazi Germany could have overwhelmed Switzerland during World War II, but the price was too steep for the German High Command. Instead, the Nazi juggernaut trampled over Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway, and other countries, and avoided the armed Swiss nation, the “porcupine,” which was prepared for war and its military was ready to die rather than surrender.[
As to what an armed population, such as those of the original 13 American colonies that later became the United States, did to obtain their independence is a well-known story. Suffice to say, that the shot heard “around the world” on Patriot's Day (April 19, 1775) was precipitated when the British attempted to seize the arm depots and disarm the American militia at Lexington and Concord in the Colony of Massachusetts.[
Why is this so important to us as physicians? First, because we are all citizens, and we have been educated enough to understand the importance of preserving or attaining freedom. Second, because as neurosurgeons we can be compassionate and still be honest and have the moral courage to pursue the truth and find effective solutions through the use of sound, scholarly research, and factual information. The social problem of guns and violence should be no different.[
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