Freedom, crime and gun control in America, and Britain
The terrible killings in Charleston have inevitably put the gun control debate high on the agenda in both America and Britain. But oddly, both pro- and anti- gun control have great arguments on their side. We should all respect each others' different traditions, and societal realities
As President Obama delivers a eulogy in Charleston for his friend, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was brutally murdered in a massacre last week that claimed another eight lives, it is inevitable that the debate about gun control in the United States will rise again to the top of the political agenda. The wider Western world is watching too.
Europeans, in the main, take such orgies of violence as evidence that the United States has simply lost the plot: more guns; more gun crime. What's the puzzle here?
Americans who passionately support the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms argue that it is people who kill, not guns. In any event, more pragmatic supporters of guns say, the horse bolted long ago: if you banned guns today, only the law-abiding citizens of America would be deprived of them.
You'd be handing the initiative to the criminals, who would never, anyway, give up their weapons.
It is one of the cases, oddly enough, where both sides are right, though they would never admit to that.
The fact is that the right to bear arms makes America the freest country in the Western world. It drastically alters the balance of power between the state and the citizen, in favour of the citizen. That is why it was written into the Constitution.
In Britain, a very violent country by most Western standards, you wander around the streets of major cities and if you're confronted by a mugger, you pay up or you get stabbed. It's a lottery that Britons have to deal with every day of their lives.
In America, the mugger has to contemplate the possibility that he gets his brains blown out if he tries it on. Which is why the functional parts of the US are far safer for the average citizen than the functional parts of Britain.
It's when you get to the dysfunctional parts of America that it all goes wrong. If you have evil intent, you can do far more damage with a gun than with a knife, which is why the homocide rate in the US, taking account of population differences, is about five times higher there than in Britain.
According to United Nations figures from 2011 and 2012, intentional homocides in the United States numbered 14,827. In Britain the figure was 653.
So what to do? Though there are isolated types in Britain who think that Newcastle city centre of a Friday night would be a safer place if the drunken pub-goers all had machine guns, it's an argument that is going nowhere.
But then again, for America, especially Middle America, there are very resonable arguments as to why they want to keep their weapons.
Britain is a safer country to live in because it has gun control. But America is a freer country because it does not.
Perhaps we should agree to differ in recognition that it's entirely the business of Britons and Americans how they manage their societies. If we don't -- tomarto vs tomayto style -- we'll just have to call the whole thing off.
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