Crazy Idea, Sorry! Don’t Shoot Me!

Don’t worry! I’m not going to take away your guns! Here, drink this chamomile tea!!

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The marches and demos against gun violence got me thinking about Hattori Yoshihiro, the Japanese exchange student in Louisiana who on Halloween in 1992 went in costume to the wrong house by mistake and was shot to death because the owner thought he was “trespassing with criminal intent.” Oops!

The owner was subsequently acquitted of manslaughter.

This incident reflects more than just the ready availability of guns in America, but also an attitude toward the appropriateness of their use in situations that would be unthinkable in many other countries and cultures.

Far be it from my nature to step into a quarrel whose two sides are absolutely incapable of reaching compromise, but can I just make a small point about the gun control issue? Thank you.

Here is my small point. Societies form and embrace cultural knowledge partly from what their authorities permit or restrict and the justifications they use to do so. So if a government, for example, includes in its criminal code that, say, women are not permitted to go outside without their faces veiled, or to possess a driver’s license, this sanctions a certain kind of thinking about women. Children in such a society grow up knowing that it is common sense to think of women as creatures who can’t drive and whose faces and bodies potentially cause problems in society and, more fundamentally, it is perfectly acceptable that women don’t have the same rights as men. What the government permits or restricts or regulates influences (and is of course influenced by) cultural norms. The choices our government makes and how those choices are justified play a role in our notions of right and wrong and what is “thinkable.”

If a government of Country X restricts or regulates gun ownership, the “message” is sent by the leaders of Country X that guns are sufficiently potentially dangerous that we need to handle their sales with special care: they aren’t for everyone to own, and the owners need to follow special rules in order to have them. The subliminal message is also sent that, among the range of strategies available for solving conflicts, snatching up one’s AR-15 and blasting holes in someone might not be the go-to one to choose. Or that blowing away an unarmed costumed stranger at your door might not be the first action to take.

I suspect this is the case in countries like Canada and Switzerland, where gun ownership is quite liberal or widespread, yet gun violence is relatively low. Because in these countries, the entire topic of gun ownership is framed quite differently than in the U.S. I know that in places like Japan (where I live), gun restrictions unambiguously influence public attitudes about guns. To most Japanese, “gun rights” are pretty much unthinkable. They think instead that the freedom Americans have to buy and own guns is insane. Consider how you, as an American, would view a country where private citizens were completely free to own bazookas, howitzers, or atomic bombs because “freedom!” When it comes to guns, that’s how Japanese folks tend to view Americans. I’ve lost count of the number of bewildered students who have asked me (usually immediately after yet another mass shooting) to answer questions like, “WHY do Americans think they need to own guns?”

The implicit attitude of the authorities of these countries (i.e. Canada, Switzerland, etc.) in relation to gun ownership is centered on public safety. By contrast, the implicit, or even explicit, attitude of the U.S. government in relation to guns is centered not on public safety but on people’s “right” to own guns and, more abstractly, on “freedom.”

Essentially then, the message the American government sends is that, when it comes to guns, personal freedom is more important than personal safety. I understand that the justification given for having the freedom to own guns is often that they are claimed to provide protection from criminals, but if you stick an avid gun owner in a place with a crime rate of zero, do you really think said gun owner will say, “okay, I’m safe now, so I’ll get rid of my guns”?

This dedication to personal freedom, however noble its intent, is so passionate that it doesn’t permit any rational, realistic processing of the problem of gun violence in America. Surely there are limits to private ownership of weapons, right? Individuals shouldn’t own bazookas and howitzers, right? Yet the guns available today are like bazookas and howitzers compared to the guns familiar to the authors of the second amendment.

 

America will never become a country with tight restrictions on gun ownership and, because so many guns are already in circulation, what restrictions are made in the foreseeable future are unlikely to make a big dent in the amount of gun violence. However, rational regulation of gun ownership that is created with the explicit concern by authorities for public safety might encourage Americans, when processing the issues of gun ownership, to also think a little more about public safety along with, or perhaps instead of, personal freedom. It might make the whole idea of selective, well-considered regulation of some firearms in some circumstances thinkable for those who, instead of thinking, go apeshit with paranoia and rage at the idea of any gun regulation at all.

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10 thoughts on “Crazy Idea, Sorry! Don’t Shoot Me!

  1. Not so crazy, methinks. My only observation is that concerns, or voiced concerns, for public safety seems to be what motivated such abominations, to my mind, as the Patriot Act. I do not believe it keeps any of us safer, but I suspect that those who created and voted for it would claim to have done so in the name of “public safety.” Couldn’t we limit guns in the name of some other public interest? Just a question…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, yes. It’s complicated. But I think the most essential justification for gun ownership is “it’s my right!” Fervent gun enthusiasts wouldn’t want to give up their guns even if they lived in a zero crime area.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very thoughtful and thought-provoking piece. There is great significance to the nature of the justifications used for high risk behavior. As you said, something vague and emotional like “freedom” is much more likely to become deeply engrained and fiercely defended, despite the repercussions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve studied gun violence in juveniles and have read many other reports. Opportunity (owning or having one readily available} is a significant factor in rates of gun violence against another or towards oneself (suicide is easier when a gun is around) under most circumstances including cultural factors. But I agree that a culture of fear which the US does have is a great breeding ground for gun violence.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi evy, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m not surprised that your research has shown that gun availability is a factor in gun violence even after controlling for culture, although I’m sure some individuals would twist themselves into pretzels claiming your findings are “fake news.” An interesting thought experiment is to conside what would occur if all of Japan were to magically become saturated overnight with guns similarly to how the U.S. is (now guns are virtually non-existent in Japan). Would violence skyrocket overnight? I’m sure it wouldn’t, but violence would certainly increase and over time continue to do so, solely owing to availability.

      Like

    • I read it, Your post was thoughtful and insightful. I agree that it’s perfectly reasonable to establish licensing procedures for using guns using the same justifications as we use for driving cars.

      Liked by 1 person

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