When it comes to guns, the United States is exceptional. We have the highest civilian gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns per 100 people, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey.
The U.S. gun lobby sometimes cites Switzerland as an example of a country that has many privately owned guns and little violent crime. (Their argument seems to be guns don’t kill people; only lunatic Americans kill people.)
In fact, ammunition kills people. It is true that Switzerland, like the United States, has a strong gun culture with many shooting clubs — but it also has a mass citizen militia. Members of the part-time militia, in which most men serve, are allowed to keep their weapons at home, and the country of less than 8 million people owns at least 2.3 million weapons, many stashed under beds and in cupboards. But while Swiss homes contain guns, ammunition is largely kept under lock and key at local military depots.
Someone once described Canada as “a country in North America where everyone has health insurance.” The same pundit defined the U.S. as “a country in North America where everyone has a gun.”
For years, people have argued: “You cannot tell Americans that they shouldn’t carry guns. Not only is the right to bear arms enshrined in the Constitution, it’s imbued in our culture. It’s part of our history of “rugged American individualism.”
Many of the same people have insisted that we cannot expect the U.S. to adopt some form of government-regulated “universal health coverage.” It wouldn’t work here, they said. “The U.S. is different.”
Yet, it’s happening.
And finally, it seems we may be ready for gun control. The massacre in Connecticut forced President Obama’s hand. (I was pretty confident that he would speak out on gun control sometime during his second term. After all, he no longer has to worry about being re-elected, and it is clear that, as a father, he is deeply moved by the slaughter of innocents. I expect that he will do many things during this second term that will confound his critics.)
2012: A Turning Point
I believe that ten years from now, when we look back, we will realize that 2012 marked a pivotal moment in U.S. history, much like 1980. Except now, we are turning in the opposite direction.
Consider this: the all-powerful National Rifle Association spent at least $12 million in its effort to oust President Obama from the White House. They failed.
The pro-gun rights organization invested $300,000 in each of the Senate races in Ohio, Virginia and Florida, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive politics– and lost all three.
Meanwhile, after many years, the gun control movement is beginning to show signs of life.
I realize that we won’t ban hand-guns. But buy-back programs like those in New York City, New Jersey, Cleveland and other places could greatly reduce the number of weapons floating around in this nation.
Meanwhile, I believe that the majority of Americans are now willing to ban semi-automatic, and automatic rifles and shotguns. No one except the military needs assault weapons.
The Stakes Are Too High
On the face of it “compromise” sounds eminently reasonable. Very often, it is appropriate. But sometimes we can’t meet in the middle. Some values are not negotiable.