Dear American friends,
In 2011, in the US, 12,174 people were killed by firearms. Not including suicides – preliminary figures put these at 19,766.
Also in 2011, in Sweden, 17 people were killed by firearms. For reasons having to do with police reporting procedures, these probably include a suicide or two.
Adjusting for population, had you had our rate of firearm deaths, you’d be looking at 595 victims.
So, you have that famous Second Amendment, which you are in broad agreement gives US citizens the right to carry weapons just about anywhere at just about any time. Personally, I don’t really think that this was what the Founding Fathers had in mind, but it’s not my Constitution, so that’s sort of beside the point. (For the record, I’d agree, broadly, with the minority in the District of Columbia v. Heller case – which was settled 5 to 4, so it’s obviously not a clear-cut case even when the purportedly sharpest US legal minds are thrown at it. And at any rate, technical developments have rendered the whole thing nearly meaningless. The Founding Fathers were thinking of an invading army arriving by sail boat, equipped with muskets; they envisioned a militia equipped with slightly inferior muskets. They certainly did not consider the possibility of bombers, aircraft carriers, tanks, and machineguns that can be dismantled and assembled again in less time than it takes to re-load a musket.)
What my point here is, is this: any ordinary, sane, law-abiding Swedish citizen can also buy a gun. Our constitution doesn’t have much to say on the subject, it’s just a fact that you can. To get a license, you do have to demonstrate some sort of sensible use for it – in practice, you have to join a shooting club or take a hunting license. (And you’ll have to take special training, but if you don’t think that makes sense, you’ve got your bearings from comics and are hereby disqualified from entering this discussion.) And they do check for criminal record, history of insanity, et cetera. It might take months, but then again, if you absolutely want to use your gun that same afternoon, there’s usually good reason not to hand it to you.
Automatic weapons are not included in this. Face it, the only practical use for a Kalashnikov or a Uzi is if you want to kill lots of people and are in a hurry. (And if this is in your job description, I really, really hope you’re a soldier.) If you absolutely want to own a machinegun, you’ll have to join the National Guard. They’ll issue you with one, and – depending on your exact role – also with a bazooka and a grenade launcher. Provided you pass muster, which includes screening by military intelligence and the social services; they don’t tell anyone what for, exactly, but presumably it’s to do with receiving large amounts of money from foreign embassies, known alcohol problems and the like.
So what are the fabled draconian European socialist anti-gun regulations that people keep talking about?
Mainly this: the weapon can under no circumstances be stored in a ready-to-shoot state in your home.
And they’re serious about this. Your home will be inspected to make sure it’s burglar-proof. You will need to purchase two separate gun safes, and keep the bolt in one and the body of the gun in the other. You assemble it at the shooting range, or when you go hunting, or, in the case of the National Guard, when the radar screens show enemy aircraft approaching. As mentioned above, you can assemble a modern firearm in less time than it takes you to re-load a musket, and most of this time will be spent figuring out where you put the bloody keys to the gun safe.
People like the NRA will usually point to aforementioned Second Amendment, and say that they need to have guns at the ready so they can repel an invasion and resist an oppressive government. This assumes, of course, that the invaders are polite enough to not use their aircraft, and the dictator considerate enough not to use his tanks. Other countries use their army for the purpose of fending off invaders, knowing that a militia armed with guns will deter a determined foreign army for about three seconds, and elected European governments are not noted for their oppressiveness, so it’s pretty obvious that the same ends can be achieved without having loaded guns in the bedroom. Besides, invasions, civil unrest and general dictatorship isn’t something that materialises at 30 seconds’ notice, so you do have time to assemble the weapon in case you really think it’s needed, and argue about the finer legal details later.
Ah, but what about defending your home?
Well... fact is, Swedish burglars aren’t armed. Because “defending yourself” works both ways. If you plan to burgle a house, and can reasonably expect that you’ll be met with bullets, your best bet is to make sure you fire first. If you can reasonably expect to be met with a pointed stick, shouts, curses and a phone call to the police, your best bet is to leg it, and dragging around a lot of extra weight is counter-productive. Burglars are bad, they’re not suicidally irrational.
From the home-owner’s perspective, it’s more a case of betting your life so as not to lose a silver candlestick. If you have a confrontation between two people with firearms, there’s a high likelihood that at most one of them will survive. Even if you are very confident of your weapon skills, and equally confident of the other guy’s lack thereof, you’re still saying that it’s OK with maybe 1-in-4 that you’ll end up 6 feet under. On the other hand, if you have a confrontation between one person wielding a crowbar recently used to open your front door, and another armed with, say, a baseball bat, there’s a high likelihood that both of them will survive. The baseball bat wielder possibly minus some of his belongings, and plus a rather nasty bump on the head.
None of this is actually my argument.
My argument is this:
In the US, there are roughly 11,500 deaths annually that could quite likely be avoided by implementing laws similar to ours. (You can argue that the number should be lower; feel free to say that it would be only 10% effective: that’s still 1,150 dead people.) Look at these corpses on the ground. Not small white crosses, not flag-draped coffins. Look at the dead people bleeding onto the soil. And while many of them will be young men with a criminal record, many of them will also be children who just happened to go to a school where some madman decided to march in and mow them down. This is, more or less exactly, the population of Elk City, Oklahoma. Imagine that Al-Qaeda had managed to dive-bomb that town and take out the entire population, and that the Government just shrugged; this is the sort of carnage we are talking about, and the lack of action. And this happens year after year. Next year, you’ll get 11,500 new corpses to look at.
Now, you look me in the eye, and say, loud and clear: “Yes, it is worth this so that I can keep my gun ready to use at home.”
If you do this, fine. This is a particular freedom that US citizens have; freedom always comes at a price, and I’m not going to tell you that the price is too high. I, personally, certainly think it is, and I will argue this until the cows come home, and keep at it until they go out again in the morning, but there is no objective way to say that I’m right and you’re wrong. Cars kill about 45,000 Americans every year, and I haven’t heard anyone argue that they need to be banned, me included.
Words like “freedom” and “self-defense” are one thing; it’s easy to support non-specific, abstract concepts. Given the numbers, and looking at the bodies, I’m willing to bet that very nearly nobody will say it’s worth it.
Feel free to prove me wrong.