Simon Williamson

The preventative value of guns

2013-02-15 11:22

Simon Williamson

I have been quite caught up in gun debate that rages around the USA usually, but particularly since the polymurder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, where 20 children and six staff were gunned down by a man who killed his mother to steal her weapons.
Everyone has had a say during the furore that has erupted since then, from those who advocate total bans on guns right to the other extreme of those who think everyone should be armed in case such an event happens near them. More moderate responses have been tossed around such as banning assault weapons, forcing all gun purchasers to undergo stringent background checks, clamping down on those who buy guns for people who won’t pass background checks and so on.
The folks who have advocated for more guns have been pilloried in the mainstream press, with even characters in the right-leaning news media arguing against expanding the number of guns in the USA – currently estimated at around 270-million, in a country of 315-million people. The Washington post used data from the international Small Arms Survey (although it’s from 2007) to calculate gun ownership and the US is, unsurprisingly, first on the list when it comes to guns owned per 100 people, at over 85, well ahead of Yemen in the number two spot with just over 54 (incidentally South Africa is 50th on the list, with 12.4).

Arms in public places

There are a lot of guns in the USA. Of that there is no question. What is the question for most is whether to use more, or to try and reduce the slew of weapons that is either a cause or a result of the US’ gun culture.
As someone who has intentionally never owned a gun, and has absolutely no plans to change this, it has been sorely tempting to join the anti-gun brigade. I felt safe when I lived in the UK, where hardly anyone has guns and the police run around with sticks in case a Millwall supporter runs into a West Ham fan. Would I like to live in a world where no one has guns? Absolutely. We all know there is evidence out there that supports the conclusion that private ownership of firearms is more dangerous than it is safe.
But although I don’t remember guns in the house, I grew up with a proliferation of arms in public places: I saw guards with guns at banks, shopping centres, outside people’s houses and complexes (then in turn, outside my own complex) and more, and appreciated their ability to discourage. I felt safer knowing that there was someone to call on if something went down, than had they not been there.

In South Africa, and in the US, there is a prevalence of guns that isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and until (if) that can be achieved, relying on professionals to protect us from those who have guns isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Proposing good guns

I do not want a gun in my own house, but it would be completely hypocritical of me to say I reject guns in their totality when I have been on the good end of armed services for years. I am from a country where guns run aplenty, and I now live in America’s murder capital, Chicago (although, much like in South Africa, you’re massively more at risk if you're poor or black, often both).
So while I hate to think of proposing good guns held by professionally trained people to prevent bad guns hurting me, I’d be lying if I said they hadn’t likely done so in the past.
Surely even the most liberal of liberals, screeching from South Africa for fewer guns in the US, can’t ignore that?

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer. Follow @simonwillo on Twitter.

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