Crazy About Guns

This is a debate in which both sides talk past one another. Facts that don’t fit into one side’s world view are simply tossed aside. It’s already a point of contention as to what the real problem is: That so many people own guns in the United States, or that so many crimes are committed in which guns are used? Love of guns is deeply rooted in the United States. Gun lovers engage in politics more actively than those who seek greater control over guns. That’s the message President Barack Obama is now getting.

“Many enemies, much honor” would be an appropriate comment on the wave of conservative outrage following the president’s emotional plea for increased gun control. He has asked for more detailed background checks for gun buyers and a more comprehensive registry of gun sales. Lobbyists fear the administration is trying to ban guns altogether. Business is booming in gun shops online and everywhere else. In America, the term “guns” means the more than 300 million revolvers, automatic handguns and long guns in private ownership, and their more than 10,000 annual victims.

The world is divided into good and evil: On this side, the gun lobby that literally walks on corpses. On the other side, the liberal elites who seek to prohibit upstanding citizens from owning guns they need for self-protection, hunting and the enjoyment they get from shooting at paper targets. For conservative America, guns are a powerful symbol. Guns took the continent away from the natives who owned it and guns ran the British rulers back to England. In Oregon, a dozen armed men recently occupied a national park building to protest what they called a governmental misuse of power.

White gun owners are the ones who shouldn’t be underestimated in this discussion. Whites own far more guns than blacks and Latinos. According to the Pew Research Center, in the 1990s Republicans were divided between the proprietary law permitting gun ownership, weighed against laws controlling guns. Since Barack Obama became president, the majority white Republican party has put far more emphasis on gun ownership. Whoever thinks back to the 1960s may recall that, shocked by armed Black Panthers, the state of California under the leadership of Ronald Reagan outlawed the carrying of loaded guns in public.

Obama rightly maintains that his reforms would not prevent law-abiding citizens from owning guns. At the same time, he will never convince his conservative critics that in reality he doesn’t want to melt down every gun in the country, even if he could. How much Obama’s reforms will curb gun violence and actually save lives is a totally different question. Approximately one half of those killed by firearms in the United States are African-American males, generally young and living in miserable neighborhoods

Criminals buy guns from private individuals and not from gun dealers demanding background checks. Besides, around 500,000 guns are stolen every year. In several states, church-run and other social organizations try to mitigate violence through self-help programs, working with gangs and cooperative programs with police officials. Sometimes these “cease fire” organizations are successful and sometimes they’re not. They’re often underfunded. Obama’s initiative won’t change those facts. In politics, there isn’t much sympathy for young, black male victims.

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