The gun debate: Americans simply won’t surrender their right to bear arms

One facile description of a Canadian is "an unarmed American with health care."

And, indeed, attitudes toward health care and gun control are basic in describing our national differences. An earlier David vs David explored health care, notably how "choice" defines U.S. attitudes toward health — essentially who will choose the national parameters of health care: the government or the citizen. Desire for choice reflects lack of trust and suspicion of government; in health care, Americans believe the government intrusion into health care will increase costs and decrease quality, notably for those (about 85 percent) of the population already with insured care.

There is a comparable baseline suspicion among Americans regarding gun control. Americans never forget that the availability of weapons permitted effective Revolutionary War resistance against British oppression. It is myth, but a defining myth, that the U.S. constitutionally protected right to own weapons maintains our freedom. It is not myth that a dictatorship seeks to disarm its citizens. And it is surely true, regardless of the type of government, that official security services would be very happy indeed if they had a monopoly of armed force and that no citizen had a right to own firearms.

[ David Kilgour: More regulation will result in less gun violence ]

Americans accept that there are dangers associated with firearms. We also accept that there are dangers associated with operating privately owned vehicles, water craft, airplanes and/or owning various items ranging from bread knives to step ladders. And we appreciate that there are dangers associated with mind altering substances such as narcotics, alcoholic spirits, tobacco, as well as consuming fatty foods. However, we are hostile to government efforts to play cradle-to-grave "nanny" and "protect us from ourselves." We know there is a Mrs. Grundy in many bureaucratic minds convinced that somewhere, someone is having fun — and it must be eliminated. Indeed, many of the pleasures in life are illegal, immoral, or fattening.

But now both Canada and the United States are faced with vicious shooting incidents. The "usual suspects" on all sides are baying and politicians are equivocating: abolish private ownership of guns/bullets (or at least special types of guns and ancillary equipment); sentence those committing gun crimes for longer periods; increase police/patrol numbers and end restrictions on "concealed carry" of handguns.

The commentary repeats the last mass shooting and will provide a template for the next.

However, these shootings are both counter-cyclical and unpredictable. Crime and violence generally are declining in both the USA and Canada. Despite the steady increase of guns in the United States, gun-related crime has not increased commensurately. Nor are there disproportionate numbers of mass shootings in the USA — with a population 10 times that of Canada, the United States does not have 10 times the number of mass shooting incidents. Mass shootings in the United States have been perpetrated with legally obtained weapons; such appears also to be the case in Canada (Montreal's Dawson College in 2010).

And the worst mass shooting (combined with a bombing) killed 77 and injured upward of 300 in the shooting/bombing a year ago in Norway. Yes, in peaceful Norway.

The United States will not be altering its gun laws; indeed, opposition to gun control is rising and gun sales jumped following the Aurora incident.

Nevertheless, there are two (perhaps useful) observations:

— The incidence of "off their meds" schizophrenics is rising. A generation ago the delusional were institutionalized; today modern pharmacology permits them to function in society, but at potential cost. Schizophrenia frequently strikes brilliant young males; the medication is distinctly unpleasant physically and mentally. Their privacy rights prevent notification of family, employers, etc. But reporting suggests that the Aurora shooter, as well as the previous Tucson and Virginia Tech assailants, were mentally disturbed. Should "privacy" continue to protect schizophrenics?

— Renewed affirmation of constitutional protection for gun owners has also prompted "concealed carry" laws in many states. Colorado has such law; however, private property owners can reject concealed carry visitors/patrons—such was the case for the Aurora theatre. Thus the shooter knew that nobody would be shooting back. Would concealed carry weapons users have made a difference? We'll never know — but in other instances they have.

We want both freedom and privacy; each has costs.

David T. Jones is a retired State Department Senior Foreign Service Career Officer and a frequent contributor to American Diplomacy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving for the Army Chief of Staff. He is co-author of Uneasy Neighbor(u)rs, a study of American-Canadian bilateral concerns and has published several hundred articles, columns, and reviews on U.S. - Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy.

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