Stoneman Douglas High School. Las Vegas. Orlando. Sandy Hook. Mass shootings are a tremendously American phenomenon. 103 people died in mass shootings since 2017 alone. Even more people die to individual shootings – 13 286 people were killed by firearms in the US in 2015. How can this number be made lower?
The most obvious solution to the problem would be to ban firearms. This is the policy we observe in most modern developed countries. After all, this is the purpose of law; when we want to stop theft, we make theft illegal, when we want to stop reckless driving, we make it illegal to drive above certain limits. It is only pragmatic to do so, and it has worked in many countries prior – the UK and Australia in 1996 have both made firearms largely illegal, and as a result, deaths to gun crime have dropped. In 2010, the homicide rate per capita to firearms has been 35 times higher in the US than in the UK.
The claim that a ban on guns would not decrease gun crime is simply false. The simple fact is that is that if a country has no guns, it has no shootings (though the issue may occur of how to take the guns off the people). While it may not have worked in Chicago or Detroit, due to there still being numerous guns in circulation and it being possible to acquire guns from neighbouring states, it has worked well when the whole country is shut off; no guns get into the country, no guns in circulation anywhere in the country, and so, few shootings anywhere in the country. While my friend always tries to convince me towards the opposite with statistics of gun crime increasing in London, those levels, especially per capita, are nowhere near the levels of gun crime in the US. It is a fact; an all-out ban on guns would greatly reduce shootings.
However, a libertarian argument is often made (among others by Peter Hitchens) that what matters is not so much the statistics concerning gun crime, but the ideological principles behind that law; and a ban on possessing a gun assumes that the gun is to blame for the shooting. Ironically, this argument follows very liberal principles, and yet it is used by those who, in the US, claim to be opposed to ‘liberals’.
This is a good argument. After all, if a house was built to a spectacularly good quality, few people would compliment the tools that the builders used, but rather the builders and the architect themselves. The fact that someone was killed with a gun or without the gun does not matter – it is the act of murder that outrages us – so why not just strictly enforce a ban on murder? It appears that a ban on guns assumes that the gun-owner is a potential murderer, something that many rightly consider offensive.
That said, many intelligent observers of the gun debate accept this argument, but still support stricter gun regulations. Imagine you are a parent, and your child is playing with other children with sticks, but at one point, one of the children starts hitting another with their stick. The response of the majority of parents would be to take away sticks from all the children. Yes; the child is to blame, not the stick, but it is the stick that encouraged the child to initiate violence, and without the stick, they would likely not have done so. As long as other children play with sticks, the violent child would try to acquire a stick, possibly from the other children. Even though the one child is to blame and other children are innocent, all sticks are taken away.
This is a pragmatic approach. We have many laws that follow in this vein; we ban drugs not because drugs per se are bad, but because their abuse is, however, it is far easier to control drugs than drug abuse. We ban speeding not because driving fast is bad per se, but because dangerous accidents caused by fast driving are, however, it is far easier to control car speeds than the skill and control of the driver. Similarly, it is far easier to control guns than to control murder with guns – especially as the government enforces laws in exactly the same way; with guns.
What about liberty? After all, the second amendment was created to maintain civil liberties and keep the government in check by providing citizens with a means of resisting a potentially oppressive government. Perhaps we need guns to be able to shoot back at soldiers or policemen wanting to do us harm.
That is not going to happen. Anybody who knows anything about modern military science knows that a military is not defined by its ability to shoot, but by its discipline. While it is easy to form a militia capable of shooting at cans, ensuring them to endure under fire and shock is difficult; much like the Taliban who were unable to resist the demoralising impact of a disciplined British bayonet charge in 2011. Similarly, in the Revolt of Vendémiaire, the rebelling forces could easily overcome Napoleon’s exposed artillery, but the panic caused by Napoleon’s shots made them break and run in the opposite direction to the artillery. It is this that decides battles – battles do not end when one side shoots up the other, but when one side begins to retreat, and this is what happens when its morale is broken – morale instilled by discipline that professional soldiers have a lot, and militia has very little of.
This has become even more apparent nowadays with the technological advancement of warfare. While a peasant with a fork and a knife was largely on equal footing with an average soldier of a 10th century army, and a militiaman with a musket was similarly armed to the line infantry of the 18th century, modern militaries have fully automatic rifles, comprehensive armour, as well as air, vehicle and artillery support. To operate the last three especially, trained specialists are needed; the mathematical knowledge to use artillery and conduct logistics is very demanding. Not only is it impossible for the militia to match the professional army technologically, modern blitz tactics involving dominance with the use of tanks and airstrikes have proven very demanding even on professional soldiers; under such pressure, a militia would break like tinfoil.
Disciplined soldiers are also able to march faster and better in an organised fashion, and it is this that decides wars, not battles (which the militias would lose anyway, even if they could occur some limited losses). The military would be able to, very rapidly, go into key strategic areas and seize the infrastructure necessary for the militia to survive; sources of food, energy, and supplies.
The example that militia enthusiasts love to cite is Vietnam, but one has to keep in mind that there the US did not use its full firepower (should it wish to confess its entire military resources, the Viet Cong would get swept away swiftly) and that it was a war fought by the militias defensively; they already occupied a territory that the American encroached upon. The US Army, meanwhile, is already stationed in the US, and should it need to overpower US rebel militias, it would capture all key strategic elements of the entire United States far before the undisciplined militias could do so. Similarly, the more classic example (the one that gave birth to the Amendment) of the American Revolution is also not one of a war won by militias – it was a war won by French officers leading and training American units while supported by French sea power.
The right to bear arms will not stop any half-capable professional military force and facilitates shootings. So why do we need guns at all?
Special thanks to James Rooney for a brilliantly put analysis of militia-based militaries.