The Gun Obsession

A reconstruction of the discussion thread from Facebook.
Everything is verbatim as it originally appeared, except for my entries, of which all but the first response were all lost, so my comments may not be word for word as they originally appeared.


Why are Americans obsessed with guns?


Misconception common to a lot of European people. Its not an obsession with guns themselves so much as with the freedom to own them.

Its hard to understand without spending a lot of time here, but Americans are very protective of their constitution. It is, after all, what defines their country. It ensures that power ultimately rests with the people, and not with government. The second amendment gives teeth to that concept. The US constitution give the freedom to own guns to the people not for hunting or sport, but for removal of recalcitrant governments.

Americans have seen what are regarded as fundamental freedoms slowly being eaten away, with power shifting from them to government. Even worse, to the Federal government, which was never intended to have the power that it currently does.

If the people want to remove this freedom, there is a well defined method of doing so. Unfortunately for the Federal government, they have no part to play in that process.

If the second amendment goes (other than by the defined process), the constitution is dead, and thus the USA itself is dead.

Americans regard any attack on their freedom to own guns as an attack upon their country, and react accordingly.


Gail, Philip is correct though this right also is meant for personal self-defense as well.

So that you know my background: I am bilingual and not only own a passport, I have used it extensively including living 5 years in Japan (non militar…y). I’ve earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees as well. I say this so you will understand I am not some uneducated redneck who lives in a van down by the river.

I’ve experienced other countries’ approach to gun ownership firsthand. And I hope you can understand that it is eminently possible for an educated, rational person to experience different viewpoints on this subject and decide that private gun ownership is an overall net positive versus gun prohibition/confiscation.

Hopefully we will some day be able to bridge this gap of understanding with our friends across the Atlantic.


Matt — I bet Gail has used her passport more than you and I together.

However, she gets to go to interesting places, not the US.
A big problem for Europeans in general and the UK in particular is that they think they know and understand the …US. Mainly because they are subject to what passes as US culture on a daily basis (TV, Film).

It takes living here for a while to realize that the difference between US English and real English is only the beginning. The cultures are vastly different. Just looking at the roads gives a clue; in EU the road markings have yellow lines down the outsides and white lines in the middle. In the US they have yellow lines down the middle and white lines down the outsides. Things just get stranger from there on.

You have to live here to appreciate the way people’s brains work.
Shouldn’t be news to Gail, she has spent a long time learning to understand middle eastern cultures, which, IMHO are less alien to the UK than is America’s.


Actually Philip I do get to the US – my brother has lived there for he past 10 years and is married to an American. So I do get an insight to how Americans view the world.

But I have travelled wdely throughout the world (it’s my job) and now…here I have I ever seen the obsession with owning (and talking about) guns as I do in the US. And the stats show that the US has one of the highest rates of gun murders per capita in the world (, certainly way above most of the rest of the ‘civilised’ world. Do you not think the two are related?

PS the constitution was drafted when terrible weaopns like the semi-automtic guns that cause so much havoc, eg recenly in Tuscon, were invented. It seems to the rest of the world that the ‘right’ to own a gun is more important to Americans than the right for society to be protected from their misuse.


You have to remember what the framers of the constitution had in mind. They wanted the general population to be armed sufficiently well that they could take on, and win, against their own government. That means arms sufficient for the purpose. In the 18th century that meant muskets, and the new breed of super weapon, the assault rifle of the day, the rifle (rifled barrel, longer range, more accurate).

Following that logic, the firearms generally available are not up to the standard that the framers would have wanted to see.

On the topic of gun related crime rates, I think you really need to look at the overall violent crime rates, which are much higher in the US than in most civilized western countries. If you subscribe to the theory that this is caused by an inanimate object (a gun) rather than it being an issue with society, it becomes difficult to explain why some other countries with high rates of gun ownership do not display similar problems. The country most often pointed to in this respect is Switzerland, although there are significant rates of gun ownership in other countries such as Canada and Finland. These countries do not have the same issues.

In some ways, its relatively easy to point to things that breed violence in American society, starting at school where the sports teams usually have vicious looking logos/mascots, names that carry violent overtones, coaches that preach winning at all costs etc.

Then there are the examples set by the police in most large cities. Portland is touted as something of a liberal version of heaven, but there seems to never be a week go by when the police do not shoot someone in the street. Usually not as part of a shootout, but because someone refused to obey an order (such as to lie facedown in the mud) and the police officer then claims to have felt threatened, and so used lethal force.

On the statistics themselves, a closer examination will show that both the victim and perpetrator are often known to each other, young, have a history of violence and are quite probably gang members and in some way associated with drugs. (Of course, the “war on drugs” is yet another violent response to a problem that is more sociological than criminal).

This is not to say that there is not some level of “normal” violent crime, but it is overwhelemed by the type mentioned above.


The guys who WROTE the Constitution (Madison and Jefferson) were adamant that the 2nd amendment served to preserve individual liberty and to prevent the rise of a tyrannical government. Only by being able to individually ENFORCE their rights could the people assures themselves against such tyranny. It’s hard to argue with the guys who wrote the darned thing!


Phil, I infer from your first response to Gail that your real objection would be if the second amendment (or any other part of the constitution) were repealed *without due process*. (I’m not sure whether this was the 5-4 Supreme Court vote referred to above.) If so, and the second amendment is repealed sometime in the future following the defined process, will you then defend the removal of the right to bear arms as strongly as you defend the right to bear them now?


Frankly I believe that if you can carry it yourself, then you can carry it. If it takes a crew, then it ain’t carrying and isn’t covered. So, I have to sell my howitzer. And the old Abrams tank. But I get to keep the LAWS rocket and the .50cal Remington 700 with 20x scope and 20 round magazine. 🙂


@Rod – I think you are starting to get it 🙂

As the constitution stands it specifically forbids any infringement on the right to keep and bear arms. If someone wants to have those laws, they first have to change the constitution, and there is a well defined process for doing that, which has been successfully used in the past.

However, the big problem is that even if the second amendment text were to be completely removed, the Federal government does not have the power to do anything about gun ownership. The US constitution is not about giving rights to the people, it is about spelling out exactly what the government has the power to do. If it is not in the constitution, they can’t do it, and nowhere in there does it say that they may regulate the ownership and possession of firearms. That would require another amendment to give that power to them.

The first 10 amendments to the US constitution were not about giving any powers to the government, they were explicitly listing what were seen a pre-existing rights (God given rights as they are sometimes called) that the government absolutely must not abridge. If you like, this is their Magna Carta.

So if the second amendment (or any one of the other nine amendments in the bill of rights) were removed, the right, according to the framers, still exists. This would be interfering with the fundamental structure of the USA – it would need re-constituting in a different way – similar to the succession of French Republics.

The 5-4 reference (removed) was the US supreme court eventually getting around to addressing the (somewhat spurious) question of whether the mention of “the people” in the second amendment only applied to “the people” in a collective sense (state right, no individual right). The fact that the same phrase is used in the other nine amendments and is universally agreed to refer to the individual was ignored.

Of the nine supreme court justices, only five had the intellectual honesty to read the constitution and all the supporting documentation on the discussions leading up to the actual text in its obvious interpretation. The other four proved to be more loyal to party politics than to the rule of law. These people are supposed to be above party politics. Unfortunately, the US has had a succession of presidents more interested in furthering party politics than in selecting independent and intellectually hnest supreme court judges.


@Jonathon – re your comment about the guys who wrote the constitution, I agree with your comments about their intentions. However, I’m less convinced the amendment has actually achieved those intentions. Can you give me a couple of examples where arms have been successfully borne in the US to defend individuals against the rise of a tyrannical government (preferably in my lifetime i.e. the last 50 years or so)?


Rod: I honestly don’t believe that the repeal of any of the rights inherent in the Constitution CAN be subject to “repeal”. Those rights were not granted by the government, nor even by the Constitution; they were merely recognized in them. Please recall that the Bill of Rights is not a LIMIT on our rights, but rather an expression of the 10 which the founders felt would be the most egregious to violate. Our individual rights come to us from our Creator, and are best expressed in the writings of Martin Luther and John Locke and are best known as “Natural Law” or “Natural Rights”. Recognition of them began before, and were included in, the Magna Carta (circa 1215). These rights are strongly mentioned in the Deceleration of Independence, and it was King George’s violation of these Natural Rights which led to the American Revolution.


Well, there’s always the “Revenuers vs. the Distillers” 🙂 And yes, one can and should consider Waco. The Branch Davidians, crazy as they were, broke no laws. The local Sheriff even gave their leader the go ahead on buying the ‘3-shot’ triggers which led to the BATF wanting to move in with tanks, etc. So, once the feds fired the first shot, I would consider every shot fired by the Davidians as falling 100% within the guidelines of defending oneself against a tyrannical government. I don’t necessarily LIKE using Waco as an example, because it is a poor one. Let’s just be thankful that the federal tyranny has not been worse, thus providing more examples. It’s more a question of slow erosion, now, which is much more subtle and harder to point a single finger and say “Look! There lies tyranny!” while in reality it surrounds us.


There’s one thing that bugs me about the implementation of the gun advocacy in the US. While the Constitution allows for the right to bear arms, the mouthpiece of gun supporters, the NRA, is inconsistent. If we really have the unrestricted right, why do they fight for certain gun-related items (such as semi-automatic assault rifles, and 31-bullet clips) and not for others (such as automatic weapons and very large caliber weapons)? Isn’t a hand grenade or a canon “Arms”? In the case of a government take over, will a 30-06 really protect you from an Army that has the kind of weapons our soldiers have? This is not an irrational argument. There is, in fact, gun control today that’s agreeable (or at least acceptable) to most gun owners. However, the NRA’s knee-jerk reaction to any controls does us all a disservice. They fight laws that would put rational restrictions on access to weapons (e.g. background checks, waiting periods, etc.) for people who shouldn’t have guns. And before you point out that bad guys will get them on the street, why don’t we see Uzi’s and Tommy guns in the hands of gang members everywhere? Because they are hard to get – because they are controlled. Phillip – while there may be examples (albeit few) of other cultures that can support this type of very limited restriction, your excusing the gun deaths due to gang related violence and rare crazies like Loughner are more the proof-points for more control in my mind. Given that, as you say, our culture is more prone to violence, shouldn’t that be all the more reason that we limit access to weapons that can do mass damage? And does access to a tool of violence like a gun contribute to that culture? I brought up the 31-bullet clip earlier for a very specific purpose. The only reason more people didn’t die in Arizona is that Loughner had to reload. But he got off 31 shots first. What would have happened if he only had a standard 5 or 10 bullet clip? How many people would be alive today?


@Paul – I think you are coming into this with some bias. Using words/phrases like “mouthpiece” and “knee jerk” hardly seems to imply an open mind. However, you did have some relevant content, so I will attempt to answer those points.

The NRA may claim to represent all gun owners, but there are many that do not accept that, some for exactly the reasons that you mention. The NRA has moved from being an organization driven by its membership to a political animal that will often take a calculated position that is contrary to the best interests of its members as part of strategic give and take – compromise. They lose a lot of members over that.

As for a 30-06 taking on US infantry. Yes, it would, quite successfully. It has better range and more hitting power than the 5.62mm ammunition the US army uses. Fighters in Afghanistan fought off the Russians with a similar but less powerful round.

Full auto weapons are probably more common that you think. You can have one if you want. Basically, you just have to pay a $200 tax. Of course, the government makes paying that tax more difficult than it needs to be. But if you have the money, the time and the inclination you can own practically any weapon you can think of.

People like Loughner will use whatever weapon is to hand. There have been instances of lunatics driving cars into crowds and killing more people than happened in Tucson. There have been instances of people using knives to kill and would more. Of course, these don’t stay in the news for weeks (or even make it out of local news in most cases). If he didn’t have that gun, he may well have used a bomb, which would have caused much more damage. The fact that a lunatic uses a car as a weapon doesn’t seem to cause immediate calls to ban “assault cars” – those with engines of more than 50hp, and capable of speeds well in excess of any legal speed limit – who NEEDS such a car? Only criminals, obviously …

As for magazine capacity (they are magazines, not clips. Clips are something else altogether, and I seriously doubt that such a thing as a 30 round clip actually exists – this is the sort of thing that makes me think you have been listening to propaganda as opposed to someone that actually knows what they are talking about) the “standard” capacity varies by type of gun. Rifles vary between three and forty rounds, pistols vary too, small, concealable pistols average around 10 rounds. Full size pistols typically in the 13 to 19 range. Depends upon the caliber and pistol design.

With pistols, 30 round magazines are not produced as standard, they are sold to people that don’t know better. To function reliably a semi-auto pistol has to have the next round to fire held in a very specific location, with a very specific amount of pressure holding it in place. 30 round magazines just can’t meet the specification and often (usually?) will jam, which is exactly what happened to Loughner. If he had been using standard magzines and had done even minimal practice on rapid magazine changes (often sub-second for a competent user) he could well have actually done much more damage.


Philip – I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bias, but not in a “guns must go” way, only that there should be restrictions for tools like guns. My brother will agree that I tend to fall on the conservative side of things – I’m not a typical Seattleite . Glad to hear that you don’t believe the NRA speaks for you – unfortunately that is not the way they portray themselves. Since many of our gun policies in this country are influenced by them, they are the spokesperson for gun owners until some other group steps up. Let me address some of your other points: Constitutional controls, the “infringe” clause: We have the right of free assembly in the Constitution, but in some places we have to get permits from the local administration to do so. So there is precedence in our Government to provide some governance that’s not specifically called out in the Constitution. Background checks: the NRA position on the the current background check process is that its broken. More importantly, they helped put in place the gun-show loophole. DC/Chicago and weapons: You can’t expect local restrictions to have any effect when the criminals can drive 15 miles to the next county where there are few restrictions. Any restrictions need to be Federal, not State or Local. Better to look at countries like Britain or Australia. Magazines/clips: pardon my ignorance – you’ll have to blame Matt. I’ll admit I’m not an expert, but the question is still there: is having more bullets in a gun really protected under the Constitution? Or is this one of those areas that we should have a rational discussion on? Auto weapons: they are available, but I have to pay a tax and the government has to approve them. Sounds good to me – why not apply this to all weapons? That’s where the discrepancy lies for me – why agree to this on certain arms but not others? Finally, other tools as weapons: I agree that crazies will use any tool. However, let me be blunt: the main intent of guns is to kill things. There are lots of other uses for them – competitions, noise makers, etc. But their original intent and main purpose is to kill things. Cars and machetes, and even fertilizer, are tools that can be used as weapons but its not their primary purpose. And, thinking about it, there are restrictions on car usage – you need to be approved by the government. Why should guns be any different? As you can tell I love good debates like this – and as Matt says, its good that we have rational discussions on subjects like these.


This is a somewhat old video of Charlton Heston covering what I was trying to explain in the post above about how Americans view the constitution as the foundation of the country and the second amendment as the key to keeping it.

ZD YouTube FLV Player