Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Mass Shootings, State Repression and Gun Laws: Don’t Look to Europe as a Model

A reader asked as part of a general discussion of whether the adoption of European (or Japanese) gun laws might reduce the frequency of mass shootings in the United States.

A simple question…..What do you think the government of the USA would do, if the population was totally disarmed, without recourse, and the only people with guns would be government officials and the police? If the government had the power to do *anything* to the US population it wanted? The government with 100% power, and the population with 0% power? Tell me that the US government would not turn into a large version of Pinochet’s Chile, killing, torturing, and disappearing US citizens at will, when all of these policies of Foggy Bottom and the CIA in Chile and elsewhere, were really practice to someday use these same tactics of repression on us?

My response.

I’m generally disdainful of the “cold, dead fingers” crowd (because they’re actually system-lovers most of the time). But I do think the “anti-gun” side discounts the guerrilla warfare/armed struggle argument mostly because they’re just squeamish about violence generally or because they simply don’t like the politics of the people making the argument, and not because such arguments are “wrong” from a factual perspective. For example, I’ve often heard it said that “terrorism doesn’t work.” To which I would generally say, “Uh, yes it does.”…/standoffs-and-the…/ One can oppose terrorism on other grounds but the claim that “it doesn’t work” rests on a range of dubious presumptions. As for the utility of particular gun policies in reducing common violent crime in the United States, my own background in criminology (which I minored in in grad school) tells me that the answer is we just don’t know, as was confirmed by this recent RAND Corporation study:…/more-research-could-help-prevent…

As for the question of the relationship between stricter gun laws and increased state repression, the two parties are essentially the kind of center-right/far-right duopoly you find in some of the more reactionary Latin American countries, and you’re right that it seems they would hardly be averse to using the same methodologies that their puppets have used. Although here may be certain legal, cultural, or pragmatic barriers to using such methods on a domestic level. It seems to me they already go up to the line and lean over with some of that stuff anyway. I think if the government tried to impose Japan-like anti-gun laws in the US, there would be an outbreak of right-wing terrorism (and some left-wing and black nationalist terrorism, as blacks would be a primary target of such laws). How successful it would be would be anyone’s guess. Obviously, stricter gun laws would require an expansion of the police state we already have built up around the wars on drugs, crime, gangs, terrorism, etc.

A disagreement I would have with those who favor gun laws like the ones in Europe, and who cite Europe as a model for controlling gun violence, is that Europe and America are much different places. America obviously resembles Europe in some ways, but we more closely resemble Latin America in other ways (criminal homicide rates in Latin America and the Caribbean are actually the highest in the world, btw, even worse than sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East generally.) Homicide rates are higher in the US than they are in European countries and some East Asian countries, but lower than they are in Russia (depending on whose data you believe) and some of these other places.

But the US is much more like Latin America in the sense that we have a more rigidly stratified class system, a traditional racial caste system, a larger “underclass,” the history of having been a frontier society, a deeply ingrained “gun culture,” and (in much of the US) a warmer climate (there is a worldwide correlation between warmer climates and higher rates of violence, for instance, the US South has a higher per capita homicide rate than the North). America is also more similar to Latin America in that organized crime, gangs, and large drug trafficking organizations are more common here than in Europe. Europe has some of that but not nearly on the level we do. Comparing the US and Europe is an apples and oranges comparison, and even more so when you compare the US and somewhere like Japan. Also, many of the Latin American and Caribbean countries have stricter gun laws than the US and higher homicide rates (see Mexico, Jamaica, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Honduras as prime examples).

A big issue as far as American crime is concerned are the mass public shootings, which are largely an American phenomenon. The same is true of serial killers. The majority of cases I know of concerning both mass shooters and serial killers have been Americans, and I think there is something social or cultural about that. Years ago, I heard a lecture by an FBI serial killer profiler who said that he thought serial killers were a uniquely American phenomenon because Americans are an unusually rootless, detached, atomized, isolated, competitive, acquisitive culture, and he thought that bred pathological personalities like serial killers and mass shooters. It makes as much sense as any other explanation I have heard.

2 replies »

  1. I assume this post has something to do with the recent shooting in Chicago? If not, how ironic. My mother-in-law always blows these events out of proportion. Like shouting across the house or knocking on the bathroom door to ask “Hey, did you hear about that other mass shooting?”

    In my opinion, 3 people is a drop in the bucket. Fifty people are a bigger drop in the bucket. I feel sorry for the victims, even more so for their loved ones who will suffer from the pain of loss, but even a thousand people are less than 1% of the population. There are almost 8 billion humans living on Earth, and we’ll all die from something. Probably something unpleasant.

    DISCLAIMER: I don’t agree with assholes just shooting random people for no good reason. If they broke into your home, threatened you or your family, raped your wife, killed your dog, drugged your niece, then go ahead and pop a cap in their ass. But while an increase in “senseless” violence may be inevitable, that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to like it.

    Violence is why we need violence. Guns are why we need guns. Like the wildfire out in California, violence will only die down when there is nothing left to burn. If someone has a gun, so should you. If the police and military have guns, so should civilians. Military kills aren’t included in murder statistics, but if they were, it would be apparent who the real danger is. NOT the random shooters we see on the news.

    Whether or not civilians are well-armed, we will still try to kill each other. The more densely-packed our population becomes, the more we bump shoulders, the more we will beat each other to death with our bare hands. The more people there are, the more police there are, and more people to police. Death by cop will become more common. Not because all police are bad, but because they have the legal right to shoot and kill. While civilians are punished most severely for defending themselves.

    And like our military has killed civilians in other countries, they will someday turn on their own and people. Not because soldiers are murderers, but because they are bought, paid for, and ordered to kill. Our police and military don’t receive special privileges or protections for free; no, they must work for those rights by restricting ours. They are not monsters, but men. Men and women doing a dirty job.

    Long story short: I support the unrestricted right to bear arms, not because I agree with mass shootings, but because I value myself and my family over all others. I refuse to be the bigger person unless it benefits me or my loved ones. If my selfishness hurts you….sorry, not sorry. Sometimes a knife is a more efficient self-defense option, but we’ve all heard that old saying about bringing a knife to a gunfight. We are our own first responders.

  2. Here is my perspective I would like to share. I researched literature on the matter of state sponsored murder, genocide, etc. a published work called simply deaths in wars & conflicts in the 20th century by Milton Leitenberg. If you consider the rate of death just in conflict aside from rape, torture, imprisonment, etc. and apply the rate of just death of the 20th century to today, you have a 1:176 chance of being roped into an armed lethal conflict and dying. The chance of an IRS audit on your taxes is 1:160. so- if my being armed and ready for what is statistically coming for 1:176 people on this earth- and it cost the lives of a few because of the brutal actions of even fewer, than its no longer an argument I am willing to listen to if the debating force reckons I disarm myself in favor of gun restriction. didn’t Europe learn this after 20-30 million people were massacred by authoritarian states just in the last 70 years?
    In the age of drone strikes, interorbital kinetic WMD, mass surveillance, I think my rifle collection shouldn’t make a damn bit of difference to anyone statistically speaking. I think the situation is monumentally worse if the state actors are the only armed peoples roaming the land. you don’t tie yourself to a chair and trust a rabid dog not to rip you to pieces.
    I agree, most pro-gun cucks are police apologists. “cold dead hands” next to a thin blue line USA flag sticker on their jacked up diesel as if the police wouldn’t kill them in a heartbeat to confiscate their weapons- especially now when Johnny law doesn’t need a warrant in half the country to come take your firearms, based on the word of someone else. (red flag law)

    Sorry if my comment lost its relevance to the post. I get worked up over the subject.

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