Saturday, June 25, 2016
Will American Politics Ever Return to Civilized?
The battle over gun control is the poster-issue for national political division. An exemplar for polarization and legislative gridlock. And every time there is a mass shooting, a whole pile of Americans feel in their heart that something must and will be done… but just in case, they rush out and buy another weapon. Statistically one gun for every man, woman and child living in the United States.
But it’s not as if guns are spread evenly among the population. The trend is going the other way, more guns held by fewer people. “According to a by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, gun ownership in the United States has fallen by almost 20 percent since the 1970s. A report by the General Social Survey (GSS) found that around 32 percent of Americans either own a firearm or have one in their household in 2014, compared to the nearly 50 percent in 1973.” OutdoorHub.com, 3/13/15.
There are skeptics who do not believe the numbers, but this polarization of gun ownership very clearly defines the biggest issue in a nation torn apart in vicious mutual disdain: the great divide between an increasingly urban population with urban values (80%+ of Americans fit this demographic according to the 2010 Census, a number that should rise in the 2020 Census) and rural traditionalists. Pioneering/old world values (a gun on a farm or in the woods) versus values in crowded, cheek-to-jowl, diverse urban environments (a gun on the streets). Guns and the limits of the Second Amendment run parallel with conservative vs. liberal social issues across the board, a genuinely interesting metric for political civility.
You can see the shift to urban values in hunting statistics over the years. Today 7% of the American population hunts, a steady decline since the 1950s, and nearly 60% of those hunters live in small towns or rural areas. So obviously, the vast majority of gun owners aren’t hunters. The above chart will tell you how people explain their purchase of guns.
If it’s bad guys with guns who are the problem (since, if we believe the NRA, guns don’t kill people, people kill people), a bad guy with a high-capacity magazine (or one with a rapid magazine change-out feature) and an efficient military-style semi-automatic assault rifle (you have to pull the trigger for each bullet fired… fully automatic weapons have been banned in the U.S. since 1934) should be able to inflict lots of casualties before anyone can react. Anyone. Armed with anything. Worse than a bad guy with a knife… or even a handgun.
Assault rifles are bad form for hunters; they just don’t use them. They pale in comparison with shotguns as defensive weapons (no accuracy required) and are awkward to produce and handle quickly in a small residential space. So they really have limited uses. Sure target practice with one is fun and cool, but does that leisure-time activity justify generally releasing weapons designed very specifically for military purposes as “maximum close range” human being killing machine? The sale of assault rifles to non-military American buyers is a fairly recent historical trend.
“In its 2011 report ‘The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market,’ the non-partisan Violence Policy Center noted that ‘selling militarized firearms to civilians—i.e., weapons in the military inventory or weapons based on military designs—has been at the point of the industry’s civilian design and marketing strategy since the 1980s.’ And in its 2011 annual report to investors, Smith & Wesson Holding Company noted that there was a $489 million domestic, non-military market for ‘modern sporting rifles,’ a euphemism for auto-loading, assault-style rifles. Modern sporting rifles are perhaps the fastest-growing segment of the domestic long gun industry. From 2007 to 2011, according to the Freedom Group’s most recent annual report, domestic consumer long gun sales grew at a compound annual rate of 3 percent; modern sporting rifle sales grew at a 27 percent rate…
“A November 2012 Congressional Research Service report found that, as of 2009, there were approximately 310 million firearms in the United States: ‘114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns.’ However, author William J. Krouse went on to note that ‘data are not available on the number of ‘assault weapons’ in private possession or available for sale, but one study estimated that 1.5 million assault weapons were privately owned in 1994.’” Justin Peters writing for Slate.com, 12/20/12. There are whole lot more assault weapons out there today. Gun manufacturers and the NRA don’t really want us to have the exact numbers, and the NRA lobby has effectively prevented governmental agencies from even trying to collect the relevant statistics.
Here’s what a video of the Pulse carnage confirmed. “[U.S.-born] Orlando gunman Omar Mateen shot continuously at wounded people on the floor of Pulse nightclub, according to surveillance footage, emptying a 30-round magazine to ensure the death of his early victims.” Washington Post, June 23rd. He used that legally-purchased magazine with a legally-purchased Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle firing .223-caliber ammunition at a muzzle velocity of about 3,200 feet per second.
So on June 22nd, when the Democratic minority staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives over the complete failure to generate even the slightest movement on a post-Orlando effort to pass some form of gun control legislation – knowing that the majority of Americans are still reeling from how quickly so many people could be killed – the GOP majority responded by dismissing Representatives early for the July 4th recess.
“No matter your politics, it was incredible political theatre. ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ meets open mic night. Republicans gaveled the House out of session, cutting off the live video feed that C-SPAN broadcasts. Defying House rules, Democrats used their phones to stream low-resolution videos online. Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) used FaceTime on his iPhone to do an interview from the House floor – a first. MSNBC gave the drama wall-to-wall coverage.” Washington Post, June 23rd.
Think gun control is going to be a seminal issue in the November elections? And as the demographics in this country move even more towards a huge majority of urbanites, exactly what will those left behind – old world rural traditionalists – do about it? To answer the above title question? If you think the current battles are unprofessional and horrifically uncivilized, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!!! Unless we learn how to get along and compromise… and we are going in the opposite direction… exactly where do you think we will wind up? And remember, between “most of us” and gangs plus those rural traditionalists, guess who has most of the weapons among civilians?
I’m Peter Dekom, and the last time the United States was so bitterly divided, we wound up in a Civil War with more American fatalities than experienced in WWI and WWII combined.