Life is beautiful?

SOCRATIC QUESTIONING IN WORLD POLITICS

Richard is a second-year student studying Finance and International Relations. He is an international student with a very broad experience with NGOs and academics. His articles will analyse global affairs from a political and economic point of view. He uses the Socratic way of questioning to provide a philosophical perspective in perceiving contemporary global affairs.

1 October was one of the bloodiest days in American history. More than 50 innocent people were killed, and more than 500 were wounded during the ‘Life Is Beautiful’ music festival; to some people, life might not be that beautiful after all.

‘Thirty people will be shot dead in America today. On average. It could be more. If it’s less, then more will die tomorrow. Or the next day.’

Gun-related homicide has always been a controversial topic in American politics. Despite the significance and impact of these incidents, US politicians cannot reach a consensus on the preventive method. While left-liberals have been trying to push for stricter legislation on gun control, right conservatives have always bid against this. Conservatives suggest that tougher laws are not going to change criminals’ behaviours. Instead, they advocate prevention through improving education on guns and other hazardous weapons. As controversial as gun reform seems to us outsiders, it is significant to consider if there is a correlation between gun control and gun-related homicides. In other words, would the establishment of a tougher law prevent gun violence? To answer this question, it is important to recognise the fact that the law on gun control varies from country to country, and so do corresponding gun-related homicide rates.

In 2016, the US Supreme Court ruled that ‘ ‘bans on civilian ownership of handguns are unconstitutional’. Under the Second Amendment, the ownership of guns is a fundamental human right. The underlying presumption is that the ownership of firearms can protect citizens and guarantee the constitutional right of self-defence. For this reason, any action against this doctrine (often cited by the right-wing), is unconstitutional. This argument is the most significant hindrance preventing the establishment of a tougher gun bill. Beyond the debate of left and right, it is important to cautiously consider if the assumption that having more guns will make us safer is valid.

According to domestic institutions including Harvard University, the US gun homicide is 25 times higher than other developed countries over the past 30 years. In comparison with other developed, high-income states such as Japan and Germany, this rate is rather astonishing. Japan has one of the most stringent and intolerant laws on the gun ownership. Many argue that Japan’s intolerance on gun ownership contribute to the low rate of gun crimes. The legal ownership of guns in Japan was less than 300,000 in 2011, and accordingly, the reported gun deaths were only six in 2014. Does this mean that tougher laws on gun control will correlate to a lower rate of gun violence?

In the past, there have been several cases of mass shootings in Australia. Around 1996, a shooting spree resulted in 35 deaths. The then prime minister John Howard, after rigorous consideration, proposed a new package of gun reform – including enforcing the licencing system as well as requiring people to have ‘genuine reason’ for possessing firearms. The implementation of this policy has economically lost country millions of dollars, yet there have been no mass shootings for over 20 years (only 13). Purely based on Japan and Australia’s experiences with guns, it is premature to conclude that tougher law is equivalent to the low crime rate.

On the contrary, Germany has one of the highest weapon ownership rates in the world but has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in Europe. The death rate is 0.05 per 1000 people in Germany whereas the number is 3.34 in the US. Germany’s experience can easily challenge the established conclusion – that the tough gun control is equal to the low gun crime.

As a result, it is not difficult to conclude that there is no noticeable causal relation between the strictness of gun control and the number of gun homicides.

Considering the complexity of the American social-economic context, banning guns might not be the best measure to stop gun homicides. Particularly with the presence of the Second Amendment, it is not only economically challenging to restrict guns; it is also politically infeasible considering the environment of the US Senate. Notwithstanding, from a political point of view, it is a kind gesture for the US government to show the public their determination to end the gun violence.