Guns—A Way of Life
THE long row of red tenement houses teeming with life is back to normal. The unmistakable sound of automatic and semiautomatic gunfire no longer shatters the quiet. The flashes of fire with each burst of the weapons no longer cast eerie shadows in the night, no longer help light up the dimly lit streets. There are holes in the ancient brick fronts where bullets have buried themselves deep in the masonry in gun battles past and present.
Police and medical examiners know the streets well. An arsenal of weapons with enough firepower to arm a small police force has been confiscated—the aftermaths of murders, suicides, accidental shootings, and robberies. Mailmen and trash collectors refuse to service the community for fear of being caught in a hail of bullets. Children are kept inside their homes, but some are still gunned down as bullets fired from deliberately or poorly aimed guns penetrate windows and walls and ricochet through rooms.
If you live in a large city, chances are you are familiar with the scenario described here, if not as an eyewitness, then as a viewer of the TV evening newscasts. In many cities shootings are so commonplace they are often not reported in the local press. Frequently, they are paled into insignificance by too many other massacres capturing the daily news in other cities or other parts of the world.
A California massacre scene, for example, made news in many parts of the world when a gunman sprayed a hundred rounds of ammunition from a rapid-fire assault rifle into a crowd of elementary-school children, killing 5 students and wounding 29 others before taking his own life with a handgun. Europe and the United States also read the shocking news of a crazed man who slaughtered 16 people in England with an AK-47 assault rifle. In Canada a man who hated women went to Montreal University and shot and killed 14 women. Unless the death toll is staggering, most of the killings by guns, accidental or intentional, however, are seldom reported outside the city in which they take place.
The Gun Mystique
Local, state, national, and international law enforcement agencies and leaders are perplexed by the rising tide of deaths attributed to handguns and larger automatic and semiautomatic weapons already in the hands of criminals and mentally deranged people. The International Association of Chiefs of Police estimates that anywhere from 650,000 to 2,000,000 semiautomatic and automatic weapons “may be in the hands of criminals nationwide [U.S.A.]—an army of bad guys with the odds in a shoot-out almost always on their side,” reported U.S.News & World Report.
It is estimated that in the United States alone, nearly every other household has a gun. Although an absolute number of guns owned by Americans cannot be determined, recent estimates show that 70 million Americans own approximately 140 million rifles and 60 million handguns. “The nation’s private arsenal is big enough to supply one gun to nearly every man, woman and child in the country,” wrote U.S.News & World Report. Do you find this shocking?
In Europe too the citizenry has become like an armed camp. England is trying to come to grips with its weapon problem as more and more of the unsavory element are arming themselves to the teeth. In West Germany the illegal hoard of firearms is estimated to be more than 80 percent of all weapons in circulation. A number of these, according to reports, have been stolen from “armories of the German police, border police, German army and NATO stores.” Switzerland is reported to have the highest level of private firearms possession in the world. “Any law-abiding Swiss may own guns, and every male of military age must keep at home an assault rifle more powerful than that used in the Stockton [California] massacre,” reported The New York Times of February 4, 1989.
A few days earlier, The New York Times reported that in San Salvador, “guns are as common on men’s hips as wallets. Supermarkets, whose guards patrol the aisles with shotguns, require shoppers to check their weapons in lockers by the front doors.” According to Asiaweek magazine of February 1989, the Philippine government “concedes that the country is awash with at least 189,000 unlicensed firearms. That, plus the 439,000 with licences, means that weapons in the hands of private individuals far outnumber those held by the armed forces, which has some 165,000 regulars. And illegal arms shipments are confiscated weekly at the international airport and on the Manila waterfront.”
Peaceful Canada, where the Criminal Code severely restricts the possession and use of firearms, is seeing a steady rise in firearm-related offenses. At the end of 1986, there were about 860,000 registered restricted firearms in Canada. That did not include private collections of automatic weapons obtained before 1978. Said one veteran Canadian police official: “What I would like to know is why the people of Canada feel a need to have a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun.”
When the U.S. government recently placed a temporary ban on the importation of semiautomatic weapons, the results were unexpected. Frantic buyers waited long hours in lines to buy those already in gun shops around the country. “It’s like the Oklahoma land rush,” said one buyer who stood in line to buy one of the last ones in stock. These could be purchased for about $100 before the ban. On this day they were selling for as much as $1,000 each. “These guns are coming in and going out 30 a day,” said one happy store owner. “They’re buying them all, everything and anything they can get their hands on,” he said. “What they have done is put one in everybody’s home,” said another gun-shop owner.
A law in the state of Florida, United States, has permitted gun owners to walk in public with a gun strapped to their waist or concealed on their person. It is feared by some that this will result in street-corner shoot-outs, reminiscent of the wild West era. One Florida State representative said: “The message we’re sending out is, ‘We can’t protect you anymore, so go get yourself a gun and do the best you can.’” And judging by gun sales, thousands are doing just that.
Why this sudden craze for guns—some so powerful they can send bullets through concrete walls and fire 900 rounds a minute, designed for the sole purpose of battlefield combat? Some authorities say guns have a “sexy mystique” that makes them especially attractive to men. “There’s a machismo to carrying the biggest, ugliest and most powerful weapon available,” said one government official. “For men in particular, guns evoke a near mystical return to their youths,” wrote one reporter. Some banking institutions have picked up on this gun mystique by offering handguns in lieu of paying interest on certificates of deposit. Reports indicate that the promotion has become extremely popular with depositors.
Worldwide, gun sales are booming. Where will it end? When every male member of society owns at least one or more guns? Or are guns for men only? Consider some interesting facts in the next article.