In the wake of another horrific mass killing - this time involving very young children - the gun control debate has once again heated up. Familiar arguments are being lobbed from all sides: here's a list of 10 common arguments often floated by gun advocates, as well as a dissenting response offered for each.
While this debate is not new, and while a Congressional stalemate over a controversial issue is not new either, there exists a particular element of this discussion that is generally perplexing. For a quick and easy explanation of this element, here's an exert from a recent American Spectator article regarding gun control which outlines it well:
Gun ownership has been three times as high in Switzerland as in Germany, but the Swiss have had lower murder rates.
Switzerland - seemingly the favorite foreign country for gun advocates. The country they most often cite as proof positive that more guns does not equal more deaths. Similar to American Spectator, resident town crier for absurd conspiracy theories - one Mr. Glenn Beck - has cited Switzerland as the model of truth for gun ownership as well:
GLENN: Look. Ted, this is the same story over and over and over again, and you know as well as I do one of the safest countries in the world is Switzerland. Because you’re required to have an automatic weapon. link
After resident maniac Ted Nugent offered his two cents, Beck continued on to further elucidate his point:
GLENN: Right. You’re required to have it. Why? Because they know. The best way to defend ‑‑ why do you think Switzerland is never overrun? Because they’re all defended ‑‑ every home is defended by the people in the home.
This is, in a nutshell, the primary argument often lobbied by gun advocates - if more homes/people/businesses are armed, crime will decrease. In fact, it is the primary rally cry of the National Rifle Association (NRA) - undeniably the biggest proponent of gun ownership and advocacy in the country. This, from NRA President Wayne LaPierre last February:
For centuries, the proud and free people of Switzerland have kept guns in their homes, to defend their nation against invasion and to protect their communities in times of emergency. link
So, how exactly does Switzerland do it? Because on the face, American Spectator, Beck, Nugent, the NRA... they are all correct. Switzerland does indeed have one of the highest rates of gun ownership per capita in the industrialized world, while having one of the lowest rates of firearm death per capita.
The answer is actually pretty simple, and it is one that tends to resemble the exact opposite of what the Becks, Nugents, and NRAs of the country advocate for. The answer is, of course, some of the strictest gun regulation policies in the world. Here's some context:
Switzerland doesn't have a standing army like the U.S.A - instead, they have a 'people's militia'. The country's culture expects males, upon turning 20 or so, to enlist. Once enlisted, members receive several months of mandatory training and testing regarding WHEN and HOW to use a weapon. Upon successful training and testing, each member is given weapon(s) to store at home, in case the militia is called into action (this is why the per capita gun ownership rate is so high).
Here's an interesting point though: only the highest ranking militia members (just 2,000 people in the entire country) get to have ANY ammo in their homes; everyone else must get it from the nearest military compound in the event that the militia is called into action. This regulation came in 2007, as a response to concerns about potential gun related death (yes, that's correct: the country gun advocates love to hold up as a beacon of gun freedom has passed recent meaningful regulation to further curb gun violence). Prior to 2007, militia members were still only allowed 50 rounds of ammo in their home (the primary reason for the 50 rounds was to provide the militia member with enough ammunition to make their way to their military base in the event of an invasion), and those rounds were checked periodically to ensure that their usage was for authorized purposes only.
Also of note - much like the United States, Switzerland does have a recreational shooting culture. In fact, they host the largest rifle shooting competition in all the world every year (Feldschiessen weekend - generally more than 200,000 participants each year). Switzerland has multiple gun ranges where people can shoot for recreation. But, ammunition must be acquired at the range, and must be used and/or left at the range.
This isn't exactly the kind of gun utopia that gun advocates imply it to be. However, there are indeed some quality lessons to be learned from Switzerland's gun control policies. Primarily, gun ownership in and of itself doesn't necessarily have to be a public health and safety issue - but extremely tight regulation is needed to create a safe and responsible culture around gun usage. Switzerland doesn't have high rates of gun ownership for INDIVIDUAL protection - even though this is the notion that gun advocates in the U.S. try to imply. If individual home protection were the purpose, bullets in the home would be necessary, right? Rather, Switzerland has a high rate of gun ownership for means of the nations' military protection, and they take extremely strict steps to make sure that that is the ONLY purpose said guns are used for.
Yet, you'd never know that listening to gun advocates. In fact, going back to Wayne LaPierre's statement above - he makes mention of Switzerland's voters recently rejecting gun control legislation. That's true - they rejected removing the guns from homes as well... not just the ammo:
Supporters of the tighter curbs wanted to have weapons kept in armouries and were demanding stricter checks on gun owners.
Opponents said the move would have undermined trust in the army. link
Notice the bolded piece - that's not even remotely close to what gun advocates regularly imply. The argument against that particular legislation was that it would essentially destabilize the nation's only military presence - not that some guy wouldn't be able to protect his family in the event of a break-in. Again, there still aren't going to be bullets in the vast majority of homes in Switzerland, even in light of the Swiss populous having "rejected recent attempts at gun control".
This is one of the core struggles with virtually every debate in America's political realm - there's a disgusting lack of facts mixed in with the hyperbolic, sensationalized rhetoric. While that is unlikely to change in the near future, at the very least let us hope that those gun enthusiasts who cite Switzerland as their "proof" at least have the rudimentary knowledge to know what they are citing. It appears to be a fair guess that if the NRA wanted all ammunition removed from homes, they'd probably have the support of the vast majority of their opponents. Maybe this debate isn't as polarized as it seems? Or, maybe some of those individuals engaged in the debate aren't as informed as they believe? I hope it is the former, but I fear it is the latter.