It’s the Guns, Stupid

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I was never a fan of President Ronald Reagan and can proudly say that I never voted for him. But he did possess an ability during his time in office for communicating a hopeful tone to the American people. They used to call him “The Great Communicator.”

One of his most famous rhetorical flourishes focused around his belief that when he thought about America, he felt that it was that “shining city upon a hill.” Reagan borrowed the analogous quote from John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, who upon setting sail for New England in 1630, reflected on his hopes for what would come to signify American exceptionalism; that we would be the moral compass and example for the rest of the world.

Let’s say that these days, that “shining city” is beginning to look more like an abandoned town, with rubble and burned out facades dotting the landscape. The precipitous fall from grace is breathtaking in scope.

Out of all the madness, however, the American spirit of protest and making our voices heard is alive and well. We can at least hold our heads high when it comes to that aspect of our troubled democracy. The people are pissed, and rightfully so. We’ve seen enough of the extinguishing of our black brothers and sisters on the United States streets and simple lip service that things must change is not enough.

Of course, we must change the culture of our policing in America. We’ve known this for quite some time now. There are many ideas on how to do this, and some are quite striking in their scope. When the city council of Minneapolis votes to disband, dismantle, and start from scratch their entire police department, perhaps we have reached a tipping point.

But going forward, this is not going to be easy. We should brace ourselves for more chaos, division, and uncertainty. Because if there’s one thing that separates this country from most civilized Western democracies, it’s America’s obsession with guns, and in turn, the violent nature of our society in general. If we ignore that signature point, we do so at our own peril.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to disarm police departments throughout the country? Oh, of course, we’d have to have an armed segment for extreme situations. Still, in a perfect world, our police would be part of the community, there to assure we’re adhering to the laws of the land, but who’s first inclination is to de-escalate the situation, not inflame it.

This concept is not crazy talk, at least if we look to some of the other countries around the world who have nowhere near the number of people, especially those of color, who perish at the result of police misconduct. We’re the cream of the crop when it comes to that dubious distinction.

There are reasons for this, not the least of which is our violent culture and history of deep racial mistrust and animosity between the police and the African-American community. Other countries that do a better job of policing do not have this kind of history. Many, such as Japan and some of the Nordic countries, are more homogenous. There’s not the diversity and cultural differences in those countries that we experience in America.

But, when it comes to policing in general, it’s way past time to start looking at how our friends overseas are doing the job, and ask ourselves why we can’t do it here?

When it comes to training, we do not measure up compared to other countries. For instance, in Germany, police recruits are required to spend two and a half to four years in basic training to become an officer, with the option to pursue the equivalent of a bachelor’s or master’s degree in policing. In America? On average, it can take as little as 33 weeks when you combine field and classic training.

The problem with that is that if you’re only spending roughly 21 weeks in classroom training, you don’t have enough time to master the concepts of crisis intervention or de-escalation techniques. According to Paul Hirschfield, associate sociology and criminal-justice professor at Rutgers University, “If you only have 21 weeks, naturally you’re going to emphasize survival.”

There’s much more restraint exercised when it comes to policing in most European countries. It’s the norm, not the exception. For example, some countries, such as Finland and Norway, even require police to seek permission before shooting anyone. In Spain, police have to provide verbal cautions and warning shots before resorting to lethal force.

And let’s face it, in most European countries, the police are regarded in society along the same lines as a doctor, lawyer, or teacher. They’re also paid better and trained longer than their American counterparts.

The numbers do not lie. Police killings in America dwarf those occurring in other civilized societies across the globe. For example, to put it in perspective, between 2002 and 2017, adjusting for each countries average population, there were 71 police killings per million people in the U.S.; 3.2 per million people in Iceland; 1.5 per million people in Finland, and 0.8 police killings per million people in Norway (Snopes). Similarly, there were 36 police killings in all of Canada in 2017; 14 in Germany; and in England and Wales, 3 in 2018.

Yes, the examples above are from mostly white countries. And yes, most have generous social safety net policies who’s populations consistently rank near the top in overall happiness and contentment in global polling year after year.

But let’s get real here, folks. While the racial disparity and cultural differences set us apart from many of our European and Asian friends around the world, there’s one thing that stands out above all others: our love of guns. That’s right, we Americans own more guns than anybody in the world. The latest estimates put the overall civilian gun cache around the world at roughly 857 million. How many of those do Americans own? 46%, which comes out to about 393 million, according to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (SAS).

It’s the guns, stupid.

How can we expect de-escalation from our police departments when there are so many firearms floating around on the streets of America? Is it any wonder many of these departments are more than happy to accept hyper-militarized machinery from the federal government via grants and other programs? How can you police the streets and practice de-escalation when the starting point for everything is that the civilians have as much, if not more firepower than you?

Until we as Americans come to grips with this phenomenon, I don’t see how we can ever move forward. The Second Amendment folks will never allow gun confiscation. They’ll yell, scream, and be the squeaky wheel that continues to hold one of our political parties hostage. Hell, we can’t even get a universal background check bill passed. Over 80% of Americans want such a measure. So much for representational democracy, I suppose.

I’m hopeful, yet deeply skeptical that things are going to change as quickly as we want. The problems within so many of our police departments are so deep and systemic; it’s going to take sustained pressure by millions of people in the streets to get the change we so desperately need. Maybe we’re up to the task, perhaps not.

But the glorification of firearms in this country is what sets us apart from others around the world. They must look at us and wonder what the hell is going on. Can we ever have a police force like they do in the U.K. where bobbies still patrol the streets, absent guns on their hips?

Indeed not when hundreds of small men in fake military gear can march to governor’s mansions with assault weapons proudly displayed for all to see. Not when this is seen as acceptable behavior by a sizable portion of our population. And certainly not when that behavior gets celebrated by a particular television network and other false patriots.

In theory, the solution is simple: remove or severely reduce civilian gun ownership; de-militarize, disarm and retrain our police to de-escalate first – and use force as a last resort.

In practice, however, this is America. We love our firearms way too much.

It’s the guns, stupid. It’s always about the guns.

21 comments

  1. ALWAYS! ALWAYS! Even though we’ve had all this turmoil in the Twin Cities, there isn’t a day go by where people are shot and killed. And none of thse have anything to do with protests or police brutality. And they all involve hand guns, not assault weapons.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, and I just don’t see how we can become a better and less violent society without big-time gun safety regulations. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I really believe it.

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  2. Well said, Jeff! It is high time that the people started protesting about gun control. It is abundantly clear that elected politicians are not listening to the 80% that want greater gun control. If you wish to reduce gun violence as well as racial strife, the electorate must get out and vote for the candidates who will get these things done. I guess the basic question for America is, “Do you want to preserve your democracy and freedoms?” Considering the scandalously poor voter turnout in most of our democratic elections, I fear the answer is that people don’t care. Election turnouts going forward will tell the tale.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true John. I’m hoping the apathy is replaced with activism this time around. The only way we’ll get anything done at all is if Dems can win back all three levers of power. I see no other way. The R’s are only about power. Nothing else. This election is so important. Maybe police reform, this time around, gets done. Still, based on the past, it’s hard to be optimistic.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi John, it’s not so much that ppl don’t care, more like too many are losing hope that whoever we put in the white house makes no difference, nothing fundamentally changes which frustrates majority of voters. So next election comes around and many will boycott or vote 3rd party. I anticipate 50% or less even bother to vote, esp during a pandemic.

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  3. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    I did not intend to post a fourth post tonight, but … on reading Jeff’s post, I felt I had to. His words speak for themselves, and for the record, I am in 100% agreement with every word. We are the creators of our own doom … the love of guns in this country is greater than the love of life. Thank you, Jeff … great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jill! Yes, the United States of America…land of the free, home of the brave, and as many freaking guns as you’d like! I’m so disgusted. You mention one word to most of these folks about even a semi ban on assault weapons and they go nuts. I remember Beto O’Rourke got killed for mentioning gun confiscation or gun buybacks. You know what? I’m all for it. I know it won’t happen….but damn it Jill. What the hell is wrong with us?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I know … guns and bigotry are the two biggest problems this nation has or has ever had. And, it seems that both are here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. Sigh. I dunno what is wrong with us, Jeff … I think the human species is flawed and is largely determined to either bring about its own extinction, else destroy the entire world. Why else would we have nuclear weapons and throw away billions of dollars on space exploration? Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My personal feeling, bomb every weapon manufacturing plant in North America, including all munitions plants. And if they try to rebuild them, bomb them again and again and again till they give up. I know, there are billions of weapons already out there, but you have to start somewhere. Guns are almost useless if they don’t have bullets, and bullets are pretty useless with guns to fire them. You want to make change, you’ll never do it by negotiation. It is time to use force to destroy force.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. lol, i know ur being ironic… blow up all the guns but the mindset and laws remain intact, citizens will simply buy bombs or any other weapon in the black market. Ppl who feel they need guns, why? b/c of fear, unless consciousness level rise, nothing fundamentally will change.

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    2. Well rawgod, I get your point. Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say. I don’t think your solution will ever come to fruition, but I do get the urgency in your proposed action. In this country, however, things move at a snails pace, especially when you have a powerful lobbying group like the NRA and the weapons manufacturers showering politicians with cash and threats. I wish I could snap my fingers and make this crap all go away. Ughhhhh….Life in America

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      1. I don’t think that will ever happen, no one has the guts anymore. But what could be equally as effective and doable? That is the question, and I have no answer for…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I apologise if I have written this on your blog before, trotted out so many times but feel it is conceivable and bears repeating.
    Starting with The Gun Issue and expanding.
    Firstly, the USA is still a new nation. Look at Europe…1700s…that’s nothing! Historically the mix is still cooking.
    Secondly the USA was founded on a basic premise that a large central government was to be distrusted and it would be up to the individual or a community to work things out on a day to day basis. Hence the firearms, in the 1700s in a new nation, something advisable to have. As is the case with all cultures once an ideas are stuck in the collective head they can be fearfully difficult to shift from the whole nation. I would cite you examples but I would only start fearful arguments with some whose ancestors came from those nations (See what I mean?)
    Anyway, back to the USA put those two aspects together and you have a large segment of the population who see their gun as a symbol of their independence. Now taking the Nuclear Weapon analogy, that means…’Hmm, is my little handgun going to be any use if someone (Possibly of another race-but they never said it) invades my home with a semi-automatic?….I better get one’ and so on. Also there will be a mindset that if Socialists take over Washington you had better be ready to defend yourself- now you know there are plenty out there who subscribe that wacky-doodle view
    Thus the guns don’t go away…
    So looking at the problem from a many faceted viewpoint. The guns are symptomatic of many fractures within the USA. And there divides are growing (Not helped by not having a president only an occupant in The Whitehouse). History suggests that this will lead separation of states from the centre as folk seek out their own solutions. The last time this nearly happened it was along the North South divide, this time it could be more fractured (look at a political map) with even cities becoming independent. Hopefully if this scenario takes place it will be through a quasi-legal set up and no marching armies, although be prepared for Ulster like situations. Then you’ll have a sort of set-up similar to The Holy Roman Empire, with the president and Washington being very nominal as each region goes its own way. Thus will some areas will have very strong gun control laws as one outcome.
    This disintegration is quite normal in History.
    The only really big issue in the case of this happening to the USA ….Those nuclear weapons

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Roger, you understand the U.S. better than most over here. I too wonder what will become of our ‘never perfect’ union. The coastal states out West are already forming compacts on various issues like climate change, going completely around D.C. I can see your scenario playing out some day. The fracturing of our nation continues unabated. Social media, and opinion media on television is furthering this fracture. And now we have a president who thrives on this division. Gee, what could possibly go wrong?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It’s sad to watch it happening.
        When I was growing up (born in 1951), I thrived on US culture- Cartoon Shows, Sit-coms, comic books, MAD magazine (as good as any text book), later music (mostly West Coast 1960s). These led me into deeper interests of history in general, politics, cultures and so forth. My speech idioms are peppered with a hodge-podge of sayings from around differing parts.
        As much as one could say in the broad use of the term I ‘loved’ America and although Left-wing (real european hard left-wing) got into several arguments with fellow-travellers over America not being the source of all evils.
        These past years though, as The Right was shaken by ‘one of those people’ getting into the Whitehouse I have witnessed the rise and growth in boldness of the ugly side (which lurks in all nations and peoples).
        This has culminated in their wiliness to install an incompetent in the Whitehouse, solely because he is everything the Liberal and Democrats are horrified by, because he is their creature and they can tug his strings and yank his chain and he will dance and sing for them.
        It’s no longer the USA(for all its own share of faults and failures) I grew so fond of. It has become fractured.
        Once in a set of circumstances I could have found place (Maybe New England way) and settled there. Not anymore. Not while this madness is rampant.
        So much potential, so much hope being caste aside and trampled on for a handful of vanities, fears and sinful hatreds.
        I wish you guys well, I wish you a safe passage out of this and above all I wish I will be proven quite, quite wrong.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I like to remind some of my readers, Roger, that the world no longer looks to us for leadership. That we’ve lost our ability to shape world opinion, let alone peace. I’ve been told that we were never looked upon with such admiration anyway. But I think your view represents how things really are across the pond. We have been looked to for leadership, and to a certain extent, still are. Now, however, it’s simply vanished into thin air. It will take years my friend, to rectify what the orange idiot has broken. We were fracturing before he got there, but now it’s clearly broken into a gazillion pieces. I certainly hope that Joe Biden becomes the next President of United States. He’s certainly not a perfect candidate. He’s clearly lost a step, but I think he’s the right person at the right time for what we need. I think America is going to see that on November 3. God help us if we don’t! Have a great day Roger…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It is indeed a strange time when Democrats and Liberals can took back to the eras of LBJ, Nixon and later George Bush jnr with a sort of ‘They weren’t so bad. If only they hadn’t….’ view..(rose coloured or otherwise).
        I fervently wish you well for November, for if his creators on the Right blidnly vote him back in there will so much disfunction..
        So much that to repair the damage you will need a ruthless operator of your system, a not-very-nice person but one with a near messianic intent to unite the nation again, never mind who they tread on. They won’t be a dictator but would be a expert manipulator of the majority of the population across the racial, religious and cultural divides and maybe not someone the USA would have seen before, maybe someone who could get themselves a third term too.
        Stormy times ahead.
        I will be thinking for you guys.
        Take care Jeff.

        Liked by 1 person

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