It loosened them up some last year, but Russia has had strict gun laws for decades and currently boasts as few as 13 million civilian-owned firearms. That compares to something like 300 million in the United States. With attention on gun slayings high again after another mass shooting, should we consider restrictions as tough as the Russian sort?
The answer is that any move short of the absurdity of confiscation would unlikely reduce killings, and one reason becomes clear when you look at the Russian murder rate. Gun shortage or not, it is more than twice ours, which is a cultural phenomenon. Guns, while they clearly, undeniably facilitate murder, do not a culture make. And culture, as Americans ought to remember as we search for solutions to the shootings that make us grieve, is a prime mover of violence.
A differently directed signal of that, as the late social scientist James Q. Wilson once pointed out, is that our rate of killings without guns is several times as high as that of England. History has been at work on us in a different way. And in the here and now, one cultural circumstance ceaselessly cultivating criminal conduct in offspring is the enormous growth of single-parent — usually single-mother — homes.
With ideology as their guide, some don’t like to face this fact, often arguing that big government can be a daddy substitute or that other factors are the real crime-forging villains. But President Barack Obama himself has underlined the single-parent linkage with crime, and some of the most prestigious think tanks in the land — conservative, liberal and in between — have produced impressive analytical and statistical backing for the proposition.
You would think that, if political leaders such as Obama were really serious about reacting to the gun violence, they would focus more on topics like this than the charade of more gun control. And, to be sure, some of the calls right now are to do something more to deal with the mentally disturbed people who end up pulling the trigger in the mass shootings. Relating this to gun control, some say we need better background checking to keep guns out of the hands of such threats.
While it’s hardly the end of the world to explore possibilities of this sort, it is probably futile. Hard looks at those who have been responsible for mass murders have shown the majority had nothing in their past that would have kept a gun out of their hands. And looks at many others with duplicate characteristics show most of them do no harm.
In fact, virtually nothing on the gun-control front appears likely to have more than minimal effect, as was illustrated some years back by a federal study showing no evidence of fewer gun deaths resulting from the many laws already existing. The aforementioned 300 million guns floating around is one reason for that. Most gang shooters and other criminals now get their guns illegally and easily, and the chief achievement of tightening up laws would likely be to convert the holdouts to the same procedure.
The good news is that gun deaths are down by close to half from two decades ago. Even the mass shootings — a tiny percentage of all the killings — have not been increasing, as is pointed out by the criminologist James Alan Fox. What is happening is still horrific, of course, and you only have to spend a minute contemplating the 2,360 shooting victims wounded or killed in Chicago so far this year to know how imperative it is that we find meaningful answers.
Some answers reside in deterrent police work and, despite denials, studies show persuasively that lives are saved by decent citizens defending themselves with guns. But what’s also crucial for even more reasons is leadership on the culture front, especially concerning the demolition of the American family.
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Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at [email protected]