On Thursdays I perform a ritual. It doesn’t involve the sacrifice of animals. Nor does it involve funny handshakes or the rolling of trouserlegs. It goes as follows: At around quarter to ten, I wind down and pour a small glass of red wine. I’m particularly fond of a nice fruity pinot noir usually. But, as you asked, last night I had a rather peppery, oaky Californian Shiraz. At ten o’clock I watch the BBC News so I know what’s happened in the world. Then at half ten, I pour a very large glass of red wine and start to watch Question Time. The very large wine is vital. Around seven minutes into the programme, I remember that it’s not actually very good any more and that someone on the panel is annoying the crap out of me. As a rule, it’s at this seven minute mark that my wine-fuelled frustration hits tipping point and I switch over to Newsnight for intelligent debate before ever-so-slightly drunkenly shouting at Diane Abbot and being traumatized by Andrew Neil’s coiffure. I then go to bed happy in the knowledge that I don’t own any shirts similar to Michael Portillo’s, and wake with a muggy head on Friday morning.
Last night, however, was slightly different. Last night I became disturbed a while before 10:37 pm. That’s because the News ran a story from the USA. It wasn’t the usual inside-the-beltway guff that we tend to get either. This was coverage of a relatively new movement in the States. Not the mildly ridiculous Tea Party movement with Canadian US comedian politician Sarah Palin as their figurehead. This was something called the Open Carry movement. Open Carry is a libertarian movement formed in 2004 by Mike Stollenwerk, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, with the aim of encouraging people to openly carry a firearm in public. This has taken off in a big way in the last 12 months. The report showed supporters of this movement wandering around supermarkets, jogging through parks, picking kids up from kindergarten and so on. The men-folk with their big black 9 millimetre automatics. The women with their cute pink handled .22 calibre revolvers. It was truly terrifying. The way these people talked about their right to bear arms, about the need to protect their families, about dealing with criminals, about setting a good example to their children by strapping a pistol to their hips. Not to mention the pink-handled leap backwards for feminism.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had a gun pointed at you. I have. Right at my face.
I’m quite partial to my face. I mean, it’s not as nice as some faces but it’s all my own. So when someone points a weapon at it, I take it personally. And, of course, this happened in the USA. To be fair, I was mugged in a state which doesn’t allow the carrying of weapons in public and has some strict gun laws. Nevertheless if the damn things weren’t for sale at all, there wouldn’t be so many of them in circulation, inevitably obtained illegally by deranged smackheads who want to take my money.
We all know the National Rifle Association has promised that their weapons would only be pried from their cold, dead hands for years. And they’ve been left to it. Everyone knows what to expect from them. We know their views, stances, and strategies. A bit like the Republican party really. Open Carry is to the NRA what Tea Party is to the Republicans. A populist movement focused solely on the right to carry guns. Their motto is “a right unexercised is a right lost”. The big problem in the USA is how people interpret the second amendment.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
It’s clear to me that the framers of the constitution wrote this amendment with the Revolutionary war in mind. Having been oppressed by the professional British army, the founders had no wish to set up their own. Instead, they decided that an armed citizenry makes the best army. To quote the Bartlet administration’s communications director Toby Ziegler*:
“The words ‘regulated’ and ‘militia’ are in the first sentence! I don’t think the framers were thinking of three guys in a Dodge Durango.”
Obviously, the pro-gun lobby see it differently, but it seems very obvious that control of weapons would prevent crime and, ultimately, death. The USA’s population is 3.84 times that of the UK. It also had two thousand, six hundred and seven times as many gun deaths in 2009. Once again, I defer to Toby:
* Toby Ziegler is a fictional character from the West Wing, which you really should watch. That doesn’t make his point invalid though.
“… if you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, and Australia, you’ll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year. They had 112. You think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?”