I walked up to a policeman yesterday carrying one of the world’s most powerful handguns in a holster in my right hand. He noticed. How could he not? But he didn’t seem concerned.
Because the officer was in plain clothes, I didn’t know at the time that he was law enforcement, but I did immediately register the holster on his right hip and the semi-automatic pistol in it. There was the momentary thought that this was a little odd for someone who appeared to have gotten out of a truck towing a boat big enough for coastal waters. But the gun didn’t concern me.
The man didn’t look hostile. There was nothing threatening about the situation. I had to figure he had a gun handy for the same reason I had gun.
Minutes earlier my partner had called on the phone near hysterical. It took a second or two to figure out what she was saying through all the sobbing. As it turned out, a moose calf had run into the side of her car as she was making her way down a neighborhood road.
The collision had done some minor damage to the car and more to the moose. The animal appeared to have a broken leg. It was down on the side of the road and couldn’t get up. The mother moose had fled with a second calf. Robbie was left behind to watch the deserted calf struggling, but unable to stand.
I told her not to look and to wait. I’d be there in a minute.
On the way out the door, I grabbed a short-barreled, .454 Casull revolver – a handgun that packs the power of some rifles. I’d once shot a grizzly bear off my leg with it. There was no telling what that bear might have done if I hadn’t shot it.
Guns are tools in Alaska. Use them wrong, they can injure, maim or kill you. Use them right they can feed you, or save you, or end some poor animals’ suffering. The last time the Casull had been used was in winter when another driver hit two moose, a cow and almost full-grown calf. Both were slowly dying in the ditch along the road when I put them out of their misery.
I didn’t enjoy doing this, but it was better than the alternative. I hate to see animals suffer. So, too, obviously, the off-duty policeman who arrived on the scene of Robbie’s accident before me. As I walked up to the calf on the shoulder of the road – me with a gun in my hand, him with one on his hip – I asked him something to the effect of “did you take care of it?”
He answered yes, then explained he was an off-duty cop. After that, he kindly went over to counsel Robbie, explaining that the calf was suffering, had no chance of survival, and he had done what he had to do because it was necessary. She already knew this. She’s been in Alaska long enough to know how life works in the wild, but it no doubt reassured her to hear it from someone other than me.
Only later did she mention that I was the third man with a gun on the scene. The second-guy to stop behind the off-duty policeman also got out of his car with a gun when he saw what had happened.
Guns are everywhere in Alaska.
Guns kill people
If you think I’m now going spew tripe about how “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” you’re wrong. Guns kill people in this country. So do knives, fists, baseball bats, motor vehicles, cigarettes, booze, drugs, obesity and….
Should I keep going? The point is the world is full of things that kill people, though only a limited number of these things are used by people to kill each other.
And the big problem in this country is that people kill each other.
We kill each other at a rate not seen in other Western democracies, though things aren’t as bad as the media might lead you to believe. Our homicide death rate of 3.9 per 100,000 might be more than twice that of Canada and more than three times that of the United Kingdom and a variety of other European countries, but Russia’s murder rate is more than twice ours.
And we’re not close to being in the league with the Caribbean paradises on this side of the globe: Saint Kitts at 33.6, Jamaica at 36.1, the Bahamas at 29.8, the Cayman Islands at 14.7 and even tightly controlled Cuba at 4.7.
You need to be licensed by the Cuban government to own a firearm in Cuba.This might explain why more than 70 percent of the murders in Cuba are committed with a knife.
Cuba does have a simple way of easing public fears about crime. It doesn’t report crime statistics and the state-run media largely ignores crime.
“The official narrative leaves no room for violence,” Julia Cooke, the author of The Other Side of Paradise — Life in the New Cuba, told the Miami Herald.
She blamed Cuba’s homicide rate on “poverty and heat and desperation.”Poverty, desperation, race, religion and simple rage seem at the root of a lot the problem in the U.S., too, although Americans don’t like to talk about these things. Gun control is, in that regard, a wonderful distraction.
We can debate at length what to do about guns instead of facing the bigger problems. We can focus on the tragic outliers in the data – horrible mass shootings like that in Orlando – rather than the real problem like Chicago, now the murder capital of America.
The homicide rate in the nation’s third largest city was over 17 per 100,000 last year – more than four times the national average – and the reign of death is running at an even higher rate this year.
“Police said the disturbing rise in violence is driven by gangs and mostly contained to a handful of pockets on the city’s South and West sides,” USA Today reported. The South and West sides of Chicago are poverty areas, and they have the homicide rate of poverty stricken countries like Mexico or Greenland.
Mexico and Greenland are very different places, but they do have those two things in common: poverty and high rates of homicide. Mexico and Chicago also have something in common: pretty stringent gun controls.
“Not a single gun shop can be found in (Chicago) because they are outlawed,” the New York Times noted. “Handguns were banned in Chicago for decades, too, until 2010, when the United States Supreme Court ruled that was going too far, leading city leaders to settle for restrictions some describe as the closest they could get legally to a ban without a ban.”
Both Chicago and Mexico to greater or lesser degrees blame their homicide problems on guns flowing in from areas with laxer restrictions on firearms. It’s a straw man. Even if the flow of firearms to both places could be totally cut off, the homicide rate would no doubt drop, but there’s no reason to believe it would drop precipitously.
Poverty-stricken areas have high homicide rates. This is an unavoidable fact. The data shows it in a breakdown of neighborhood crime in almost every city in the U.S. and Canada. If anyone really wants to lower homicide rates, the answer is simple: find a way to create jobs in economically depressed areas.
Other than that, the reality might be that it’s time to accept reality. The opponents of gun control want to believe we could end tragedies like that in Orlando by arming everyone so the “good guys” could shoot back immediately. The fans of gun control want to believe we could end tragedies like that in Orlando by banning guns.
Both sides are delusional. Carrying a gun is inconvenient and sometimes uncomfortable. We’re never going to have enough good guys carrying guns at all times. And there are places they can’t carry. Florida has a pretty liberal concealed carry law, but permit-holders are banned from carrying their weapons into businesses serving liquor.
Could that be another reason ISIS-inspired Omar Mateen attacked a gay bar in Orlando and killed 49? He knew it was a soft target where he’d face minimal risk of someone shooting back?
There are, of course, those who believe that if only guns were banned this wouldn’t have happened. Such sentiments are easy to understand, but frighteningly naive. There are more than 270 million guns in private ownership in America today. There so many on the streets it would take a generation to collect them all even if the government were to engage in draconian efforts to force Americans to give them up.
We could, of course, consider the Cuban solution to the problem and simply ban the media from reporting mass shootings. That might help in a country where it sometimes seems the media thinks its societal role is to whip up mass hysteria instead of promote reason. And it is clear at times there is more fear than there is cause to be fearful.
Exactly how dangerous are guns in America?
You face a 1 in 358 chance of dying by firearm in this country, according to the “Injury Facts Chart” from the National Safety Council. If you avoid known, high-crime areas where most shootings take place in this country, you can probably cut the risk in half or more.
But even if you accept the 1 in 358 number as representative across the board, your chances of dying in a fall are two and a half times greater, your chances of dying in a motor vehicle crash three times greater, your chances of dying by accidental poisoning (who even thinks about that?) three and a half times greater.
And your chances of dying from heart disease and cancer?
A stunning more than 50 times greater.
Statistically, it’s pretty obvious, that if government really wants to save lives in this country it should be doing more to dictate what people eat and how they live. It’s statistically clear that we’d save far more lives by ordering people to exercise than we would by taking away their guns.
One study estimated that formal exercise programs can cut cardiovascular death rates by 20 to 25 percent. About 250,000 deaths per year “are attributable to a lack of regular physical activity,” according to that study.
Do the math, and you discover that we could save 50,000 to more than 62,000 live a year by the government mandating people exercise.
According to the FBI, only a fraction as many – around 12,500 people per year – die in firearms homicides. Maybe, if the country quit debating various and minimal gun-control regulations, and just banned handguns – the weapons used in about half of all homicides (semi-automatic rifles, aka “assault weapon,” are another straw man) – that number could be cut by a third.
So we “save” something over 4,000 people. Maybe.
Personally, given some of our other social problems, I find it hard to believe we can do much better than Cuba in curbing homicides, and we’re already doing better than Cuba.
I don’t mean to sound crass here. I feel for the friends and relatives of every dead person in this country no matter how anyone died. Death is a horrible issue with which to deal. Early or unexpected death only more so. I’ve been there.
I’ve also been watching America debate guns all my life. It’s a huge waste of time. I get it that people want to “feel safe,” as one Facebook friend put it in one of many Facebook discussions of guns. She happened to live in a pretty safe city and was still worried about her safety.
I live in a place where you can walk out the door only to be killed by a grizzly bear or a moose or, for that matter, the weather. Alaskans live with it. They are sort of forced to accept that the number-one, inescapable reality of life is that it’s a one-way journey to death.
The only difference between and you and me and that poor moose calf is that it reached the end sooner than we did. That and the fact someone was able to end its suffering quickly with a bullet to the brain. That is, I admit, a convenience to us here in Alaska.
I wouldn’t want to have slit the jugular vein on the throat of a poor, suffering moose calf, and hold its head crying while it bled to death. A gun makes the job of ending suffering a lot neater and simpler. I live in a world where guns are tools with a useful purpose.
If people in Chicago or Orlando or Los Angeles or New York want to try to further restrict guns, fine. Do it. I don’t care. Do what you think you need to do to make the places you live make you feel safer. But let’s end this constant national bickering about national gun control.
It’s a huge waste of time, and worse it distracts us from the nation’s real problems, including the threat of terrorism.
We are today fretting over how a mass murder in Orlando got guns when it’s pretty clear we should be fretting over why all the systems set up to identify and stop people like Mateen failed.
There were plenty of opportunities in this case. He was interviewed three times by the FBI, but the agency judged him no threat.
“There does seem to be substantial evidence that the FBI has been slow to grasp the changing nature of terrorism—and to counter the Islamic State’s skill at recruiting or exploiting vulnerable individuals” as Politico reported. “These critics say the tally of missed clues from Boston to Orlando is evidence that to a disturbing extent the FBI and intelligence community are still fighting the last war, one in which “radicalization” follows a predictable path….”
The new path might not be so traditionally predictable, but we’ve seen it before. Mateen was not as directly connected to Middle East terrorists as 2015 San Bernardino shooters Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, but all shared a simmering rage against Western values judged decadent in other parts of the world.
“This ideology is ultimately a product of—often rational—indignation at the state of the world, paired with the destructive potential of religious delusion. There’s no question but that it’s a hideous worldview and should sicken any clear-minded person. But in its validation of random slaughter, it not only draws upon a rich tradition in monotheistic religion but the history of modern imperialism,” write Tufts University professor Gary Leupp.
The people susceptible to thinking they should shoot Americans because we are the disciples of the Great Satan are a unique problem facing this country today. And anyone who thinks gun control the solution to stopping them doesn’t understand the way they think. Mass shootings might actually be the least deadly of ways they could bring ISIS vengeance to U.S. soil.
Our problem at the moment really isn’t guns. It’s threat assessment. It’s a daily need for the sort of rational judgment an off-duty policeman made on the streets of Anchorage when he saw a man walking at him carrying a guy. We need to figure out where to direct limited law enforcement assets because we’ll never have enough of those.
And that requires answering a couple of basic questions:
What exactly is the threat here? Is it the gun, or is it the person (or people) behind the weapon no matter what the weapon might turn out to be?
It is pretty obvious to me it’s the latter. All of which makes it largely a waste of time to be debating gun control yet again. I can think of half a dozen ways off the top of my head that ISIS-inspired nut jobs can kill large numbers of people without using guns. Thankfully, they haven’t resorted to any such tactics yet, but they could any day.
That’s why we need to focus on how to catch the next Mateen instead of arguing over the next gun-control band-aid.