American Gun Control is Not a Simple Matter

Seiji Fuji

U.S. gun ownership rules are incomprehensible to Japanese people

 On July 6, The Sankei Shimbun Morning Edition printed an article in its “Assertion” column, entitled, “Series of Shootings in United States: Take Drastic Measures to Prevent Tragedy.”

Multiple acts of gun violence once again occurred on July 4 (Independence Day), the most important American national holiday.
Six people were killed in a mass shooting by a gunman with a high-powered rifle in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois (the Midwest).
According to a tally by a nonprofit organization, this was the 309th shooting in the U.S. this year. There is profound concern about the situation in America, which is experiencing a tragic wave of unceasing gun crime.
Against a backdrop of civilian anger regarding continual shootings across the country, President Joe Biden just signed into the law the first fundamental gun safety bill in 28 years on June 25.
The new law was endorsed by 15 members of the Senate and 14 members of the House of Representatives who belong to the Republican Party, which is cautious of gun control due to its belief that the Constitution clearly specifies the right to bear arms.
This bipartisan law was inspired by fervent pleas that the government do something about rampant gun crime. It is hoped that the new law will reduce the number of gun-related tragedies, a chronic disease in the U.S., even by a small degree.
Titled the “Protecting Our Kids Act,” the new law includes stricter checks, including background checks for gun buyers under the age of 21 and mental illness history. It also provides financial support to states that introduce red flag laws, which make it possible to remove firearms from people who may use them to harm themselves or others.
However, it did not include drastic measures like those Biden requested of Congress, such as banning the sale of assault weapons (which are effective for killing and wounding) or raising the age for buying firearms from 18 to 21.
On July 4, Biden expressed his intention to work for even stricter gun control. He said he was “shocked by the senseless gun violence,” and that he was “not going to give up fighting the epidemic of gun violence.”
However, these prospects are dim.
If the Republican Party pivots too much on the issue of gun control, it faces the risk of losing its base supporters. It is inevitable that lobbying organizations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA), which represents the intentions of the gun industry, will provide donations to Republican congresspeople in the aim of obstructing stricter gun control.
With a conservative majority in the Supreme Court, judges are declaring unconstitutional those state laws that restrict gun carrying.
Politicians from all parties have the duty to protect the lives of the American people. We hope the president and Congress will work to achieve truly effective gun control measures that will put an end to this tragic trend.
American society emphasizes the importance of gun ownership

 NHK NEWS WEB posted an article on July 6 titled, “Independence Day Parade Shooting: Gunman Lived Nearby, Charged With Murder.” Regarding the July 4 shooting in Illinois, the article said the suspect is a 21-year-old man who was charged with murder on July 5.

The suspect is thought to have fired over 70 shots using a rifle he purchased in Illinois. Police are investigating his motive and other information. They believe it was a premeditated crime, and that he intended to hide his face tattoos by wearing women’s clothing.
The police revealed that it had been contacted by the gunman’s family three years ago due to his statements, including a threat to “kill everyone.” The police removed 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword from the suspect’s residence.
That same year, the suspect (then 19 years old) submitted a gun permit application with permission from his father.

 Hearing this, I imagine Japanese people wonder why a person like this was allowed to own firearms. However, the importance of gun ownership is highly emphasized in American society. This thinking goes beyond the intentions of the gun industry as represented by the NRA; we must remember that it stems from the American people’s deeply rooted awareness of their right to self-defense.

Parents teach their children how to shoot

 If anything, I personally enjoy shooting as a hobby. When I owned a second home in Huntington Harbour, an affluent residential area on the outskirts of Los Angeles, I used to go to a nearby shooting range several times a year to practice firing rifles (including the Winchester 30-06), as well as handguns with .44 Magnum cartridges. I do not think there are many Japanese people like me, but it is not so unusual for Americans to practice using firearms. At the shooting range in Los Angeles I saw a father practicing with his daughter who was around 14 or 15 years old. I remember hearing him say, “If an intruder comes in the house, point the gun at him and yell ‘Freeze!’ If he ignores you and takes three steps onto the property, you can shoot him as self-defense.” He also told his daughter to aim the first two shots at large parts of the body that are easy to hit, followed by a third shot to the head. If an unskilled shooter injures an attacker a lawsuit might result, but dead men tell no tales – the only fact remaining is that the man took three steps onto someone else’s property. I was impressed by seeing this father teach his child these things, and it demonstrated just how pervasive guns are in American society.
 There was an incident in which a Japanese exchange student in the U.S. was killed in October 1992. He was a high school student who mistakenly went to the wrong house to attend a Halloween party. The owner of the home told him to “freeze,” which the student misheard as “please.” Assuming the student was a trespasser, the homeowner shot him to death with a .44 Magnum revolver. Later the property owner said that he ordered the student to stay away, and that he felt scared when these warnings were not obeyed. He was unanimously acquitted by jurors who said the homeowner was merely defending himself.

Forty percent of Americans own guns, mainly for their own safety

 On August 20, 2021, Economist Online published an article on American gun culture by freelance journalist Nozomu Nakaoka, “The Reason Why America Cannot Ban Firearms Despite Pervasive Gun Crime.” He first pointed out that there was a record number of shootings in the U.S. in 2020, totaling 610. This trend continued in 2021, when roughly 100 people were victims of gun crime every day.
 Of course, around half of Americans believe gun violence is an extremely serious issue. At the same time, a 2020 survey indicated that 42% of the citizens possess firearms. Roughly 60% said that personal safety is their reason for owning a gun. A new gun purchase record was set in 2020 due to worsening public order during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on this, 84% of respondents in a public opinion poll said stricter background checks are needed to reduce gun crime. I think we can say the new gun control law was backed by this sentiment.

Americans bear arms to maintain their right of revolution

 Nakaoka writes that discussions on banning guns are stymied by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “The amendment provides for the right to bear arms. It reads, ‘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 was ratified in 1791, 15 years after American independence.” What is the purpose of this Second Amendment? Historian Carol Anderson, a professor at Emory University, says it was created to give white people the right to bear arms to suppress insurrections by Black slaves. According to her, Black people also have this right today, but they are the main victims of gun crime. Nakaoka also says that “a sense of civilian distrust in the central government” exists in the background to the Second Amendment. He writes:

The Declaration of Independence drafted by Thomas Jefferson includes the following text: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.” “These ends” refers to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Jefferson believed all men “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”
In other words, citizens have the “right of revolution” to topple governments that go against their wishes. This expands upon the ideology of British philosopher John Locke.
This way of thinking is backed by the belief that a government with absolute power will certainly oppress the political freedom of its people, an awareness that also provided a motive for the U.S. to win independence from the British monarchy.
American political history is a history of opposition to big government. Conservatives advocate for federalism founded on “small government” and on the states, and they have worked to prevent the central government from increasing to a massive size. Today many Americans still tend to reject government intervention in personal matters, and many oppose the welfare state, national health insurance, and COVID-19 vaccines as types of government oppression. Firearms are essential for maintaining civilians’ right of revolution to stand against the government. The far-right’s calls for armed uprisings are also based on this ideology.

 If this is true, then the prohibition of guns is a truly fundamental and serious issue that requires Americans to examine even their own national structure.

The Supreme Court continually hands down conservative judgements

 Nakaoka also points out that Americans have a low level of confidence in their police, justice system, and Congress. This is connected to the statistic of the roughly 60% of gun owners who possess weapons for personal safety. I have heard that if you cross some roads in the U.S., you will enter zones where police powers do not apply. For example, the American common wisdom says that, if a stereo is stolen from a car parked in one of those areas, the victim is blamed for parking there in the first place.
 Nakaoka’s article mentions the dispute about strict limitations on carrying arms in the state of New York. On June 23, the Supreme Court referred to the Second Amendment when striking down this state law. Although a new gun control act was established, it is predicted that this Supreme Court decision will set off numerous lawsuits across the country to relax gun regulations. As The Sankei Shimbun column says, American gun control is not such a simple matter.
 The majority of Democratic Party supporters take a positive view of stricter gun control, but fewer Republican supporters are in favor. Many Republicans instead call for different measures like enhanced police force. The Supreme Court judged that gun control is unconstitutional because six of the nine judges are part of the conservative faction. On June 24, this court also overturned the 1973 decision recognizing abortion as a constitutional right, going along with the beliefs of the Republican Party, which is mainly made up of conservatives. The makeup of the court – with six conservative and three liberal judges – will not change for some time, and I expect they will continue handing down decisions in favor of conservative beliefs.

It is impossible to ban guns when so many people already own them

 Forty-four of the 50 American states allow “open carry,” which refers to openly wearing gun belts and other weapons in public. According to Nakaoka, “It is thought this is based on the premise that visibly displaying firearms will discourage others from attacking.”

 I think this is the same logic as “deterrence,” in which military strength is used to prevent attacks. America is not fundamentally different from the society depicted in the Western movies of the past. Estimates say Americans possess almost 300 million firearms. Even if these were somehow banned, I imagine it would be impossible to recover all of them. Law-abiding citizens would likely surrender their guns, but the worst criminals would hide their weapons, which would conversely make society much more dangerous in the end. Because guns are so pervasive in the U.S., it is actually safer for everyone to have them. Many women carry small over-under handguns, nicknamed “Saturday night specials,” in their handbags. If a large person lightly bumps into a smaller one, immediately saying “I’m sorry” is a means of self-defense. Guns do not care about different physiques or gender differences – their advantage is that they render all people equal. I believe Japanese people should first learn about and understand the various factors in American society before discussing the gun issue, rather than thinking in terms of our own country.

July 8 (Friday), 9:00 a.m.