samedi 15 décembre 2012

Gun control and mass killing sprees: European historical perspective trying to understand

This morning found myself explaining my 5 1/2 years old daughter why a man killed 20 children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut. And I started to cry. I did not have the President Obama standing to retain my cries outburst. Why did I explain that to her ? Because I thought it would be better for her to hear this from me with context and explanation rather than get a random glimpse from radio or TV. Kids are always surprising. The first question was "Daddy, how do you do to kill yourself ?" when I explained about the shooter's fate. Well, I know it's time for prayers for those who believe or grievance or just empathy thoughts. I just wanted to bring some European's "return of experience" and history lessons about gun proliferation and violence control. Well, it's not perfect over here, far from it. A so-called white supremacist crusader killed 77 innocent people in a single day in Norway a year ago. Huge majority of French population never hear about the 2nd amendment, they just think you can have in US any firearm you want, anywhere in America and wear it into your belt. And that Americans are crazy about this. And I want to say to my compatriots that Americans are nor crazy nor fools. Just products of their history like we are.

Statistics : guns proliferation control and homicide rate

We know that the 2nd amendment is coming from the time where there was no US Army, thus the need of militia and the need for any individual to own a firearm. That was the case in some times in French history but too far away to remember. It's also difficult from French people to understand that Americans don't want to move anything from their Bill of Rights when we changed 19 times of Constitutions in the last two centuries (I mean major versions !). It's also very difficult to understand why lobbies like NRA spend some much money on defending the freedom to carry weapons when we care so little about civil rights in France.

I've made a graphic (on the left) of the number of guns (or other small firearms) for 100 citizens for a various range of countries. USA is worldwide leader but a European country like Switzerland has a high rate because its army is made of reservists (and they should keep a firearm at hand). Some other countries decided to keep a firm governmental monopoly of guns (and violence) : Russia, China, Japan. Note that among this list, democracies are not a majority. Other countries like France and Norway have a pretty high rate of small guns equipment for traditions. In France (like in Norway), people use to hunt in countryside from centuries. So you can easily acquire a small caliber firearm (.22 long rifle being the most common but I'm no expert in firearm, never shot an ammo for my whole life !).

Now, let's try to cross those data with homicide rates. Well, the correlation is not really obvious (see below) 

Officially, Rwanda or Russia have very few firearm proliferation. But their homicide rate jump to the roof : homicide rate in Russia in 2.5x higher than in US, 10x higher than in France and 30x higher than in Japan. Switzerland, despite its gun proliferation, has an homicide ratio 6 times lower than in US and 50% lower than in France. Iceland has 3 times less firearms per citizen than in US but 30 times less homicides per citizen.

Beyond the stats

It's way more difficult to have statistics on killing spree. In France, March 2012, an arabic-origin french citizen killed 7 people, including children and targeting Jewish and French soldiers. During a siege that lasted more than 30 hours and were he finally been shot dead by elite police, he claimed to be leaded by Al Qaeda. In 2002, a french citizen was assisting a local town debate and killed 8 elected people, few months after another guy killed 14 people in similar circumstances in Switzerland.

But it's easy to see that it's way less frequent than in US. Columbine High School shooting did not happen in France. The closest event was in 1993. A guy, calling himself "Human Bomb", took a preschool class (with the teacher) as hostages). The story made all France catch its breath for more than 48h (I was 21 years old at this time and I perfectly remember this). The RAID (french version of SWAT) was negotiating. The mayor of the town on which the preschool stands was a certain ... Nicolas Sarkozy who'll become President 14 years after (yes, that's him on the photo lifting a kid away from the classroom). Finally, the hostage taker appeared to be more desperate than dangerous. But the authorities did not want to take any risk. The RAID managed to put some sleeping pills in its food and shot him in the head during his sleep. (Pretty happy) End of the story.

So France and Europe are mostly pacific. You have some places with high-rate homicide : Corsica island or Marseille in France or Napoli in Italy. It's mostly related to mob and drug trafficking. But desperate killing spree like shooting from a University Tower in Austin in 1966 ? Virginia Tech ? Very very rare. Fortunately. Is this due to firearm control ? I don't think so. In Corsica or Marseille, people who really want to kill someone find Kalachnikov on black market for few hundred bucks. Russia shows that if you want to kill someone, you don't need a gun. At least not an official one.

Do I say US don't need more gun control ? Well, I think they do need some. I don't have any right to intrude in this debate as an European but seen from Europe, well, I think a better control would be no harm. Now, even with a better control, would those killings disappear ? Part of them maybe. It's about raising the difficulty to organize a mass killing and to discard the "opportunistic" issue.

Beyond that? I think it's more a problem of American society being violent. Stats show that USA and Russia are indeed violent societies. Russia violence surely comes from its very violent history. US history had also been violent from american-native extermination, far-west and Civil War. This violence can also be seen in Kennedy assassination and Reagan life's attempt. In Europe, we can't glorify ourselves. It took us centuries to domesticate our civil violence and give the monopoly of legal violence to Nations. Although, this domestication did not prevent the WWI and WWII butcheries. I'm pretty confident in the fact that America will become less and less violent as time goes by. In a meantime, some law about gun control may help ...

I usually put a song at the end of my posts.
Today, I would just put a prayer but I'm not very religious myself so I won't be able to choose something that fits. If someone has a religious song or any appropriate song to suggest, I'd be happy to paste it here

1 commentaire:

  1. It's not Sarkozy in the picture but the actor Frédéric Quiring in the movie "Human Bomb".