Skip to main content

The Gun Culture

"Police said the gunman was a 22-year-old college dropout who was armed with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol and extended clips that allowed him to fire dozens of bullets without reloading." Arizona Republic, January 11, 2011.

I don't know if there is anything I can add to what has already been written in the news media and stated on newscasts and talk radio almost non-stop since the horrific events on January 8.  Here I merely want to comment on guns.

There is something fundamentally sick about American culture that allows just about anyone to walk into a gun show and purchase just about any weapon available -- or order on the Internet. The accused man, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, bought a 9mm Glock pistol (made in Austria) that he used in the shooting from a Sportsman's Warehouse in Tucson on November 30, 2010.  He bought the bullets for about 22 cents each at a local Wal-Mart, as reported by Lawrence O'Donnell in his show "The Last Word ."  It was also reported on his show that sales of this weapon have risen by 60% since the killings.  Yes, people love these guns! Loughner used the largest magazine available - a high-capacity 33 round magazine; it was the same one used by gunman in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

Out of curiosity I did a Google search for the Glock pistol and immediately found a web site where you can order one for about $600; on another web site it sells for about $460.  Since I have no knowledge of guns I could not tell the difference between the two.  One thing is for certain, however: I could have easily ordered one by registering my name, address, e-mail, etc.  It would have been shipped -- at no additional cost -- in 48 hours.  A package of 20 rounds of bullets for this model sold for $28.99. I have been told that if I had actually ordered this then some kind of "background check" would have been requested.  The extent of this check is not known to me.  I was not willing to pursue this further.  Regardless, the ease of purchasing this gun - and presumably many others, is amazing to me.

One of the main reasons behind the high rate of violent crime in this country (far greater than any other country) is that there are too many guns in the hands of too many people. A recent survey found that Americans have more guns per capita -- 90 for every 100 citizens -- than any other country in the world.  The survey also found that out of 875 million known firearms in the world Americans have 270; more than half (4.5 million) of the 8 million new guns manufactured in the world are purchased by Americans.

Guns are used in the commission of many types of violent crimes.  According to the FBI , in 2009 a total of 9,146 people were killed by a firearm - 6,452 with a handgun.  There were a total of 350,783 robberies reported to the police in 2009; of these 149,493 (43%) involved the use of a firearm.  Also in 2009 there were 702,438 aggravated assaults reported to the police and of these a firearms was used in 146,650 (21%) of them.

The homicide rate in the United States is almost double the runner-up among industrialized nations, which happens to be Bulgaria, according to the latest figures.  However, such differences are even more pronounced if we factor in the use of guns in these homicides.  When we do this, we find that the differences grow to more than five times greater in our country than other countries.  In one study researchers compared two adjacent cities, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.  This survey found that for most indicators (population size, ethnic composition, unemployment rates, income, etc.) the two cities were quite comparable.  There was one key difference: public policies on firearms.  Whereas Canada has many restrictions on the ownership of firearms, the U.S. does not.  One result is that in Seattle 42% of all households have handguns, compared to just 12% in Vancouver.  Crime comparisons are revealing: while burglary rates are almost identical in both cities, the rate of aggravate assault was much higher in Seattle and the arrest rate for assault with a firearm in Seattle was eight times higher than in Vancouver.  Over a seven-year period, the number of homicides in Seattle was almost double that for Vancouver.  More interesting, however, was the fact that if we exclude homicide by firearms, the rates for both cities were identical.

Another interesting fact has to do with the business of guns in this country.  In a fascinating study, former NRA member Tom Diaz (Making a Killing: the Business of Guns in America ) notes that the total number of guns imported into America between 1978 and 1994 increased by 200%, with handguns leading the way with an increase of 674%! (It should be noted that this was published in 2000 so the data are a bit out of date and I have not been able to find more recent figures.) He also notes that most of the foreign countries that important guns to America cannot easily sell them in their own country.  Japan, for instance, only sells 1.2% of the guns it produces to its own citizens; the rest they ship to America.

Another interesting aspect of what can properly be called a "gun culture" can be seen in the number of trade publications devoted to guns of various sorts (circulation numbers are provided by Diaz and therefore are dated).  Leading the way are two associated with the NRA, American Rifleman (circulation of 1,480,074) and American Hunter (1,059,010), with the North American Hunting Club's North American Hunter close behind (715,725). Other examples include such appropriate names as Guns and Ammo (circulation of 575,000), Shooting Times (189,634), Combat Handguns (126,498), Gun World(126,402) and one simply called Guns (circulation of 168,000).  Indeed, says Tom Diaz, this "gun industry" helps to promote the gun culture, "within which the firearm is less a utilitarian tool than an icon, so laden with implicit value that its hold over its devotees approaches the mystical."  

We are the most heavily armed country in world history.  As already indicated, we possess more guns than any other country.  Also, our military budget is more than the rest of the world combined .  Yet, we still live in fear of crime, according to a recent Gallup poll . Ironically, the odds of being the victim of a violent crime are extremely low; the odds of being murdered are about 1 in about 20,000 according to the latest FBI report .

Finally, how many times do we hear about mass killings in other countries, especially Europe, Canada and Australia?  Can we not conclude that it just might be the overwhelming number of guns in circulation?

Keywords: federal, guns, Randall Shelden

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

California Stentencing Institute screenshot

California Sentencing
Institute (CASI)

Explore how California’s 58 counties send their residents to correctional institutions with interactive maps, charts, and downloadable data.

Connect with us

      YouTube

Contribute to CJCJ

Make a difference to youth and adults trying to get their lives back on track.

Join our mailing list

Get regular updates and news delivered to your inbox. We won’t share your information with anyone else.