Joe Little: Will America's gun obsession go up in smoke?
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 3:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 3:14 p.m.
American obsession with guns scandalizes Western Europeans. They are prone to attribute the Sandy Hook massacre, the Gifford shooting and the multitude of others to gun madness.
Gun violence statistics show that per capita gun killings in the U.S. do far exceed those in other Western nations, although certainly not the kill rates in notoriously violent countries.
Europeans see us as rough frontiersman who, having killed all the wild animals, are now hard at work eliminating ourselves. But wait a minute! Deranged massacres, random shootings and gang murders aren’t the only means people use guns to kill other people.
Since this country was founded, guns-averse Europeans have staged the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War, World War I, World War II, and the Balkan wars, just to tick off a few.
The first day of the Battle of the Somme killed 20,000 Brits -- never mind the Germans -- and that entire battle harvested more than a million dead, wounded and missing. Against this carnage, a few 1,000 gun killings per year seems humane. Even throwing the American Civil War into the mix does not shift the gun death balance toward the American side.
And guns are not the only inanimate killers that enthrall human beings. Cigarettes do too. On a pre-Christmas jaunt to Germany and Austria, I was scandalized at an apparent smoking obsession especially among young people. Young girls -- yes, Santa, girls -- may be the worst offenders. (Then too, I may not have paid as much attention to young boys!)
We could not possibly believe that the advanced European educational system does not teach the young that smoking kills. Yet, they do it anyway, and at rates that exceed current rates in this country. In the long run, smoking will take the lives of many young smokers and the additional smoking deaths in Europe will probably exceed the additional gun deaths here.
So how do the different death-seeking obsessions in American and European cultures stack up? For one, those children at Sandy Hook did not kill themselves -- a gun did. They were innocent victims of a maniac, but one empowered by a cultural obsession. In contrast, future deaths among today’s young smokers may be seen as largely self-inflicted.
For another, we Americans have taken on the cigarette obsession and, while not squelching it, have retarded it with observable success.
Obsessions die hard but killing habits can be kicked. Most Americans don’t murder innocents with guns and most Europeans don’t kill themselves with cigarettes. Majorities in both cultures can confront the obsessions without personal baggage.
The fiscal cliff imbroglio proves that everything cannot be done at once. Making gun profiteers pay for the harm guns do -- manufacturers, sellers and the National Rifle Association -- would be a start. It has helped with tobacco and might work with guns.
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