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The U.S. and its Love Affair with Weapons December 19, 2012

Posted by tackettmedia in politics.
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A couple of days ago, I read in a Swiss paper (online, of course) an article commenting on the massacre in Newtown and examining the prevalence of weapons among civilians in the United States.

I am trying here to summarize the article in English.

Per 20 Minuten about 650 million guns are owned by civilians across the world. Of those, approximately 270 million are owned by civilians in the United States. The paper lists as its source the Small Arms Survey.

Here are some other statistics I copied from the Small Arms Survey:

• Civilians own approximately 650 million firearms worldwide, roughly 75 per cent of the known total. Civilians in the United States own some 270 million of these.

• There are at least 875 million combined civilian, law enforcement, and military firearms in the world today.

• This is equal to roughly one gun for every seven people worldwide (without the United States, the figure drops to about one gun for every ten people).

• These figures do not include older, pre-automatic small arms still maintained by armed forces or craft-produced civilian guns.

• Nearly 79 million civilian firearms are known to be registered with authorities, roughly 9 per cent of the suspected civilian total.

• The rising availability of handguns has transformed urban weapons ownership, while semi- or fully automatic rifles have transformed possession in urban and rural settings.

• Organized destruction projects have eliminated at least 8.5 million small arms since 1991, three-quarters of which came from armed services. An unknown number are also lost through accidental wastage.

20 Minuten then continues to say that, according to a list put together by the UK paper Guardian, India has the next largest contingent of guns in ownership of civilians. Indian civilians own 46 million guns.

Therefore, with 88.8 guns per every 100 persons, the United States is the most armed population of any country.

(Of course, all these numbers are based on estimates).

However, if you compare countries by the lethal use of weapons at a per capita rate, the United States does not lead the list. Here is what 20 Minutes reports:

  • Honduras has the most murders with 68.43 killings per 100,000 people;
  • El Salvador is next with 39.9 murders per 100,000 people;
  • Jamaica follows closely (39.4); and
  • Venezuela is listed fourth (38.97).

The United States is ranked 28th with 2.97 lethal shootings per 100,000 people.

Therefore, the authors of the article in 20 Minuten comment, the high prevalence of weapons in the United States is surely a contributing factor when examining the amount of massacres in the past few years, but it is not the only explanation. They further explain that with 30.8 guns per 100 people, civilians in Canada are also well-armed. However, Canada only sees 0.51 lethal shootings per 100,000 people.

Next, the article talks about the efficiency of the weapons that are permitted to be purchased by the civilian population in the United States, namely semi-automatic guns. The reporters mention that this is the main discussion surrounding gun control.

If you have read my past blog entry, you know that I also believe some sort of ammunition control should be among any discussion of gun control. Is it doable? I don’t know. But with today’s technology, I sure hope that there would be some measures that allowed for a discussion about where and how ammunition can be purchased, what type of ammunition is permitted to manufacture at home and for which purpose, etc.

But back to the 20 Minuten article. It ends by changing the direction and examines the lack of general health insurance for all people, which contributes to the fact that many people with mental health issues do not get the treatment they need.

As announced in my previous blog entry, I’ve been asking questions around mental health issues for quite some time. I am not satisfied with any answers I have been given. Yet, I will not go into my views on mental health today. It deserves its own (or multiple) entry.




Newtown Discussion: Gun Control and Mental Health December 16, 2012

Posted by tackettmedia in politics, sustainability.
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As I am watching the Sunday morning political shows in the wake of the Newtown elementary school shooting, the themes are clear: Gun control and – albeit to a lesser degree – mental health issues.

As I write this, I am watching Meet the Press. I just finished following the discussion on This Week. Consistently everyone is calling for conversation around gun control and privacy issues surrounding people struggling with their mental health.

I wonder whether “conversation” is enough. Mayor Bloomberg said it best when he put forth the message that he supported President Obama’s second term run because the President had the right vision around certain issues, but now it is time to lead and implement that vision.

One of the themes that bothers me is that no one is talking about ammunition control. Yes, we can put laws in place that require background checks, make it harder for people to purchase guns, ban certain guns, etc. But all these measures won’t affect the guns that are already out in our communities.

There is also no “conversation” around the issue of whether the U.S. Second Amendment supports the creation of a militia society. I am from a country where each man is required to go through military training. They store their weapon, a gun, at home. I grew up with a gun in our spare bedroom closet. Consequently, you could say that I was raised in a militia society. Yet, there were and are still controls in place through ammunition control.

Especially with the technology we have available nowadays, it ought to be possible to put in place some sort of ammunition controls. It will not be perfect since enforcement of any laws always depends on people in certain positions to do their jobs. However, without looking at ammunition control, I believe no new laws will have any big effect.

In essence, we can talk all day about removal of guns, which is not realistic and will not make any difference. But we could talk about ammunition control.

And now to my view of mental health issues. I will likely have to write more about this issue in a separate blog entry since I am thinking about it often (and therefore, have a lot to say on the topic) in connection with my work around homelessness. However, I briefly would like to mention that there needs to be more awareness, more education, better definitions, and diverse approaches to assist individuals and families dealing with mental health issues.

During today’s debates I heard a few times that it was necessary to close mental institutions in the 1960s and 70s. It was also said that the systems that were to replace the institutions (community-based mental health care and halfway houses) never was put in place to its full extent. Well, then the question is why?

Why did mental institutions not work? Why did alternatives not work? Why is there not a larger range of services in place?

We need to examine cost issues, treatment options, family support systems, etc. But above all, we need to look at definitions of what mental health issues are. The terminology and wide range of definitions that we currently have confuses the heck out of me. All this screams to me that there is a need for widespread education and awareness surrounding mental illness.

To finish this blog, I believe it will be easier for politicians to tackle the gun law issues. Yet, in the end, we can expect another watered-down law and a lot of back-slapping politicians congratulating themselves for their actions.

Mental health, I fear, will have to take another backseat.