Date finished: April 9th 2017
America has always seemed a staunchly fundamentalist country. It was, after all, founded by puritans and, although the Founding Fathers emphasised the divide between church and state, the USA is known as a God-fearing nation with a Bible belt. It continues its religious fervency to this day: a YouGov poll in 2013 found 57% of Americans surveyed believe in the devil; a 2009 Pew Research Centre poll found that 31% public identify as creationists, compared to 32% who believe in evolution; and a Public Policy Polling survey found in 2013 that 13% believed Obama to be the Anti-Christ.
But it’s not just religion which the Americans undertake to an extreme level. Americans have applied their built-in zealotry to everything from Global Warming to fast-food. The constitution, particularly their Second Amendment rights which are described as “God-given”, are also subject to this fanaticism. The gun control debate still rages between a public horrified by the frequency of mass-shootings and daily homicides, and an ultraconservative, market-driven lobby which vaunts the solution to the problem as more guns. The USA has made a God of the gun.
Thomas Gabor, an independent international consultant based in Florida, and formerly Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, Canada, speaks from over thirty years experience in his field. He has published over 150 works, and has served as a consultant for countless inquiries and governmental agencies, including for the UN, and on the inquiry into the Dunblane massacre. There is no denying his expert credentials on this matter and also his relative impartiality in the debate. He has strong views, but they come from a place of statistical analysis and long-term experience, not from knee-jerk feelings and gut reaction. As such, his position is much more nuanced than a purely pro- or anti-gun control stance.
In Confronting Gun Violence in America, Gabor explores the various facets of America’s love affair with weapons, comparing and contrasting homicide statistics and gun ownership numbers with those of comparable Western countries, and uses statistics and research to elucidate the truth about guns. He tears apart such myths as the idea that it’s intent, not guns that cause death (a.k.a “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”) by demonstrating the Instrumentality effect (that any gunshot wound is 3 times more likely to result in death than a knife wound to a vital organ – intent is obviously important, but a gun is much more likely to cause death than any other weapon), and the fallacy that Israel and Switzerland are examples of countries that walk the line of access to guns and low murder rate (the two countries have extremely strict gun control policies, making them hardly comparable to the lax gun laws of the USA).
And from hereon, Gabor continues to smash his way through the various facets of gun violence: suicide, preventable death, the increase in death in an argument when guns are available, Stand Your Ground, concealed carry, background checks, the ubiquitous Second Amendment, the profiteering, untouchable gun industry, the myth of the good guy with a gun. It’s hard to conceive of anything he could’ve missed, so expansive and precise is his knowledge of the entire field and all things relating to it.
Having seemingly analysed gun violence in every possible way, Gabor dedicates the final chapter to a national strategy for preventing gun violence, in which he outlines the failures and successes of past laws in the US and abroad in order to come up with some lucid and sensible recommendations for how the country should press forward. Rather than go to the polar extreme of introducing a blanket ban, Gabor’s proposals are well-supported and make sense in the context of a country that has so strong a love affair with guns. They are undoubtedly optimistic recommendations, but only in the context of a vocal, brainwashed minority and an extremely powerful gun rights lobby. A majority of the US public – particularly when properly informed – support some level of gun control. With dedicated lobbying and a sustained campaign to oppose the propaganda of interested groups, Gabor’s recommendations could come to fruition. One can only hope they do.
As a £22.00 hardback by an obscure publisher of academic monographs with little marketing strategy for individual titles, Confronting Gun Violence in America isn’t going to reach many people, and that’s a great shame. As of writing, it has 27 ratings on Amazon.com, all five stars, but no ratings on Amazon.co.uk and one on Goodreads.com (mine).
And yet it’s such a thoroughly important, necessary, well-argued contribution to the ongoing debate about guns in the USA. I would love to see Gabor’s book and its arguments repackaged in a somewhat more populist, readable, paperback form – one that would incite debate and find it’s way into bookshops by the pile. It’s such a thorough, balanced work and it needs a wider audience. It’s probably ridiculously optimistic to think a single book could overturn the decades-long stranglehold of the gun lobby, but if any book could do it, it would be Confronting Gun Violence in America. The trouble is it’s a very dense book, full of statistical analysis, law cases and some pretty depressing facts. A version with all the information packed into a somewhat easier-to-consume form (without compromising any of the facts, of course) would be a vital contribution to the ongoing debate on the status of guns in America.
When it comes down to it, a triumvirate of the arms industry, gun lobby and conservative senators in the USA perpetuate a huge number of myths that facilitate the continued sale of guns to a populace completely indoctrinated by decades of propaganda. In turn, these sales generate elevated levels of gun crime, the answer to which is touted as more guns. The statistics show irrefutably the huge amount of harm that is caused by guns and that there are very few, if any benefits at all to keeping firearms around. As a result, the USA is the only developed country to have little to no regulation on guns, with the population divided on the matter.
It’s a confused situation, but books like Confronting Gun Violence in America could help find a solution and some clarity in this mess. It’s a timely evaluation of a huge problem in American society, and one can only hope that the wisdom contained within its pages can be turned into real work towards a better, safer, freer future for the American people.