Old Money Talks Guns

One of the things I’ve noticed since relocating to France in 2017 is the absence of firearms. I’ve only seen them in the possession of on-duty law enforcement officers.

Of course, I live in the 4th arrondissement of Paris. Here, being civilized is one of the most highly prized attributes one can exhibit, often communicated in combination with an air of subtle elegance, a faint disinterest in many things, and an even less faint regard for other people.

So to sport a sidearm as you stroll down the rue de Rivoli looking for a fresh baguette would likely spoil the whole presentation…and possibly be illegal. (I don’t know the gun laws here, just the culture.)

Of course, France and the United States are very different countries. But I feel as though we might take a moment to inject a little nuance into our thought process and subsequent debate about firearms.

Statistically, quick research online revealed that France, a country of about 65 million people, had about 1700 of them killed by firearms in 2015. The USA, a country of 5 times as large, had a total of almost 40,000 citizens killed by guns that same year. Kind of a big difference that’s often pointed out by advocates of gun control.

Of course, people in France own guns. About 20% of them. They hunt. They shoot skeet. What they probably don’t have is a mindset that dictates the need for an automatic weapon to protect themselves and their families. I doubt they feel that it’s their right to own an automatic weapon.

The idea of military weapons in civilian hands just doesn’t make a lot of sense in today’s world. Yes, violence is present, but so are police. We have neighbors we can reach out to and emergency phone numbers we can dial in case of danger.

More importantly, our democracy depends more upon our possession of critical thinking than our possession of firearms. If your ability to analyze current events and your ability to detect fragrant fertilizer from government officials or the media are compromised, owning a weapon isn’t going to matter much when it comes time to protect your freedoms. They will have already been confiscated.

As in most things political, dogma is the enemy of us all. Reason is our sanctuary and our fortress. While I am in favor of gun ownership in general, I am opposed to ownership of automatic weapons. They can cause too much damage in too little time.

I am also in favor of more stringent background checks, not just for mental illness but also for those convicted of domestic violence. I favor mandatory and ongoing gun safety training, and regulations concerning how guns are stored in the home; and for registering firearms in much the same way as we register automobiles.

Thoughtful advocates for gun ownership, I’m sure, welcome these ideas, as I believe everyone is in favor of fewer acts of violence and fewer accidents involving guns.

Those opposed might include gun manufacturers and retailers, who often attempt to stoke fear in order to sell more guns, and those who blindly call for more guns in the hands of more people in order to ‘maintain our freedom’ from some often unnamed authoritarian enemy.

I think we need a new ‘gun lobby’ composed of both people who own firearms and those who advocate for gun control. At the risk of oversimplifying things, these two groups need to sit down, talk it over, talk it out, and find some common ground.

This common ground needs to be the basis for some new legislation. And some new thinking about guns.

The safety of children, cities, and citizens hang in the balance.

Not to mention the future of our democracy.

  • BGT




20 thoughts on “Old Money Talks Guns

  1. Sounds sensible, but the real problem is that a decrease in gun crime would cause a decrease in gun sales which would cause the gun lobby to withdraw their support for any politician who supports measures to decrease gun violence. If anyone has a solution to that, I’d like to hear it.

  2. Just a correction in terminology: very few Americans own automatic weapons, defined as a firearm that fires multiple times with one pull of the trigger. They are used by the military and are hard for a civilian to own, requiring extra paperwork and licensing.

    On the other hand, many Americans do own semiautomatic firearms, defined as a firearm where one round is fired every time the trigger is pulled. This is also the most common type of firearm owned by people in France- your most common rifles, shotguns, and handguns are semiautomatic.

    While some guns look “scarier” than others, simply looking like a military firearm does not make it so- in fact, many of those scary-looking guns fire identical caliber bullets and work identically to those found in the US and France that look less scary.

  3. I’d like to point out that fully automatic weapons are already illegal under the laws of most states and federally, unless you possess an NFA permit specifically for owning an automatic weapon. The few automatic firearms in private hands were generally manufactured prior to 1986, and on the rare occasion they change hands, they usually cost upwards of $15,000, which is far beyond the budget of your average criminal, and thus they are rarely used in criminal activity.

    Semi-automatic weapons, on the other hand, either in pistol or rifle form, are generally recommended for home and personal protection, which is why they are in such wide circulation among both American civilians and law enforcement.

    The other laws you recommend are very similar to those currently in place in California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Unfortunately, these laws have had a negligible effect on either public safety or criminal behavior.

    Contrast that with Vermont, which has what are called “Constitutional carry” rights, meaning that one can purchase a firearm and walk out of the gun store and carry a concealed firearm without a permit as a matter of right. Vermont has among the lowest crime and murder rates in the country.

    A gun is an inanimate object. They can only harm or kill a person if they are used by a person with ill intent (or a spectacularly careless individual), as is the case with knives or rocks or motor vehicles. That underlying ill intent is what needs to be dealt with, and that is a much bigger challenge.

    The real question is how Americans feel about the infringement of their Constitutional rights. Would you or most of your readership be ok with similar laws to those you propose being applied to the First Amendment instead of the Second? Should people have to attend government mandated speech and writing training prior to addressing the public? Should public speakers and pundits submit to registration so that “dangerous ideas” can be tracked back to their source?

    It’s worth considering what we actually mean by a right, and how to balance the freedoms of the individual with the powers of the government. As the California and Vermont examples show, perhaps it isn’t the law that has the greatest effect on public safety when it comes to firearms.

    Thanks for letting me add my two cents.

    1. Thank you for your well thought out and well written response. The anti-gun people tend to forget that the cities with the strictest gun control laws have the most crime. Thank you for reminding them.

      1. Melissa, maybe they have the strictest gun control laws because guns are such a big problem.

    2. Thank you, J.B. The tone of your comment is greatly appreciated and the content generally well-received. The ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ argument runs a little thin, however. And any comparison of California and Vermont is seldom made outside discussions about firearms. They’re not just two different states; they’re two different worlds.
      I would still advocate for stronger background checks, including conditions or prohibitions for those with a history of mental illness, domestic violence, and/or substance abuse. I will admit that I am not an expert in the nuances of ‘automatic weapons’ vs. ‘semi automatic weapons’. I would instead look to the intent of use: what is this weapon made to do? Shoot a deer at one hundred yards? Or what can it be easily modified to do? (Kill a lot of people very quickly in a shopping mall.)
      I hope we could agree on mandatory and ongoing gun training classes, as well as laws governing how guns should be stored in the home. These seem like common sense.
      Thank you again. I really enjoy this kind of conversation. – BGT

    3. J.B., nuclear bombs are also inanimate objects, but most people agree they should be regulated. I agree with you that it’s about balancing competing interests. If we weigh the harm caused by guns against the benefit and determine that, on balance, the harm outweighs the benefit, maybe its time to make an adjustment.

    1. EMJ, judging from the number of responses, this appears not to be true. The old money philosophy pervades most areas of life and touches on many social issues. I don’t always agree with Byron, but his opinions and observations are generally illuminating.

    2. Your criterion for “interesting” seems to be whether the content reflects your opinion or not. Which is a rather narrow form of judgement. A more intellectually mature approach would be to ask yourself whether the subject matter was presented consistently and articulately. And, if you disagree, there’s always the possibility to share an intelligent comment.

      Indeed, this might require a little more time and mental effort, which is something not everyone is willing or able to spend.

  4. Where bars to gun ownership are concerned, I agree with background checks that capture behavior – felonies (especially violent felonies) and misdemeanor offenses that involve domestic violence or threatening behavior towards a specific person, in particular.

    However, and I realize this makes me an outlier in most conversations about gun control, I do not agree with “mental illness” as a bar to firearm ownership. My experiences as a social work intern in rural upstate NY led me to the unfortunate conclusion that this bar does not keep “crazy people” from getting guns, but instead keeps gun owners, including police officers and military veterans, from voluntarily seeking mental health services for themselves or their minor children. A person who has a known mental health problem and is actively receiving treatment for it is going to be less of a danger to self or others than a person who “isn’t right” yet continually refuses help because “they’ll take my guns away” or “I’ll lose my job”.

    1. Thank you, Anneke. It’s great to get firsthand information and insight on these often complex and challenging topics. I would never have looked at it from that perspective. Much appreciated. – BGT

  5. If I spot someone in a retail store or restaurant with a weapon – other than law enforcement – I’ll ask for my check and leave..

  6. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s surprising how no one presented a rational argument in favor of gun ownership. I’ll agree with guns, including semi-automatic, but give me a serious, rational argument.

    If the argument is safety, then why not address the problem: acute inequality? (The fact that cities or states that are less strict on gun ownership have lower crimes rates isn’t per definition proof of a direct correlation between both variables.)

    If the argument is individual freedom, then why are regulations concerning drugs and alcohol more acceptable? Or highway speed regulations? Oddly, those who are most vocal on individual freedom are often the least tolerant of other people’s views.

    America, for all its virtues, is a rather binary society, where the use of force (abroad and domestically) has traditionally been used more intensely than intellectual prowess.

  7. The gun issue can be quite complex for sure, all I’ll say is, as a psychotherapist, I believe there should be more restrictions on those with VIOLENT mental illnesses. Someone with depression, anxiety, etc is not going to go around shooting people, other diagnoses are definitely violent, as it is part of the diagnostic criteria.

    However, I am considered discriminatory in my field when I say this around colleagues. I am proud to be an American, and I am glad we have gun rights here, remember we in America are the descendants of people from England, France, Scotland, etc. that were not allowed guns and were enslaved and treated horribly in the past.

    I do not however, believe that every police officer needs a weapon, I much like the way England does it, with special training and licensing for an officer to be armed. I, as a mental health worker, have seen those who are cognitively disabled shot just because the police didn’t understand their behavior, even though they had no weapon.

    I myself, being a woman that lives alone, do have a secured, unloaded firearm, because even with 911, the police can take up to 20 – 45 minutes to arrive. The thought of a home invader having the opportunity to touch my daughters or son while I patiently wait for law enforcement is not an option for me. (Ask me the stories I hear from rape victims.)

    As an American we see it as how we won our freedom, it keeps our government in check, with the people being armed. You mention any populace with critical thinking power shouldn’t need guns, I disagree. I feel that America would be a socialist country if it wasn’t for our guns. We are still babies in this world, with Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, all having been around for hundreds of years, we still need to keep our freedom close to our hearts. America is different, we were created by founding fathers who were tired of being oppressed and ruled over. It is an important part of our freedom. But I do agree, more needs to be done about the reckless use.

  8. BGT,
    You wrote: ” If your ability to analyze current events and your ability to detect fragrant fertilizer from government officials or the media are compromised, owning a weapon isn’t going to matter much when it comes time to protect your freedoms. They will have already been confiscated.

    Oh, I wish that I had said it that way. It is more poetry than prose as in communicating the essence with few words.

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