On Monday, actress and comedian Amy Schumer took the podium next to Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who is also her cousin, to speak on the issue of gun violence following the incident that occurred at a showing of her new movie Trainwreck at a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. While celebrity opinions on issues as polarized and as important as this should be taken with a grain of salt, senseless acts of gun violence are becoming increasingly common in our country. Moreover, it's commendable for personalities such as Schumer to draw much needed attention to these kinds of issues.
But this is not a piece about gun control. This is a piece about violence in America. Schumer's stance on gun control is clear, but I don't want this article to be aligned with any stance in particular. This is because I don't think that guns are at the heart of the problem, and telling everyone that they should undoubtedly side with Schumer is not only an unfair way to debate the issue, but would likely be an act in futility given how deeply fascinated that Americans are with guns.
But I don't think that our fascination ends with guns. I think we are fascinated with killing each other.
In 1982, the United States was the only modern nation with a higher murder rate than countries like Cambodia and Nicaragua, who were both in the middle of brutal civil wars at the time. There was an attempted murder every three minutes, and a new body in the morgue every 20 minutes. Japan, England, and West Germany (remember, this is in the '80s) had a combined population almost equal to that of the U.S. in 1982 and averaged around 6,000 murders a year at the time. We averaged over 27,000 murders a year during the same period.
With staggering numbers like those, I think it's difficult to attribute the American violence problem to guns alone. There was and still is some kind of deep seeded urge to rip each other apart in this country, and whether or not we have access to guns isn't the issue. The American people are the issue.
That's right, I said it.
Switzerland, a country that hasn't been in an armed conflict since 1847, has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. The 8 million or so Swiss citizens have between 2.3 and 4.5 million firearms in public circulation. Only Yemen, Serbia and the U.S. have more guns per capita. More people with guns means more gun murders, right? Wrong. Switzerland has a gun homicide rate ten times lower than that of the United States.
So why is it that we can't handle ourselves around guns? I think the answer lies in the cultural differences. Switzerland's peaceful gun culture was bred out of a sense of patriotic duty during World War II. Switzerland was in a very rough neighborhood during this time period and was at risk of being invaded by Germany. The "gun in every closet" tradition was born because Swiss citizens were prepared to shoot it out from the living room to the battlefront if someone came knocking. Luckily for them, the fighting never came to Swiss soil (probably because Germany knew everyone there was armed to the teeth and trained to shoot). Gun culture in Switzerland is based on civic responsibility and national security rather than an individualistic drive to protect our stuff and our families from the evil outside.
Now, many gun owners in America will claim the same attitude the Swiss have, but is that really true? Switzerland was quite literally caught in the crossfire of the deadliest war humans have ever seen and had to be prepared. It would have taken mere hours for an enemy force to occupy that tiny country. Our fondness for guns and easy access to them in America is in large part due to our fear of a tyrannical government, not because of any external threat. The reason there are almost as many guns as there are people in America is because we are afraid of having things taken from us, and guns have been our go-to method for protecting our things since the Revolutionary War.
But I digress. This still doesn't answer the question of why Americans seem to love killing each other so much. For me, I think the answer is painfully simple. It's just the way we are. We are a kid that got a big head after we finally stood up to the playground bully almost 250 years ago. If you mess with us, we'll feed you a knuckle sandwich. This us-against-the-world mentality is in the back of American minds, from the protective homeowners right down to the street gangs. The only difference between those two groups of people, if we're talking about guns, are the actions they deem punishable with a bullet.