The Inacurate Comparison Between Gun Laws in Chicago and Switzerland

The gun lobby is continually pointing its fingers at Chicago as to how gun restriction does not work.  They also point to Switzerland, a country with a large gun culture, to show how massive gun ownership can work. Heck, they say, gun ownership is even mandated However, there is so much more involved than just the laws of Chicago.  And there is so very much more to Swiss gun laws than the gun lobby states.

First, let us look at Chicago.  Population, poverty and a lack of education are a big part of the problem in Chicago.  Also, the reason a gun ban ‘doesn’t work’ in Chicago is quite simply that we don’t have universal laws throughout all the states.   Buying a gun in Chicago may be difficult, but you can make it to Wisconsin in 45 minutes and there you will have little to no difficulties legally purchasing a weapon.  No one checks what happens when you travel from state to state so laws such as Chicago’s when Wisconsin has lax laws are not going to work.  So, let’s be clear, inconsistencies in gun laws between states is a reason the ban does not work in Chicago but the primary cause of violence that has been consistently documented is poverty and lack of education.  However, the murder rate in Chicago is down by about 17% since the ban took place.  So it works, kind of, but it won’t work as well as it could because of the laws of surrounding states and the lack of attention to poverty and education in Chicago.

Now Switzerland.  First of all Switzerland is a very different society. Its population is smaller than that of NYC. Not to mention the fact that NYC has 19.4% of the population under the poverty line and Switzerland has 4.8% of the population under the poverty line.  These numbers do make a difference as it is also well documented (Sociology 101 people) that crime rates go up in times of economic stress. Are our crime rates rising because not enough people have guns or because of the fact that we have a boom and bust economy which is currently rising out of recession?  Are Switzerland’s lower crime rates related to the mass possession of fire arms or the fact that it has one of the most stable economies in the world?  These are also things that must be taken into account.

Yes, many people own a gun in Switzerland. But gun owners are also mandated to take military training as Switzerland has no standing army. However, Switzerland’s gun laws are actually stricter than laws in the United States and the Swiss have fewer guns than US not more.  According to the Criminal Victimisation in International Perspective report from 2005 sponsored in part by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime 10% of Swiss homes contained handguns while in the US 18% of households contained handguns.  Beyond that only 29% of households in Switzerland contained any firearms whereas in the US it was 43%. (table 18 pg 279) So the US already beats Switzerland in regards to firearm prevalence. If that is the case, why then, are our crime rates higher than the rates in Switzerland?

While military training and the storing of government issued military weapons is required by Swiss law (though you can opt to store your militia weapon in the local armory) up until 2007 only 50 rounds of ammunition were given to members of the militia.  The rounds were sealed and regular inspection ensured that they were not used improperly. In 2007, it was decided to stop issuing ammo all together and the ammo out had to be returned.  Only a select few in the militia are allowed to have ammo in the home.  Service typically ends between ages 30-34 and to keep your weapon after that requires a license.  For private citizens, ammo (for military weapons) is subsidized by the government and is available at shooting ranges with the requirement that all ammo sold there must be used there.

The 1999 Gun Act requires a permit that allows the purchase of 3 firearms.  The permit asks for a lot of information including:  Two years’ worth of addresses, name, birthday, nationality, place of origin, home phone, mobile phone, email, pending criminal charges, reasons for wanting firearm sport, hunting, collecting, name of weapon or / the essential weapons component / s and other information (if known): Weapon / weapons essential ingredient.  This permit also includes and Inheritance Clause which states: “Individuals who purchase firearms or essential weapon components by inheritance must apply within six months for a firearms acquisition certificate, provided that the items are not transferred within that period of an authorized person. The request for obtaining the weapons purchase certificate must be attached to a directory that lists the inherited objects, indicating the weapon type, manufacturer or manufacturers, caliber, description and weapon number. It must be signed by representatives of the deceased or their heirs.” Furthermore, the permit requires an original extract from Swiss Criminal Records no older than three months. A copy of a valid passport, identity card, or residence permit is also required.  If none of those are available then official confirmation of residence or proof of legal ability to acquire weapons in their home state.   The signing statement itself reads:  “I certify that I have answered the questions truthfully and that I’m not incapacitated; suffering under any disease, which could pose an increased risk for handling weapons, such as drug or alcohol use or dependence on narcotics. I allow the competent authority to verify the information, in particular the police, the penal, custody, welfare and administrative authorities.”  So, quite a few background checks go into a civilian purchasing a firearm even if it is inherited and in line with the laws proposed by gun-control advocates.

But there is so much more to the 1999 Swiss gun law.  For example,  a permit is not needed to buy a gun from and individual but the seller is expected to determine that the buyer can meet the requirements of purchasing from a dealer.  They are required to prepare a written contract with the identities of both parties and must include, weapon type, manufacturer and serial number.  This contract must be kept by both parties for at least 10 years. The seller must also see some form of official ID. So, even in a private sale in Switzerland while a permit is not required record from the sale is required and the seller is is obligated to prove eligibility and identity before selling a weapon.  Pretty much what gun-control advocates want anyway.

While single shot long arms (muzzle or breech loaders) are available without a permit the sale of automatic firearms, selective fire weapons and accessories such as suppressors are essentially forbidden.  They are legal only with a special permit issued by police and this permit includes even more requirements, such as a gun locker.  In addition, the Schengen treaty of 2008 requires all guns to be marked and registered with a serial number.  Ammo is also regulated with hollow point rounds only permitted for hunters.  The sale of ammo is required to be registered with the buyer’s name in a bound book. Again, laws exactly like the ones gun-control groups favor.

Essentially, Swiss gun laws are exactly what the “gun-control” crowd is asking for.  This is what you don’t hear from the NRA.  They will tout Switzerland as an example of how owning guns can be safe but fail to mention that ownership in Switzerland is actually highly regulated.  Want the US to be more like Switzerland?  I am pretty sure most of the people on the gun-control side would be all for it.  However, the pro-gun people led by the NRA would throw a major fit. Personally, I object to any untrained civilian owning a weapon such as an AR-15.  If you want to require full military training to own one, now that is a different story.  For those of you who say an AR-15 is not as dangerous as a fully auto weapon I direct you to the bump fire.  This is where you use the guns recoil to fire multiple shots essentially simulating full auto.   Another assault rifle ban is the US really isn’t going to do much because it does not address the issue of the guns that are already on the streets.  But we really have to look deeper into the correlation of our previous ban expiring and the increase in cartel violence in Mexico.  Detailed background checks, registration, training, ammo restrictions and records of sale are exactly what the gun-control crowd is looking for.  This is what Switzerland has and it works. It is also what the NRA and the gun lobby vehemently protest.

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Who’s to Blame?

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre people looked around for something to blame, and I was one of them.  It is fairly typical of human nature; in the light of extreme tragedy we want answers as to how another human being can be so callous.  There were those who screamed foul at the entertainment industry blaming violence in movies and video games, those who blamed medication for mental disorders, those who blamed guns…and I can see the points of a lot of these arguments.  The closer I looked though, the more disturbing the answers became.  Truth is, the blame for tragedies such as these can be laid solely at our feet.  That’s right, we, the American people, are responsible for the ruthless slaughter of 20 innocent babies.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the violent crime rate went up in 2012 for the first time in decades. I think that requires us to take a long hard look in the mirror. In 2012, we had two high profile and highly shocking mass shootings. We owe it to ourselves and the victims of these senseless tragedies to ask why.  More so than that, we owe it to the lives that were shattered to figure out how to stop it.  Some will argue that there is no way to prevent every act of violence, and they would be correct. But that in no way excuses us for accepting this as the status quo.  So I welcome the questions of blame. However, we always seem to be pointing the finger at the other side…and away from us.

One has to wonder if the way we have begun to speak to each other has an effect on the violence in our society.  We have become so polarized and bitter in our politics that nothing gets done but the flinging of proverbial poo. Lately, instead of actually debating the merits of our opinions, we sit back and name call, throw out gross over statements, and distort facts to support our own agendas.  To be very clear, I am using we and our purposefully.  Both sides are guilty of the vitriol spewed forth to anyone who will listen.  In my opinion, the increase in internet communication is partly to blame for that.  It is so easy to be big, tough, and violent over the web…harder in person.  Now, there are those who will cry foul at the mere mention of the idea that we should begin to police the way we speak to and about each other.  “This is my first amendment right,” they will scream from the rooftops.  The problem with this is that, as a society, we have become so focused on what we can do we have completely forgotten to actually look at whether or not we should.

We will never agree on everything.  Honestly, that would be a pretty boring world.  Truth is, the most innovative societal changes were brought about by spirited debate.  There is, however, no reason that the debate cannot be civil.

Immediately following the election I saw posts from some conservative members on my Facebook page call for open revolution and flying the flag upside down.  So, let me get this straight, to support your country, to show your patriotism, to uphold your constitution you would call for a revolution against a democratically elected President because the result is not what you wanted?  Look, I get being disappointed at the outcome of an election. I was in ’00 and ’04; but did no one stop to think that someone out there may take these calls to violence seriously? First of all, your logic seems flawed. You claim to be a patriot and then threaten to take arms against a leader the majority of Americans selected.  Second, that is not patriotism. It is called sedition: the overt conduct to tend toward insurrection of the established order—an incitement of discontent or resistance to lawful authority. Seditious conspiracy is a crime under US law. If two or more persons in any State or Territory, or in any place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof, they shall each be fined or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both (USC 18 § 2384). To be charged this only need be a plan—it does not need to be attempted.  Furthermore, USC 18 § 2385 states: Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States…Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.  In my opinion, calling for revolution is the definition of sedition.

In the event of a tragedy such as this, there are those who would point their finger at the violence in Hollywood. At the same time they threaten revolution and civil war when they don’t get their way. Why don’t we think that this may hold part of the blame for the violence of this country?  Because that would mean that we are to blame for death and destruction on such a horrid level that it would shake our belief system to the very core. It is so much easier to point the finger away from us.

We, as a collective society, have become so focused on our freedom of speech that we have begun to speak without thought.  It does not violate anyone’s first amendment rights to ask each other to take a deep breath before we say things—before we type things—and think first about whether or not we really want to say what came to our minds.  My friends and I call it a filter.

Throughout the election season there was such violence spewed from our lips it was inevitable that it would flow onto our streets, into our malls, our places of worship—our  schools.   I have heard this country, which I love dearly, be equated to a dictatorship, Nazi Germany, a police state, a Stalinist-regime…did we honestly think this wouldn’t affect our society?

First, these comparisons are nowhere near accurate.  It is speech that has no truth, meant only to shock and increase ratings.  No one should have to explain, to anyone, how we cannot compare modern America to Nazi Germany, nor how we cannot compare any President of the United States, ever, to Stalin or Hitler.  If you require an explanation, then you are seriously taking the freedoms this country offers you for granted.  You have no concept of what fear of an oppressive regime really is, so when something happens you don’t like you equate it to the most awful thing you can imagine.  Fact is, it is nowhere near reality.  I know a woman who experienced life under Hitler and Stalin personally, and I have a feeling she may have a few words to say about that.

Beyond that, to equate your imagined suffering—or even the actual suffering—of anyone in the United States to these atrocious acts against humanity trivializes the horrors that occurred.  It makes them seem less than they were; makes the suffering and death of millions of people seem petty.  Equating a President of the United States of America to Hitler and Stalin makes Hitler and Stalin seem less evil.  Is that really the legacy we want to leave?

Last Thursday, Jon Stewart made a very good point in the argument that if the Jews had guns they could have stopped Hitler before things got bad. “Look, I really wish arms used in the ghettos could have stopped Hitler.  My feeling was, France couldn’t, and I am pretty sure they had guns. Russia had kind of a lot of guns and they couldn’t stop Hitler…until you factor in wind chill. It’s an awful lot to put on an oppressed minority when it took the free world 5-6 years of all out total war to stop that mother****er.” You can criticize Stewart all you want but he makes a pretty valid point and I fail to see how someone can argue that point.

Furthermore, let us stop playing the “what if” game.  Nothing we do now is going to prevent the Holocaust, nor are we going to know if there was anything that could have prevented that atrocity.  Neither can we prevent Sandy Hook; it already happened. We can’t go back in time and undo it.  I wish to God that we could.  However, after the Holocaust we took action to see what we could do to prevent it from happening again. We created the United Nations, established new laws, and made those responsible accountable to the whole world. Don’t we owe the same thing to the children of Sandy Hook?

The first step is to to take a long, hard look in the mirror and question whether or not our rhetoric is partly responsible?  It’s hard.  It’s hard because no one wants to think that something they said, in the heat of the moment, caused someone to kill 20 small children.  It’s hard because we don’t want to have their blood on our hands. It’s hard because they were kids.  But we need to have this discussion; we need to find solutions to this problem, and nothing can be off the table.  I hear people screaming, from both sides, now is not the time…it is wrong to politicize this.  If now is not the time, then when is?  If the unprecedented slaughter of small children is not supposed to prompt a quick and rational discussion on how to prevent irrational acts of violence then when is the time?  I would go further and say, what would it say about us if we don’t?  Because honestly, if this doesn’t open the door to the discussion than what the hell will?

To those who would start their argument, “No, rational person…” stop.  You are right; no rational person would look at the hate, anger, and violence that we toss back and forth every day to mean “go shoot up a first grade class.”  But, my question to you is this: what rational person would shoot up a first grade class? Problem is, there are no easy answers and a lot of really hard questions: guns, media, movies, music, video games, mental health, and medication.  I think we also need to ask ourselves: If we treat each other with respect, will the levels of violence drop?  I don’t know, but I think it is at least worth a shot—and what would be the downside? Perhaps if we started treating each other with the dignity and respect due to a human being, we would solve more problems than we create.

I do think that it’s important for us to watch our rhetoric. I do think that it’s a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with our enemies, if for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid mad men and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speak. It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV. Let’s at least make troubled individuals easier to spot.