Biting the Bullet: The Gravity of Gun Violence
TW: This article discusses gun violence, homicides and death.
If I were to tell you that more than 500 deaths and 2,000 inflicted wounds are caused every day by guns, would you believe me? As much as the reality seems appalling, it is sadly true. These statistics alone can give one a fair idea of the drastic extent of gun violence across the world. Yet, if that is the case, then why haven’t guns been outlawed in today’s world? What is the great significance of gun violence in our society? In this article, we aim to delve deeper into this perplexing topic and seek answers to these questions.
Gun Violence from a World View
To further illustrate the prominence of guns in today’s society, there are more than 1 billion firearms across the globe, with around 85% of them being owned by civilians — and it seems like the numbers will only continue to rise.
When we talk about gun violence, one of the countries that typically comes to the forefront of our thoughts is the United States. Here, the right of civilians to keep and bear arms is protected, as per the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. As such, the nation’s firearm industry flourishes, contributing a whopping $63 billion in total economic activity in 2020.
As of April 2021, the USA has recorded a startling peak of 147 mass shootings in this year alone. (A mass shooting is defined as a shooting involving four or more victims being injured or killed.) Some of the most recent ones include the Indianapolis FedEx shooting, where nine people, including the perpetrator himself, were shot dead; the Atlanta spa shootings, where eight people were killed; and a string of shootings that occurred on May 1, 2021 in at least 5 different states.
Gun violence is a national security emergency, and the future peace and prosperity of Americans depends upon finding meaningful solutions.
Yet, the US is not the leading country in gun violence. In South America, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela make up about one-fifth of all gun-related deaths worldwide every year. Driven by economic deprivation, high unemployment rates, income inequality and other factors, firearm-related deaths have drastically shot up, with as many as 46,000 deaths in Brazil in 2018, for example.
If we compare these nations to other countries, the stark contrast in gun violence statistics is obvious. The explanation behind such a grave disparity would be how gun control laws vary between different countries. In the US, such laws are rather lax. Purchasers have to undergo a background check, but some can bypass this procedure through the private sales loophole — when people buy firearms from a private seller. This can lead to guns falling into the hands of people unqualified to carry and use guns, resulting in higher risks of mortality inflicted by the misuse of guns.
In Brazil, gun ownership has shot up by 65% due to their president, Jair Boisonaro’s pro-gun policy advocating for ‘self-defence’ of the people. In El Salvador, loosely enforced laws have eased the flow of guns into the black market, from military stockpiles or imported from other countries. These are just a few examples of countries where gun control laws are limited or relaxed, leading to a distinctly positive correlation between gun ownership and gun violence.
Aside from the Americas, the situation is not much better in other countries. With an average of 7.88 firearm-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people, the Philippines marks the highest rates of gun violence in Asia. South Africa sees about 23 people killed by small arms every day, and in Yemen, almost 4,000 people lose their lives to gun violence annually.
Still, hope radiates from some countries in the world. Following the dreadful Port Arthur mass shooting in 1996, new policies tightened regulations on gun ownership in Australia, making it harder to get a gun license. Ever since then, the number of mass shootings in the country has considerably lowered to almost none. In Japan, gun crime is almost unheard of, and citizens in Singapore are not allowed to have firearms on them at all.
What About Malaysia?
In Malaysia, gun violence is hardly ever heard of. Yet, we must keep in mind that obtaining guns legally is difficult — but getting one illegally has a different story to tell.
As per the Arms Act of 1960, no citizen is allowed to possess a gun without a license, and earning a license has proven to be nearly impossible unless you have a very sound reason to carry a firearm. These regulations were further tightened last year in Johor in response to the illegal poaching occurring in the area.
However, the circulation of illegal guns in the black market here is rather extensive. Firearms are easily smuggled in from Thailand, and through connections with local gangs in the underworld, obtaining a gun in this manner is easier than one might expect. Sometimes, it’s just as easy as borrowing a gun from a friend despite holding no license.
Generally, most cases of the possession of illegal firearms stems from poaching activities. Yet, as surprising as it may sound, Malaysia actually does have a history of gun violence. In 2013, there was a spate of shootings that shot the rate of firearm-related crimes in Penang up to as many as 38 cases, allegedly due to poor enforcement. Then, in 2016, a wave of restlessness washed over the nation once more as Malaysia saw 10 shootings spanning across the course of only a month. This included the assassination of Bill Kayong, who had been involved in environmental and indigenous activisim. For a country that rarely ever sees such high rates of gun violence, a special task force had even been set up to resolve the situation.
Perhaps this is proof that even with strict regulations, gun violence can still wreck havoc should the enforcement of the law be permissive.
To Legalise, or Not to Legalise?
If gun violence is so strife, should people still own guns? Needless to say, this debate has been going on for years now, with no consensus in near sight.
Let us outline why guns still remain legal in today’s world: the pro-gun belief is that owning a gun provides a greater sense of security. Expanding on the aforementioned pro-gun policy in Brazil, the concept behind Bolsonaro’s idea is that citizens can fight the crime and violence in the country using their own weapons. However, nationwide public safety needs far more than just self-defence. Instead of implementing new gun laws to combat crime, measures should be taken to tackle the problems that cause such crimes, including lowering unemployment rates and providing better access to education for children. Only then can peace begin to trickle back into the nation.
Owning a gun at home has been tirelessly argued as essential for individuals, especially those who need to defend themselves against stronger assailants. This holds some truth, as perpetrators are less likely to attack when they know that their victim carries a firearm on them. Yet, this argument has its flaws. Evidence shows that there is a clear link between guns in the household and the rates of homicide, including homicide by a family member or a close acquaintance, making this practice unavailing. Accidental fatalities from guns at home is not uncommon either. This certainly poses the question of whether guns truly do protect us, or do more harm than good.
With that, another question comes to mind: with all this terror caused by gun violence, why hasn’t there been much movement to illegalise guns? Implementing and imposing gun control laws has proven easier said than done. Public support for gun control alone is not enough. For instance, in the US, where lobbying is common practice, organisations such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) advocate for gun rights and hold great power over government action. Moreover, there are far too many loopholes in gun industries that allow people to possess guns illegally, and far too little efforts to patch up these gaps.
As for the global arms trade, banning guns completely is probably not an option. Most of the time, Western countries export arms to other regions, particularly the Middle East and North Africa, due to economic or political interests. The US contributes about 50% of all arms transfers to these nations. However, stricter international laws regarding this trade need to be imposed, to ensure that supplies do not end up being diverted to armed groups with a serious history of human rights violations, for example.
To tie this up, here’s a phrase you might have heard of before: “Guns don’t kill — people kill”. In fact, this ‘belief’ has been used time and time again to defend the rights of gun ownership. The truth is this: yes, abolishing all guns will not dispel the world of people with the intention to kill; yet, it is to be reminded that people use guns to kill other people. To put it simply, guns pose as a tool for people to kill more easily.
Through effective measures taken to tighten gun regulations, actions need to be taken to limit the number of guns that fall into the wrong hands — and the number of people who have to suffer in the hands of the wrongdoers.
We need to do a much better job of learning to live with our firearms. Currently, far too many people are dying.
The Future of Gun Violence
So where do we go from here? What can we expect about guns in the future? With the gravity of gun violence weighing down upon us, it has become clear that preventative measures must be taken to curb the surge in these cases.
It’s almost impossible to see all guns abolished from the world, something far too idealistic that might never be achieved, even in the far future. For now, solutions can and should be taken by any government to lower the risks of gun violence, including tightening regulations on gun control laws and enforcing these rules, reducing firearm access and taking on a public health approach as a whole nation. After all, gun violence can only be clamped down through collection and collaboration.
Shootings on the daily aren’t normal. In fact, they never should be, and we need to understand that. Although I may not be able to bring much substantial action as an individual, I hope that with my small contribution here, reform can take place to shape a world where everyone need not fear for their lives in the wake of gun violence.
[Written by Siow Chien Wen]