I would say you'd have to be living in a cave not to have heard some inklings of the gun control debate currently raging - quite rightly - in the USA. But then if you lived in a cave in America, you would probably own a few guns (that's not to say that all gun owners live in caves). Even non-Americans would have gotten some news of this debate: I know my students certainly have.
Brendan has an interesting view of things that is worth a read - someone really needs to hire him as an advisor to something - but I want to go in a different direction as I explore the merits of gun control here, from an expat in Taiwan perspective.
Most of my friends are hippie liberal East Coast Ivory Tower elitist feminist godless socialists, but I have a few Facebook friends who are not: people I knew in high school, mostly. And a few friends-of-friends or people on subscribed feeds with different views. Their perspectives come from being Americans who value the Second Amendment and feel that the right granted to them in this amendment to bear arms is of the utmost importance - right up there with freedom of speech, religion, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (personally, I think universal health care, including paid sick days and maternity leave, falls in with "the pursuit of happiness", but that's a different debate). That this right should be considered before any other discussion of gun control legislation or restriction. Most, if not all, of these people are "responsible gun owners": the ones who own a few guns for hunting or marksmanship, who keep them locked up, have learned how to operate them safely, and who treat them with care. Even as a liberal hippie leftist East Coast Ivory Tower elitist feminist godless socialist Communist, I actually think that's, well, it's OK. I am not entirely against their right to own those guns.
Responsible Ownership: The Other Side of the Story
My own father owns a few guns - for hunting and for skeet shooting. He rarely engages in those activities now, but he used to. I remember as a child that he'd go hunting with his best friend from his hometown, and while I am generally not interested in hunting and have strongly considered going vegetarian, I never had any strong feelings of opposition to this. He knows how to operate a gun, knows how to own them safely (they were always locked away when we were children, disabled, with the ammunition and some other essential part - I'm no expert - locked away in different places).
I never looked for the keys, never tried to break into the gun cabinet. But then I was generally a good kid, although a bit rebellious and mouthy. I was never systematically bad. I was also terrified of those guns, and Dad was very careful to make sure we never knew where the key was (I still don't know). I can imagine a scenario in which a kid not terrified but fascinated, with a parent less detailed in his efforts to make them unobtainable, successfully tries to get their hands on "locked away" guns.
That's where my very small sympathetic bent comes from, anyway.
But It Really Is Safer!
Now, I live in Taiwan - a country where guns are illegal for all but certain authorities (think government security, law enforcement, the military). I have to say that, as much as I understand the mindset of "responsible gun owners", I feel so much safer in a country where guns are banned. Just plain, outright, done-and-done banned. I do prefer it. I do not feel as though I have lost an essential right. I do not feel that my American right to bear arms compares with my rights to freedom of speech and religion. I feel that peoples' right to "life and liberty" - the "liberty" being something I have not had to obtain at gunpoint, and probably never will - supercede the rights of others to own guns. Guns are a machine designed to take away life, and an area with a lot of guns is not one that I feel at liberty to walk freely in. Just ask how many times I went to the worst parts of Washington DC (answer: I used to do literacy tutoring in Shaw, and on U Street before it gentrified, and while I've skirted worse areas, I have never felt I had the liberty to walk in them). In Taiwan I feel this right to life and liberty has been reasonably granted me.
I simply prefer things this way - because for as much as people say "guns don't kill people, people kill people", the fact is that with far fewer guns on the street, far fewer people are killed. This can't just be a cultural difference, and it can't be that countries who enjoy microscopically low rates of gun violence, who have banned guns, would continue to enjoy that if they allowed guns and "taught people to use them responsibly". Any quick survey of common sense would show that to be ludicrous: if Taiwan had more guns, including legal guns, gun violence would go up. It's not just a matter of culture, it's also a matter of, well...guns.
I Don't Fear Imaginary Hitler
And, I dunno 'bout you, but I prefer that it stay down. I am willing to give up my right to own a gun in order to keep it down. I do not fear that I will have to arm myself against a fascist government (another argument used). Honestly, if such a government were to arise, people would find ways of fighting back. Taiwan managed to go from dictatorship to democracy without an armed populace - in fact, many countries have made the transition to democracy without a bullets-to-bullets war. The ones that have done so the most successfully are the ones where the people faced the guns of their oppressors and, yes, some of them died, but rather than shoot back, they refused to stand down. I'll take a Gandhian overthrow of a government, or the slightly messier but otherwise successful democratic reforms in Taiwan over a messy revolution (from 18th and 19th century France to the Civil War to the failed Tamil Tigers to Syria today) that leads to, well, chaos and a continued bloody aftermath.
Besides, banning guns does not mean that all the Bad Guys will just get them illegally, either (another thing I heard on Facebook, and have come across elsewhere). My experience in Asia is that some bad guys obtain guns illegally - certainly illegal firearms exist in Taiwan - but those bad guys seem mostly to be Really Big Boss types, and aren't generally concerned with mowing down civilians (instead they mow down each other).
The gunfights that do occur in Taiwan tend to be personal or gang feuds, and these days don't really seem to be something that affects unrelated people (the occasional politician being the exception). I did do some Googling to see if I could find any news of non-gang related shootings in Taiwan, and can't find much at all - nothing dating from after 2004. (I also found this, but the data is old, and it's not clear who these "unintentionally shot" people were).
What this seems to breed, then, is a country were gangsters have illegally obtained guns, but people not involved in that world are unlikely to be unaffected by it. You are about as likely to get hit by a stray bullet anywhere in Taiwan as you are to, I dunno, catch malaria here (I know, I really should actually do the math on that before I say it...lazy, lazy blogger - all I can say is the last case of locally contracted malaria that I can find in search results dates from 2003). You, as a non-gangster, are almost certain not to be the victim of or involved in gun violence. Home robbery does happen - I can't find much online in terms of statistics of home robbery in involving guns and home robbery without guns in Taiwan - but anecdotal evidence from asking around seems to be that robbers generally carry knives, but your chances of getting killed by a robber with a knife are less than that of a robber with a gun.
It's the guys who might otherwise participate in drive-bys, or try to take out a post office or elementary school, or mug or rob you, who can obtain guns legally in America, can't in Taiwan, and probably won't obtain them illegally here. Those are the guys I'm afraid of - those are the ones most likely to affect me. Restricting gun access keeps guns out of their hands in the way that it doesn't in the USA, and I'm all for that.
In short, "but bad guys will just get guns illegally" is not really a valid argument. Some will, but not the ones likely to kill you, unless you owe Boss Huang a particularly large gambling debt. If you do, good luck t'ya.
(Don't get me wrong, I'd like to see gang violence decrease, too, but I'm more concerned about innocent civilian deaths).
Finally, the lunatics who shoot up schools and kill children? In countries where guns are banned, they tend not to attack with guns. There are still assaults in schools, but the body counts are much lower. Contrary to the pro-gun "but they'll just get guns anyway" line, well, no, they won't. That's something.
Put all this together, and I feel safer in Taiwan. I am happier not having the right to own a gun here, and in return feeling safer. I can walk through "dodgy" neighborhoods: I don't fear for my life in down-at-heel Wanlong, or scruffy, gangster-infested Sanchong, or even olde-tyme gangster haven Wanhua/Longshan Temple. Even late at night, those places do not scare me. I would never walk through similar areas at night in major American cities. I would not feel safe.
"But Hitler and Stalin Took Away Guns! And Look What Happened!"
Yes, they did. China has done the same, and China's certainly not free.
But you know who else took away guns? Modern, safe, democratic Germany, not to mention Japan, the UK (in fact, most of Europe), Australia...and those are the safest countries in the world. "They took our guns!" does NOT automatically equal "They're the next Hitler!"
Quite the opposite, in fact. Those countries tend to be free, democratic, developed and safe. Countries I would be proud and happy to live in. Countries where I would feel free, not like my sacred rights are being taken away.
No Really, Guns Help People Kill People
And you know, countries with fairly liberal gun policies, such as most of Central America (but not all - you can do a search by country here. I've set it to Honduras, where firearms are fairly easy to obtain, because it's consistently ranked as one of the more dangerous countries in terms of gun violence)...tend to be the most dangerous.
I have never felt anything other than safe in Japan, Taiwan and Europe. When we went to Central America, we saw lots of guns (like, really lots of guns, guys, as in, armed guards outside ice cream parlors) and didn't feel particularly safe. In fact, we took great care. In the Philippines, where gun ownership is supposedly restrictive, but in fact are quite common. I didn't feel entirely unsafe, but I didn't feel entirely safe, either. The pistol packed by the kindly old man at the front desk of our hotel in Cebu didn't really assuage my anxiety.
As a good friend has said, guns are designed to kill, or at least to injure or instill fear. They are "fine pieces of machinery" too, but the purpose of that machinery really is to kill. Sure, you can use them for marksmanship, but you can also use blanks, BB guns and do archery for that. So I would just re-name them "killing machines", because that's what they are. That's what they're designed for. That's why you can't compare a lunatic with a gun to a drunk driver and say "should we just take away everyone's cars, too?" - a car is not designed to kill. A gun is. Not comparable.
Then, instead of saying "you're just unreasonably afraid" as a response to "I fear guns", nobody would have much to say to "I fear killing machines". Because who wouldn't?
As someone who lives abroad in a country where it is illegal for civilians to possess firearms, I don't feel as though my rights have been taken away. In fact, I look at my home country, and I am sad for them. I wish the USA could find a way to be as safe, as generally peaceful in day-to-day life, as Taiwan. Where kids really can go to school without fear, where I can walk wherever I like at any time, where even the majority of bad guys don't have guns, and those who do aren't interested in me. I have no emotional attachment to my Second Amendment rights as an American. I don't put it on the same level as my right to certain freedoms, and I think most people in the world would agree: you'd get a lot of people defending the right to free speech and religion (and some detractors, but there are always people like that), and very few outside the USA defending the right to own a gun as equal to those rights above. And I'm with them.
I'd rather feel safe than have that right, and I live in a country where I feel safe. That country is not the USA. I live in a country that is free, that is democratic, that gives its citizens liberty and a voice in government like the USA, but one that is markedly less violent. That's not just a cultural difference, it's a difference in how many guns there are. There are gangs in Taiwan, there are violent people. The two cultures are very different but in this way, not so much. The difference here truly does lie in guns. Not education, not people, not media (between Hong Kong action films, bloody adult anime and Apple Daily gory cartoon depictions of murder scenes, that's just plainly not true), and it's not exactly a God-fearing country in the way Americans would think of one. Also, mental health care isn't that great (there are good doctors but a lot of social stigma and a dearth of treatment facilities, so a lot of people with mental illnesses go untreated). Guns. Not other things. Guns. Fewer guns = fewer deaths, and you can dispute that 'till your ass turns blue (because that's where those arguments come from), but it's just plain true.
Living here has allowed me to observe, to watch the news more carefully and with more personal interest, of what goes on around the world vis-a-vis guns vs. what goes on in the USA (or Central America). It has allowed me to see firsthand how a lot of the myths gun proponents tell themselves are simply not true. It has allowed me to see just how right Jon Stewart is (watch the whole show, I say. It's worth it).
Would I vote "yes" on a repeal of the 2nd Amendment? Yes, I probably would. My desire for fewer guns is greater than my respect for the Second Amendment (another amendment was repealed when it was found not to be working - it's not taboo, in my book, to consider it). Is that likely to ever happen? No. Gun owners need not fear that. Would I be also OK with stricter licensing, broader powers for the ATF (including a true national database) and a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons so that responsible gun owners could keep their guns, and crazies could be kept from the bazookas, and gangsters as away as possible from the sawed-offs? Yes. I'd prefer fewer guns overall. It is not my strongest opinion - those are reserved for civil, gay and women's rights - but I won't fight for another's right to own a gun, as much as they feel they have that right. I won't stand behind them.
So, for this and other reasons, Taiwan is where I'm staying. America can't seem to grow the fuck up on this issue, and I feel sorry for them.
And Now For Something Completely Different: Dihua Street Gets Fresh Lease On Life
I wanted to share it because it's a lovely article, and exhort everyone to spend some time on Dihua Street. I go there often (all my tailoring is done and DIY supplies are bought there, and the food is great) - it's worth the trip to the west end of Taipei.