Saturday, January 19, 2013

This Country For Old Men

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.

The Setting

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?

In Summary...

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.


cathy said...

yeah for dihua jie! (ill just skip over the gun debate) my grandma lives there and i love visiting and staying with her. (not sure if you ever got my first comment, but your blog helped me a lot with those doable day trip hikes in taipei)

John Scott said...

Thanks for sharing the link.

I'm so glad I became familiar with (and was able to photograph) the blocks and lanes of that whole section of Taipei from about 2001-2, before there was any whiff of renovation.

I don't think the concept of Historical Preservation (widespread in places like western Europe, North America, etc. since the 1970s) really has any correlation in places like Taiwan or China. And that's a shame, because that neighborhood is an important cultural and historical zone for Taiwan. I'm afraid it will renovated into something very different in a few years.

If it becomes popular to go there for the "authentic nostalgia experience", it might end up looking pretty much like all of the other "old-street" developments of recent years.

Anonymous said...

I just moved to Taipei and I accidentally found your blog. So I just wonder that if you would have any advice where I can met new people? I've tried to found something from internet but I haven't found anything. Something where foreign people met each other? Thank you very much. :)

Jenna Cody said...

I wish I had better advice for you than I do! I took a long time to make friends at first, because most foreigners show up and start their social circle either at a fairly busy bar/pub of their choice, or through work. I'm not into the bar scene, especially the expat bar scene, and never have been, and I didn't like my initial foreign coworkers much (two or three of 'em were OK but nobody I saw regularly socially). I tried TEALIT's "friends only" but mostly got a bunch of creepy local guys - and I don't mean all local guys are, just that these ones were - trolling for dates in the 'friends' section, and a few meetups with women I thought were just fine but we had no chemistry (I made two lasting friends from there out of countless meetups). So I would not recommend that either.

I would say check out Taiwanease (the website and facebook group Taiwaneasians) for upcoming events, see if you can find any groups looking for new members, and join those in the hopes of making friends. Another good bet is often Chinese class if you can take a group class. Or if you have foreign coworkers and don't really like them - as I did - try to befriend the Taiwanese ones if possible. The only person from my first school that I keep in touch with is a Taiwanese teacher!

Also, get a language exchange partner- if you have good friendly chemistry it could turn into a nice friendship, and you'll make local friends that way.

When friendly locals chat with you - make sure first they aren't trying to convert you or sell you Amway - have a way to easily exchange e-mails or Facebook. See if you can get any of them to actually hang out with you offline. You probably won't make many lasting friends this way, but you'll meet a lot of people and you might click with one or two of them.

Good luck!

Jenna Cody said...

I will say that for my first six months, as a result of not really liking my coworkers or liking the bar scene, and not being into the only forums available/popular at the time (TEALIT and forumosa), I spent the first six or so months of my life in Taiwan almost completely friendless. I seriously had, like, three friends. Then one left to return to the USA. So I had two. Both were local and due to work schedules and family obligations, I didn't see them often. I was essentially friendless for several months, but you know what? It got better. I did OK. It just took longer. So...don't despair.

Andrea said...

Thank you for so eloquently putting into words how I've been feeling about the gun control debate that's been alive and well on my facebook page since the tragedy in CT. I've been living in Taipei for six months and have felt safer walking at night here than in any city in the US. I, too, find it ludicrous that so many people are concerned about their 2nd amendment rights when the US is faced with so many other problems that are in need of immediate action.

Anonymous said...

This is a great article about the gun control debate in the US. Unfortunately, for several reasons, I seriously doubt that anything will change.

1. The 2nd amendment: gun owners or gun clubs intentionally or not intentionally try to ignore the 1st sentence, a well regulated militia…, and emphasize on ONLY one sentence, the right of the people to keep and bear arms…, in the entire amendment to keep their guns. Then there is not much to do to convince them that they are wrong about the 2nd amendment.

2. Procession: if anyone thinks that it is easy to take a bone away from a dog, then he/she should think twice.

3. Greed: those gun associates certainly won’t give up their revenues by admitting that guns do kill people. They actually love the debate, it is their money making machine.

4. Power: the more money those gun associates make, the more power they gain to control the government.

5. Paranoia: how to fix this mental issue? This is the 21st century, there is still no cure for any mental issue. Unless they all get doped up at all times.

6. It only takes one person. Clinton went through hell to ban the assault weapons. GW Bush lifted that ban without a fight. Unless from now on, the US always elects a Democrat president. That is a delusion.

Too bad.

Mike Fagan said...

Properly understood, private firearm ownership is legitimized by the moral right to private property, not the merely legal 2nd Amendment - which leads directly to a more general point: in discussions of "rights" it is often useful to distinguish "is" from "ought", i.e. to distinguish between that which is socially accepted and legally instantiated (e.g. 2nd Amendment) from that which ought to be socially accepted and legally instantiated (e.g. rights to private property).

Part of the reason for this is that governments do not generally deal in rights but in permissions, which is what the 2nd Amendment actually is: a conditional permission subject to revocation. That is the reason there is even a "debate" - because the Republicans base their "gun-rights" arguments on a fucking permission slip from the headmaster.

Jenna Cody said...

One does not have the right to own every kind of private property, though. Bombs, certain drugs, nuclear material or weapons, etc.. I see no reason not to file certain (most, but maybe not all) guns I to that category. Unless you are arguing that it should be also legally your right to own, say, a truckload of heroine or a nuclear warhead. Then...well, you have fun with that, but you won't get me to agree with you. I don't even believe that's a proper argument.

Doesn't matter, though. The point of this post is that I am happier living in a country - a safer country - where, no matter what you want to argue vis a vis rights and permissions - gun ownership is not a right. And I prefer it that way.

Not would I vote to expand or protect tis right in the USA, and my vote has just as much weight as yours, brah.