Two men with guns killed a bunch of people, nine in the US Church shooting at Charlseton, South Carlina and thirty eight on the beach in Tunisia. Both men were fuelled by hateful philosophies that reduce the value of human life of certain prescribed groups and renders murder a moral act, worthy in their eyes – and the eyes of their sympathizers – of heroic status.
Following the US shooting, the response has been twofold: first there is the obvious racism and the reopening of the debate on the seething undercurrent of violent racism. Secondly, there has been once more a tired cry from those who believe guns are at the heart of such disturbingly regular events, as the number of guns in circulation in the US outnumbers the population. This second part was drowned out effectively over the (legitimate) flap about the flag. In Tunisia, the idea that the problem might have to do with gun ownership wasn’t even considered. Rather the rhetoric in Britain has been combating ISIS and Radical Islam and in Tunisia of closing mosques of Jihad-inveighing Imams and increasing hotel security. The second because we know, you know, everybody knows, that the first is not going to work.
So why don’t we talk about gun control? Why don’t we have the same debate worldwide? Why don’t we just make the private ownership of firearms illegal and piecemeal then we can start also disarming the police? This would be possible. Every year the US manufactures approximately five million small arms. It is ranked as a major supplier of arms, while the UK is a mid-level supplier, with hundreds of thousands of weapons sold to the rest of the world and the EU responsible for a million per year exported beyond its borders. The Sudan has suffered a long apparently endless civil war, but there are no arms factories in Sudan. The guns are all sold to this country by developed countries, far from the blood shed. In South Sudan, estimates of gun ownership are hazy but anywhere between a million and three million guns are in circulation in that country without counting the police or the army.
So here’s a stupid idea. Let’s just make the manufacture and selling of arms illegal. Let’s control it as tightly as we try and control the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Forget hunting, target practice, posing for Facebook pictures after you’ve just shot something magnificent. And don’t talk about the amount of money the trade produces, or the number of jobs. It is an immoral and irrelevant argument. The slave owners, merchants and traders all took a hit when the Atlantic slave trade was abolished. The end of World War Two saw a notable fall in the sales of Zyklon B. But no one would claim that was a counter-argument to stopping the holocaust or the slave ships. At least not now.
The racism and religious fanaticism that informed Dylann Roof and Abu Yahya Qayrawani cannot be defeated completely. And as it is reduced and grows weaker, like an injured animal it will become more spectacularly violent in the dying throes. Aiming for the shooter, or for the wispy ideology behind the shooter, is a tactical error. There will always be violent young men willing to kill and die for something. But if we can somehow take the weapons out of their hands, then we can find them and lock them away before they do too much harm to themselves or others.
The fact that this idea seems so naïve, so beyond the pale: not even up for debate – gives me the impression that deep down, at heart, it is fundamentally right.
John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.