Guns and Pizza: The USA vs Europe
Jim Blair

USA vs Europe and the industrialized world?

Much has been make on the net about the US and Europe being different: the US as more "libertarian" and Europe as more "welfare/socialist" Both sides tend to agree with this, and cite figures of 20% GNP going through government in the US vs 30-40% in Europe, Canada and Japan This idea has some LIMITED merit, but is overdrawn: if you add state and local taxes to federal figures for the USA, it is more like the 30% of the other industrial nations (most of them don't have state taxes in addition to the national taxes). And most European countries plus Canada are cutting back "social services" that they are discovering they can't afford.

They and we are (for better or worse) very much alike: what are called "capitalist liberal democracies" in The End of History and the Last Man. (See my book review). I think the biggest differences between Europe/Japan/Canada and the US are in the attitudes towards guns and cars.

Did you see the report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (in Paris) that was just released? It was summarized in the Sunday paper. It claims that accounting for income, prices and taxes, people in the USA are better off than those anywhere else except Luxembourg. They rate Luxembourg at 130, USA 120, Switzerland 115, Japan 108, with Belgium and Norway tied at 106. Germany is 102 and Italy 101.

Their numbers are units on a scale of 0 to 200 and are only meaningful relative to each other. But they claim almost all Europeans have a harder time making ends meet than Americans do. It is good to keep things in perspective.

And note that there is not much difference (percentage wise) between people in any of these countries: the BIG difference is between ANY of these and the 3rd world people.

Dan Day has put out several pages of data correlating GRI (legal availability of guns) with lower crime rates for the 50 US states. But where would the various European countries fit if included? They all have 0 GRI, but how do their crime rates compare to US states? My impression is comparable property crime but lower homicide. Is that accurate? I hear of blatant purse snatching in most major European cities, but fewer murders-and especially many fewer deaths by guns. We have all seen the figures showing a typical year with around 10,000 gun deaths in the USA vs 10-50 in almost any other industrialized country in the world. Even correcting for the larger population, the US is much higher. Murder rates are reported to be much lower Europe and Japan than in the US. (of course, in a country of very clever killers, the "murder rate" would be LOW; the "unfortunate accident" rate HIGH)

There are two ways to look at guns, and two different kinds of society that result. If no one else has a gun, there is no need for ME to have one either. But if many others have guns, and especially criminals, then I need one for protection. These two views correspond to the European and American thinking.

Lots of ways to slant the results

Supporters of guns want to restrict the discussion to crime, and stress that interviews with criminals in prison reveal that they fear a potential victim with a gun more than they fear the police. They want to dismiss the cases of unstable people shooting up restaurants, trains and work places as being anomalous "nut cases". Opponents of guns include suicide deaths and accidents and stress "emotion surge" cases of someone with no record of a criminal past grabbing a gun and shooting someone in a moment of anger. Where is the truth?

It is clear to me that the "emotion surge" and "nut case" deaths would be lower if guns were less available. (But there is always nerve gas and explosives for the determined "nut case") On the suicides, guns make it easy, but I recall Sweden and Japan having high rates and with guns not being very available, they find other ways. Drive-by shooting victims and bystanders of gang fights would be safer if guns were less available. Many gun advocates recognize the need for safety, and want trigger locks and/or keeping guns unloaded. But this is not consistent with the reason for the gun: protection. It must be loaded and easy to grab. And if kids find it while playing?

My bias

No one is completely objective on the subject of guns. I would rather live in a society where no one has a gun than one where everyone has one. But I also am enough of a realist to know that this won't happen in the US in the near future. Maybe someday, but not in my lifetime. And some of the token measures proposed (city wide gun bans, as recently passed in Madison, are less than useless). I do support stopping the sale to civilians of military hardware: assault guns, artillery, stingers, tactical nuclear warheads, etc.

I have always believed in the "original intent" doctrine of interpreting the constitution: it means just exactly what the authors meant when they wrote it. Meaning does not evolve with time. So to me, the second amendment is clear: everyone in a well regulated militia is free to have a muzzle loading flintlock rifle.

The factor that dare not be discussed

Much has been made of the comparison of gun deaths in two cities that are similar in many ways: Seattle and Vancouver. Gun deaths are much higher in the US city (where guns are readily available) than in the Canadian one (where they are banned). Point for gun control? But looking deeper shows another disturbing factor. The difference is due almost entirely to deaths of and/or by African-Americans.

Poverty breeds crime and violence you say? Vancouver also has a poor lower class. But they are recent immigrants from Asia. They live in poverty but their kids do well in school, and no one worries about then becoming an underclass. We all know their poor kids will grow up to go to college and become doctors and scientists, and in a generation will be above the average income. But the African-Americans will continue to drop out of school and fall into poverty, and kill each other with guns.

Is it because of race? Maybe. But there is at least one other possible explanation. Almost all the Asian kids in Vancouver (and in the US) have a father that is married to their mother. This is not the case for most poor African-American kids. Is this the key to our gun/crime problem?

PS to Europeans: There is a certain lack of gratitude in criticizing the US for getting into wars, when our biggest one in this century was to liberate you from Nazi occupation. And when Holland lets in as many 3rd world immigrants as the US does, we will be more open to your suggestions about discrimination.

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