On December 14, a young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and gunned down twenty small children and six adults. This tragedy ignited a debate about gun control. The parameters of the debate appear to be demarcated fairly narrowly, meaning that people have tended to either express their positions as "pro-" or "anti-" gun control. I’d assume that this kind of facile debate lends itself well to the two-party system currently in place in the United States. If that's as nuanced as the discussion will get, I might as well say that I'm in favor of limiting access to guns and then proceed to shut up. I will, however, try to expound on a point that I think is related to the issue.
People tend to fall into two camps whenever a debate like this comes up. The first camp clings to the second amendment. To this group, the casualties— though tragic—do not outweigh the “freedom” to legally own guns. This cost-benefit calculation would come off as callous if framed in this way, so opponents of gun control rely on the rhetorical tactic of shifting the blame elsewhere (e.g. “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”). Proponents of gun control counter by affirming that protecting victims and preventing casualties outweighs the “freedom” of legally owning guns, thereby inverting the aforementioned cost-benefit calculation.
My problem with these two competing discourses is that they both focus solely on CIVILIAN access to guns. I don’t understand why there is such a clear distinction between civilian violence and state violence. In other words, it’s always a discussion about freedom vs. protection. Should we enjoy the freedoms of gun possession or protect potential victims of gun violence? Yet both parties seem to implicitly concede that state violence is legitimate, since the state is a benevolent entity that ultimately wants to protect “us” (a discussion of who “we” are is too long to undertake here).
This view of the state as the sole entity that can legitimately commit violence implies that the state only commits acts of violence if it has no other recourse. While this premise is false with respect to ALL nation-states, it is especially fraudulent in the case of the United States, which has the largest military budget in the world by far. The extent to which the US military budget dwarfs all others is darkly comic. If we were to list the top 40 countries in the world in terms of military budget, we'd see that the COMBINED budgets of the countries that rank 2-40 in the world equal less than the military budget of the US ALONE. Let that sink in. The COMBINED military budgets of (in order): China + Russia + France + the United Kingdom + Japan + Saudi Arabia + India + Germany + Italy + Brazil + South Korea + Canada + Australia + Turkey + the United Arab Emirates + Israel + Spain + Holland + Colombia + Poland + Taiwan + Singapore + Greece + Iran + Chile + Norway + Algeria + Belgium + Sweden + Indonesia + Portugal + Pakistan + Mexico + Iraq + Denmark + Switzerland + Thailand + Kuwait + Oman = slightly LESS than the "defense" budget of the United States. This suggests that the very phrase “defense budget” is a euphemism. I am not a pacifist. If my neighbor owned a pistol, and claimed that it was to protect himself, I may feel uneasy, but I wouldn’t doubt his claim. If, however, he owned 16 bazookas and a rocket launcher and claimed that it was to protect himself from burglars…well, then, that just would not fly.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that a debate about violence should be just that. It should not exclude the state from the discussion. I’m all for limiting EVERYONE’S access to weapons (of mass destruction). And all that money “we” don’t spend on “defense”.... Spend a fraction of it on mental health if you’d like.