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Let’s End the Gun Control Charade

The myth that banning firearms would make for a more peaceful society needs to be put to bed.

It seems that on the lips of every commentator and pundit are the words “gun control.” In the wake of tragedy, it’s all too easy to make hasty declarations that appeal to the base, but perhaps, like many decisions made from emotion rather than careful thought, they can lead to more harm than good.

I want to talk about the darker side of the human spirit, the history and culture of one of man’s driving impulses: murder.

As a species, we’ve been killing each other since before we were even human. For those of you who think primates are too innocent to commit murder and brutality, think again. Chimpanzees are wonderful yet violent creatures. Studies show that savagery among chimp groups is shockingly high. Whether it’s the overthrowing of a tyrannical group leader or targeting chimps from other groups when the attackers have numerical superiority, the instances of killings are surprisingly high.

In the past, many argued that any observed violence was due to man’s interference in the lives of these otherwise peaceable creatures, but studies published in 2014 show something very different. In fact, this is now the prevailing view. It turns out that chimp groups murder each other because of Adaptive Strategies. Whether this is a high number of males in a group seeking dominance, or over-population causing resources to be scarce, or even just because it creates better access to resources – such violent strategies are well documented and mostly unquestioned nowadays.

Chimps, of course, don’t use guns, yet the murder rate remains high. Which begs the question: Is it the murder that politicians are trying to stop? If so, banning guns doesn’t seem the most sensible solution.

Throughout history, there have been attempts to curtail violence among the population. But it’s not until the last 100 to 150 years that banning weapons has ever been seriously attempted. Rather rules and regulations — some official, some based on tradition and culture — have been encouraged.

Let’s look at a few examples that still have a direct impact on how we live our lives today.

Why do Americans drive on the right side of the road and Brits on the left? This may not be something you think about on a day-to-day basis, but the roots of this harken back to medieval times. Back then, there was a very good reason to proceed on the left. When riding a horse, a knight wanted to keep his sword arm closer to the person passing the opposite way, which allowed him the opportunity for defense. If someone coming toward him was a threat, he could quickly pull his sword and deal with an attack.

Yet much of this changed for many countries with the advent of big trade, mild coercion, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Napoleon Bonaparte. The custom of riding on the left had been endorsed by Pope Boniface back in 1300 and was pretty much used everywhere. But Napoleon, during the revolution, wanted to upset the apple cart. Wagons that would transport food, goods, and supplies would necessarily be pulled by a team of horses, and the driver would sit on the rear left horse in order to use his guiding whip. Napoleon was enraged that the upper classes would force the workingman to adhere to something that was more beneficial to themselves and demanded that folks begin driving on the right.

This had the added advantage – as he saw it – of preventing people from making surprise attacks on those they passed, unless, of course, the attacker was left-handed.

This spread across the world, but the British refused to adopt any practice promoted by Napoleon. They decided to stick to the left, where they still drive today.

Changing the side of the road was a simple shift that did more to stop random attacks and robberies that ended in death than we can ever calculate.

And what of the British Parliament. If you’ve ever studied a picture of the layout of the House of Commons, you’ll see that one party faces another in rows of seats. But you might think a more circular method would aid in communication. Much like the American Congress.

But there’s a story behind this. The distance between the opposition front benches is actually “two-sword lengths,” presumably because in the earlier days of politics, members wished to engage in duels to settle disputes. That precise distance between opposing politicians was a reminder that they should settle their differences peacefully, rather than with swordplay. But note that banning swords was not their first solution.

Even such commonplace gestures as the salute come from traditions designed over centuries to curb baser human impulses. When knights passed each other on the road or met somewhere, they lifted their helmet visor to display their faces. This action of raising the visor evolved into the salute we recognize today in our military and police forces.

All of these examples temper behavior to make bloodshed less likely. Robert Heinlein, the sci-fi author, wrote in his book Beyond This Horizon: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

And we can see this holds true throughout history.

Think of the duels between the gentlemen of Europe. If the case of an affront, a duel, completely legal, could be arranged. The two parties would meet at an agreed time, bring along their seconds and witnesses, and settle their dispute. This did not always, or even often, result in death. An apology could be made in front of the witnesses or a wide shot could be made – which appeased the matter of honor but resulted in no death. When duels were fought with swords, it was often only to first blood, a harmless scratch that signified something greater.

And then there’s the Wild West, which, despite endless movies depicting climactic showdowns between quick-draw artists, was a relatively peaceful place. If there was a chance that someone you offended could kill you, you probably were far more careful to act responsibly.

Bringing us back to today, the idea that banning guns would lead to fewer deaths is a false one. We need only look to Europe, where terrorist attacks rarely involve guns. Trucks and cars are the new weapon of choice for would-be terrorists. In Nice, France, in 2016, an ISIS-inspired terrorist drove a truck into a crowd of people, killing 87 and injuring more than 400. In 2017, there were around 20 such vehicle attacks. And, of course, knife attacks are so ubiquitous in London that the murder rate is higher than in New York. Guns are all but impossible to get in Europe, so people turn to other means, such as vehicles and knives, to create death and devastation.

People are going to kill each other. Just like chimps. Banning guns won’t stop murder. But understanding history, traditions, and culture may raise an awareness that makes them less likely to happen. Learning from history and making subtle changes to our shared culture can do more to prevent needless death than any heavy-handed legislation or bans. The lessons of our past can shape our future.


Read more from Mark Angelides.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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