A Letter from Norway on our Epidemic of Mass Shootings

By John L Hanson | (Informed Comment) | – –

Why is it easier to buy a gun than to board a Plane?

Why doesn’t America change their weapon law?

What is your view on the Gunlaw in the USA?

I am teaching in Norwegian Upper Secondary schools this academic year as a Fulbright Scholar in American Studies, on leave from my job in an American high school. One way I engage reticent Norwegian teens is to let them write a question they have about America on a Post-it style note and and confidentially stick it to a designated space in the classroom for me to address at the end of the lesson. The above are samples of earnest questions posted about gun violence in America by Norwegian teens.

The questions are not abstract for them. US gun laws affect other countries. Norway prohibits the sale of clips for hunting rifles that hold more than three bullets. So mass murderer Anders Breivik just ordered clips from the United States.

My privilege is to travel the whole of Norway and engage students and teachers in topics about American history and culture. Whether I like it or not, I am seen as an ambassador for America and someone who has to answer the most pressing issues in our society. Too often I cannot give an answer. Responses I can offer, but answers have been few.

These are old questions from young minds. I have struggled for an answer that I could live with and is achievable, I finally have an answer: The Second Amendment may have guaranteed a right to bear arms. But it states no right to mass killing.

The Bill of Rights was adopted in 1789. In the late 18th Century, the state of the art in personal weapons allowed one person to use a firearm to kill one other person, period. The muzzleloader, with it’s slow rate of reloading, limited range, and sensitivity to weather made mass homicide impossible and inconceivable.

Yes, one committed killer could harm another but then the assailant would face immediate and violent retribution. The muzzleloader perhaps was no more dangerous than a long knife or a cudgel.

The language of the Second Amendment is static, technology is dynamic. Today, one committed person can kill scores of people, innocent civilian citizens whose occasion of geography condemned them to death. This cannot be tolerated.

Yet a law exists that can support a way forward, the National Firearms Act of 1934. The Act made possession of fully automatic rifles very difficult, too difficult for them to be anything feared by the public. A special excise tax, a rigorous federal background investigation, and federal recording of transfer, made acquisition of fully automatic firearms extraordinary.

When we think of machine guns we think of danger and the great responsibility that generally the military alone has to use them – because they are so lethal. Because machine guns are so deadly we have chosen to attach extraordinary responsibility to their ownership. The same must now be done for the civilian implements of mass homicide.

The idea of “mass homicide” is a powerful mental frame. Imagine using mass killings as a criterion when considering firearms and related equipment. Can this device readily facilitate mass homicide: Yes or No?

One fight will be over detachable ammunition magazines, as it should be. A deer hunting rifle that holds four rounds in an internal magazine is capable of mass homicide but reloading individual rounds makes it slow, especially if the rifle is manually cycled. A firearm with a detachable magazine is more capable of mass killing. And if the gun is automatically loaded and with a detachable magazine, then we know all too well the consequences.

In practical terms a scale will be best to assign increasing responsibility to firearms with greater potential for mass homicide. Imagine a four-level scale to categorize the level of lethality and responsibility. Level one would require minimal scrutiny for firearms like black-powder muzzleloaders. Level four would be maximum scrutiny for firearms that have high potential for mass homicide. What most people think of as assault rifles would join machine guns at this level.

Taking on “mass homicide” can earn support from hunters and firearm users. One, it is hard to argue against. Two, it’s not a ban but an extra measure of security for the public. Without some support from gun owners, progress will be nigh on impossible.

Staunching the carnage of mass shootings seems a tall order, yet there is a way forward though: a path towards more containment and increased responsibility. We can find that way forward through new language and paradigms to usher in a future where the carnages of San Bernardino, Colorado Springs, Charleston… Newtown… Stockton, and too many other American geographies, cannot be repeated. They damage our psychology, our rule of law and our reputation abroad.

As a teacher I like to have answers. In Norway, I have gotten too many questions about mass-gun violence in America to shrug off the problem as of our incredible idiosyncrasies. My Norwegian students deserve better as does the American public.

John L. Hanson, Ed.D.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Bloomberg Business: “Here Are Obama’s New Executive Actions on Gun Control”

Posted in Guns | 6 Responses | Print |

6 Responses

  1. One reason why it is harder to board a plane is because of a whole regime of Security Theater and Mass Public Obedience Training designed to get the flying masses to accept absurd and surreal conditions of “search” and “what you can take on a plane”. ( By the way, rich people can buy their way out of all that with special passes and really rich people get flown around in their own private planes and don’t undergo any security checks at all. Security checks are for us near-plebs who have to take the Subways in the Sky).

    Obama’s precious No Fly List is a political persecution and oppression list which Obama and the National Security State know very well. If another occupy movement gets going, or anti FreeTrade protesters want to fly to a FreeTrade conference, watch how fast they get put on the No Fly List. And Obama expects Congress to base gun access on such a thoroughly and purely political list? His expectation may be optimistic.

    Sensible gun safety laws will be discussed by conservatives, we hope . . . some day. But anti-gun liberals have poisoned the “gun safety debate” well so thoroughly that every further attempt they make to push their version of gun safety will only result in more millions of guns being bought by pissed-off citizens.

    Don’t believe me? Lets see how much currently-legal gun sales go up in the several months after Obama’s latest effort.

  2. The second amendment is not abolished because firearms are omnipotence props to juvenile mentality. The sooner we mature the greater the chances of saving the USA and stop harming folks abroad.

  3. The U.S. firearms epidemic is the result of a living-in-the-past U.S. Congress permitting blatantly irresponsible profit-driven private sectors to self-manage the public good. By employing media-driven Second Amendment hysteria, manipulating lobbyists and supporting pandering politicians, the unfettered firearms manufacturers are abetting a completely OUT OF CONTROL slow-motion human slaughter within our country.

    And the private-sector solution? MORE GUNS!

    The President is very correct in his actions. The only criticism being the delay. But this is a start.

  4. The majority of gun violence is suicide and gang-related. That’s a symptom of the real underlying disease affecting Americans. Why is no one talking about how to eliminate gangs? And working on the jobs needed to prevent suicides? Taking a gun out of the hands of suicidal people only means they’ll use something else. Let’s focus on solving problems. Let’s look at the real symptoms of what’s occurring: rampant obesity, a rise in service jobs, an increase in gangs, the break-down of the family unit, an increase in people living like sardines in crowded, competitive, smoggy cities with stress-filled lives, the loss of traditions that brought people together in community, the lack of neighborliness, the fear of strangers, and on and on.

    I live in rural farmland America — no violence here. Also we’re financially comfortable, there’s no gangs here, Church bell rings every Sunday and people walk to church where community is formed, all of the neighbors are known and help each other, multiple generations of families are here and are connected tightly, no smog, no freeway, no traffic and guns in every home. Shootings? zero

  5. I think far too many people are buying the Big Lie propagated by the NRA.

    No Supreme Court (before now) ever thought the 2nd Amendment applied to individuals.

    The 2nd Amendment was written to protect Americans from the Greatest Threat To Liberty.

    A Standing Army.

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