#StandWithOrlando: Gun control and human rights

This was originally written in June 2016.

They say that ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.’ Well I think the gun helps. If you just stood there and yelled BANG, I don’t think you’d kill too many people.

– Eddie Izzard

An act of terrorism was committed recently against the LGBT* community in Orlando, Florida. A person with a legally purchased and carried assault rifle murdered 50 people and injured a further 53 (figures correct as of 13th June 2016).

So, here’s a little bit of context which will hopefully help to explain my perspective before I go any further. I grew up with terrorism long before it was a media buzzword and long before anyone flew a plane into an American building and the world started giving a shit. The family friendly euphemism for the constant state of blowing people up and shooting people where I lived was “the troubles”. I’m honestly not sure if this was a political attempt to trivialise the situation or simply a symptom of the people of Northern Ireland getting on with life while the world literally fell down around us. Elsewhere, it was either completely ignored due to occurring on a small island, or romanticised by people who knew nothing about it beyond what they’d seen in Hollywood films. Guns were not available in shops. The vast majority of people who owned and used guns did so far outside of the law. If you wanted a gun, you could get a gun. Not easily. Not from a shop. Not legally. But you could get a gun. So I’m not talking from the perspective of someone who believes that making something illegal will prevent it from occurring.

All that said, mass murders by terrorists in Northern Ireland were generally bombings rather than shootings. Blowing people up is considerably more effective than shooting people when you want to kill lots of them, very quickly, from a distance, especially when the kind of gun required to cause that level of destruction was not actually that readily available. Even in a country with a roaring illegal arms trade, guns were not the go-to tool of choice for mass murder.

I have no issue whatsoever with target shooting as a sport, just as I have no issue with archery, knife-throwing, motor racing or other sports that involve potentially lethal tools. As adult humans, we are, or should be, able to follow guidelines for the safe(r) use and storage of dangerous objects. I DO have an issue with people claiming that a gun is a defensive weapon. Unless you can literally shoot a bullet out of the air, a gun is not a defensive weapon. I am also aware that a gun on its own can’t do anything. It can’t pick itself up, load itself, aim itself and shoot someone (unless there’s some weapons technology out there that I’m not aware of).

Let’s think for a moment about what a gun allows a person to do. With a gun, you can hit a target very quickly and from a distance. With some guns, you can hit a lot of targets very quickly and from a distance. This can be achieved with minimal skill and training, depending on the gun. For a bit of compare and contrast, with a knife you can hit one target reasonably quickly, providing it’s within arm’s length. You could hit a couple of targets if they’re close to each other. With increased skill and training, you could hit one target from a distance, or more if you have a number of knives handy. Obviously by ‘hit a target’ I could also mean ‘end a human life’.

Let’s say one person is trying to stop you from hitting a target with a knife and, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that you don’t object to injuring or killing them. Chances are, one person could possibly stop you. Two or more people could probably stop you. A group of people could almost definitely stop you and they could most likely do it without causing any further injury or death. Now, let’s say you have one of those guns that allows you to hit a lot of targets very quickly from a distance. How many people would it take to stop you? How long with it take for them to do that? Could they even manage it without risking further injury or death? Remember, you are using a weapon that is literally designed to kill lots of people, very quickly, from a distance. That is exactly what an assault rifle is designed to do.

An assault rifle is not designed for shooting targets for sport. It isn’t even designed for hunting animals (don’t even get me started on hunting animals cause that’s a whole other blog post). It is designed for killing lots of people, very quickly, from a distance. I know I’m repeating myself. It’s intentional. I’m trying to make a point. The point is why would anyone want a gun like that and why are they readily and legally available to purchase and carry? This is not a rhetorical question. There is no way anyone could realistically claim that they want an assault rifle for sport or anything other than KILLING LOTS OF PEOPLE, VERY QUICKLY, FROM A DISTANCE.

I know that if assault rifles weren’t readily and legally available to purchase and carry but you really wanted one, you could possibly get your hands on one. It would be a lot easier to get your hands on a smaller gun, one that could kill fewer people in more time from less of a distance. There are plenty of things that are illegal but that people can still get their hands on. To reiterate a point from the beginning of this post, I’m not talking from the perspective of someone who believes that making something illegal will prevent it from occurring. But why make it easier? Why normalise the purchase of guns? Why normalise carrying guns? Why normalise the ownership of weapons designed specifically for mass murder?

I follow the debate around gun control with interest (remember, controlling something is not the same as not allowing it to exist). I’ve witnessed people arguing that they should be allowed to own a safely stored gun for shooting targets in an environment created for that purpose. I understand this perspective. I’ve also witnessed people arguing that not being allowed to buy an assault rifle in a shop and carry it in public is a violation of their human rights. This is just beyond me. I cannot, no matter how hard I try, understand this claim.

I’m not saying that if people couldn’t buy assault rifles in shops and carry them in public no-one would ever get shot. Humans are amazing at finding ways to destroy each other.  But if you’re going to tell me, with a straight face, that not being allowed to buy and carry a weapon designed and built specifically to kill lots of people, very quickly, from a distance is a violation of your human rights then you need to go and have a word with yourself about priorities.

My thoughts are with the victims of the horrendous attack in Orlando and with their families, their friends and their community. In the wake of this tragedy, I beg you to consider their human rights.

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