[Ed: Here is “the rest of the story”, concluding Dr. Faria’s wide-ranging piece originally published in Surgical Neurology International in 2012. See out preceding I and II for our sequential excerpts; the full version is at HaciendaPub.com. Please see the original for the author’s references.]
SUICIDE, ACCIDENTAL SHOOTINGS, CHILDREN AND GUNS
Several gun researchers have written about suicides and have linked these fatalities to the availability of guns. Medical critics, however, cite the overwhelming evidence compiled from the psychiatric literature that untreated or poorly managed depression is the real culprit behind the relatively high rates of suicide in the United States and other countries. Moreover, countries such as Japan and Hungary, and those in Scandinavia — all of whom boast of draconian gun control laws and low rates of firearm availability — have much higher rates of suicide (two‑to‑three times higher) than the United States.[7,26,29] In those countries, citizens simply use other cultural or universally available methods, such as Seppuku (Hara‑kiri) in Japan, drowning in the Danube as in Hungary, suffocation by poisonous gases from stoves or automobile exhausts, or hanging and strangulation, as in Denmark and Germany, or even drinking agricultural pesticides, as is commonly done in Sri Lanka. Moreover, in these countries, citizens commit suicide quite effectively by these methods at higher rates than in the United States [Figure 2].
A child’s death from any cause is a tragedy. In the United States in the year 2000, 600 children and adolescents died of accidental gunshot wounds, 2,700 perished in motor vehicle accidents, 3,600 children died from burns, 3,900 died from drowning, and 12,100 died from poisoning.* These are all tragedies, but do we want to ban automobiles, matches, swimming pools, and household chemicals? Firearm accident rates in the United States have been declining steadily since the turn of the century, because of the emphasis placed on gun safety and education courses, including the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program, which has touched an excess of 11 million youngsters in the United States[7,30] [Figure 3].
As far as adolescent violence is concerned, more than 20,000 laws are already on the books in the United States, including a sizable number of laws pertaining to the proscription of handgun possession by minors and banning guns on school grounds. Yet, despite all the media’s sensationalization of crime, the available FBI statistics for the year 2000 show that, like the not‑so‑well‑known drop in gun accident rates, there has also been a steady decline in homicide rates in every segment of American society. In fact, in the United States, murder and violent crimes have reached 30‑ and 25‑year lows, respectively. The opposite has been the case in Australia and Great Britain.[10,11,32,39]
GUN VIOLENCE AND CIVIL LIBERTIES — AN INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE
Australians learned the lessons of indiscriminate, draconian gun control laws the hard way. In 1996, a criminally insane man shot to death 35 people at a Tasmanian resort. The government immediately responded by passing stringent gun control laws, banning most firearms, and ordering their confiscation. More than 640,000 guns were seized from ordinary Australian citizens.
As a result, there was a sharp and dramatic increase in violent crime against the disarmed law‑abiding citizens, who in small communities and particularly in rural areas were now unable to protect themselves from brigands and robbers. That same year in the state of Victoria, for example, there was a 300% increase in homicides committed with firearms. The following year, robberies increased by almost 60% in South Australia. By 1999, assaults had increased by almost 20% in New South Wales. Two years following the gun ban/confiscation, armed robberies had risen by 73%, unarmed robberies by 28%, kidnappings by 38%, assaults by 17%, and manslaughter by 29%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Interestingly, the same phenomenon occurred in Great Britain. Following a 1996 massacre of school children by a madman in Dunblane, Scotland, the British government banned and ordered the confiscation of most firearms. Since then, a horrific crime wave has taken place in England and Scotland. In 1998, the United States Department of Justice declared that the rate of muggings in England had surpassed those in the United States by 40%, while assault and burglary rates were nearly 100% higher in England than in the United States. To make matters worse for England — and this is also true for Canada — in those countries where citizens are disarmed in their homes, day burglary is commonplace and dangerous because criminals know they will not be shot at if caught in flagrante delicto. The criminals have nothing to fear from disarmed and helpless homeowners. Not so in the United States, where burglars not only prefer night burglaries, but they try to make sure homeowners are not at home to avoid being shot at by the intended victim.[10,29,32]
The Sunday Times of London, on January 11, 1998, wrote, the rising tide of thievery and burglaries in England dubbed Britain “a nation of thieves”. The same article further noted, “More than one in three British men has a criminal record by the age of 40. While America has cut its crime rate dramatically Britain remains the crime capital of the West. Where have we gone wrong?”
It does not have to be this way. A study performed by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention tracked 4,000 juveniles aged 6–15 years, in Denver (CO), Pittsburgh (PA), and Rochester (NY) from 1993 to 1995. The investigators found that children who were taught to use firearms with parental supervision, as in hunting or target shooting, were 14% less likely to commit acts of violence and street crimes than children who had no guns in their homes (24%); whereas, children who obtained guns illegally, did so at the whopping rate of 74%. This study also provided more evidence that in close nuclear families, where children were close to their parents, youngsters could be taught to use guns responsibly. These youngsters, in fact, grew up to be more responsible in their conduct and more civil in their behavior [Figure 4].
CIVILIAN DISARMAMENT, TYRANNY, AND GENOCIDE
Depending on the level of culture and social progress, violence can take different forms in different societies. For example, in the mid‑twentieth century, the communist government of dictator Joseph Stalin killed more Soviet citizens through privation, forced labor, and famine than soldiers who succumbed while fighting the Germans in World War II on the battlefields of Russia.
More recently, in 1994, the Hutu‑led Rwandan government massacred between 800,000 and 1.1 million people, mostly Tutsis, in a genocide carried out largely with machete‑wielding government forces. The massacres took place despite the presence nearby of the United Nation “peace‑keeping” forces, armed with automatic weapons, who failed to intervene.The Tutsis were not only surprised, but also unarmed and helpless.
Civilian disarmament has always preceded genocide in authoritarian and totalitarian states. In the gruesome, but monumental book, Lethal Laws, we learn that repressive governments that conducted genocide and mass killings of their own populations have first always disarmed their citizens. The political formula for accomplishing this goal, hallmarks of tyrannical governments, is and remains: public propaganda against firearms, followed step‑by‑step by gun registration, banning, confiscation, and finally total civilian disarmament. Enslavement of the people then follows easily with limited resistance. This is what happened in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Red China, Cuba, and other totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. In Part I, I presented the reader with short introductory vignettes about the ghastly incidents in Poland, Hungary, and Cuba, as they relate to civilian disarmament in both war and peacetime.
When presented with these deadly chronicles and perilous historic sequences, the popular opinion is “it cannot happen here”. As to the dangers of licensing of gun owners and registration of firearms, the same uninformed respondents frequently retort: “If you don’t have anything to hide, then you don’t have anything to fear!” Followed by, “I see nothing wrong with gun registration and some restrictions on gun ownership, because we have to do something; there are just too many guns out there that fall into the wrong hands.” These naïve attitudes ignore the penchant of governments to accrue power at the expense of the liberties of individuals.[9,15,29,32]
Civilian disarmament is not only harmful to one’s freedom and potentially deadly to one’s existence, but also counterproductive in achieving safety. This has been further attested by University of Hawaii Professor, R. J. Rummel, in his book, Death by Government (1994), and by the French scholar Stéphane Courtois and his associates in their monumental volume, The Black Book of Communism (1999). These books make it clear that authoritarian governments that limit their citizens’ freedom and proscribe them from owning guns are always dangerous to liberty — and the health of humanity. During the twentieth century, more than 100 million
people have been exterminated by their own repressive governments — police states bent on destroying liberty and building communism, socialism, collectivism, and other utopias that turn out to be hells on earth![5,15,16,36,37]
ARMED PEOPLE AND THE PRESERVATION OF FREEDOM
In debunking the myth that “guns increase violent crime,” Richard Poe, the former editor of FrontPage Magazine, has rebutted the false assumption that America is more violent than other nations, again emphasizing that more people during the twentieth century were killed in other countries by their own governments than by war, while reaffirming that gun control laws have almost always preceded genocide or mass murder of the people (democide) by their own governments.[32,36,37]
While the United States and Switzerland have more guns per capita than any of the other developed countries, they also have more freedom in general than countries with draconian gun control laws. Even Japan, a country that has embraced democracy and Western mores in many ways, still has the centuries‑old tradition of subordination of individualism to the state, and the collective Japanese citizens have less individual freedom than those of Switzerland, where virtually every citizen is armed and individual freedom is paramount [Figure 5].
Japan may have a low crime rate, but citizens live in a virtual authoritarian state, where the police keep full dossiers on every citizen, and “twice a year, each Japanese homeowner gets a visit from the local police to update files” on every aspect of the citizen’s home life.[29,32]
Switzerland, on the other hand, a small, landlocked country, stood up against the Nazi threat during World War II, because each and every male was an armed and free citizen. (The Swiss republic was the “Sister‑Republick” that the American Founding Fathers so greatly admired.) Nazi Germany could have overwhelmed Switzerland during World War II, but the price was too steep for the German High Command. Instead, the Nazi juggernaut trampled over Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway, and other countries, and avoided the armed Swiss nation, the “porcupine,” which was prepared for war and its military was ready to die rather than surrender.[22,32]
As to what an armed population, such as those of the original 13 American colonies that later became the United States, did to obtain their independence is a well‑known story. Suffice to say, that the shot heard “around the world” on Patriot’s Day (April 19, 1775) was precipitated when the British attempted to seize the arm depots and disarm the American militia at Lexington and Concord in the Colony of Massachusetts.[23,24] As to what an armed population can do to prevent the overthrow of their government by oppressive, communist movements, I recommend Larry Pratt’s excellent little tome, Armed People Victorious (1990). Armed People Victorious vividly recounts stories of how two countries, as dissimilar as Guatemala and the Philippines, teetering on the brink of disaster, turned defeat into victory, when the governments recognized that allowing and encouraging the people to form armed militias to protect themselves, their families, and their villages from communist insurgents in the 1980s, helped to preserve their freedom.[Figure 6]
Why is this so important to us as physicians? First, because we are all citizens, and we have been educated enough to understand the importance of preserving or attaining freedom. Second, because as neurosurgeons we can be compassionate and still be honest and have the moral courage to pursue the truth and find effective solutions through the use of sound, scholarly research, and factual information. The social problem of guns and violence should be no different.[3,13,14] We have an obligation to reach our conclusions based on objective data, historical experience, and scientific information, rather than ideology, emotionalism, expediency, or partisan politics. Moreover, the lessons of history sagaciously reveal that whenever and wherever science and medicine have been subordinated to the state, and individual freedom has been crushed by tyranny, the results for medicine have been as perverse as they have been disastrous, as the barbarity of Nazi doctors and Soviet and Cuban psychiatrists amply testified. Beyond the abolition of freedom and dignity, the perversion of science and medicine becomes the vehicle for the imposition of slavery and totalitarianism.[1,5,15,16,37,44]
Governments that trust their citizens with guns are governments that sustain and affirm individual freedom. Governments that do not trust their citizens with firearms tend to be despotic and tyrannical. Let us conclude Part II, the final chapter of this essay, with the wise words of another American statesman, this time Thomas Jefferson (1743 – 1826), the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States of America, who warned us, “When the government fears the people there is liberty. When the people fear the government there is tyranny.”
— Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is a retired Clinical Professor of Neurosurgery and Adjunct Professor of Medical History at Mercer University School of Medicine. He is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. He served on the CDC’s Injury Research Grant Review Committee.