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Piers Morgan's fairy-tale thinking won't end US gun violence

Craig Medred

CNN talking head Piers Morgan is delusional. There is no other way to describe a transplanted Brit who thinks gun control in America will somehow make the good, old U.S. of A. into some sort of clone of Merry Old England.

England has an enviably low murder rate, no doubt about that. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes pegs it at 1.2 per 100,000 people. The U.S. rate, for comparison sake, is 4.8. The Norwegian rate is 0.6.

Ideally, the U.S. homicide rate would be closer to Norway's than England's. But getting close to England would be great. Unfortunately, fairy-tale thinking of the sort exhibited by Morgan doesn't get anyone closer. There is more to this than just trying to take guns away from average citizens.

There are a lot of guns in private ownership in Norway, close to 1.4 million, or 31.32 firearms for every 100 men, women and children, according to GunPolicy.org. This would mean there is essentially a gun in the home of just about every family of four in that Scandinavian country.

There are not a lot of guns in private ownership in Great Britian by comparison. GunPolicy pegs the UK ownership rate at 6.7 per 100 -- or about a fifth that of Norway.

Were one to draw simpleton conclusions, a person might conclude from that Norway is twice as safe as England because it has five times as many guns in the hands of private citizens. But, of course, the issue of public safety -- for better or for worse -- is more complicated than just how many people own guns or how many rules governments write to restrict their use or ownership.

This is not a simple issue. The homicide rate in Alaska, where guns are everywhere, is 4 per 100,000; in New York City, where the mayor is trying to get rid of guns, the rate is 6.4 per 100,000 -- more than 50 percent higher. Gun control doesn't necessarily work at all.

In South Africa, no one has a right to own a gun. There is no Constitution with a guarantee of gun ownership as in the U.S. You can only get a license to own a gun if you show a need for the weapon, are over the age of 21, pass a thorough background exam, provide a certified third-party character reference, and score high enough on theoretical and practical firearm exams, similar to the sort of tests you'd take for driving a car in Alaska.

The murder rate for South Africa, according to the UNODC is 31.8 or about six times the rates for the U.S. The UNODC does not break out how people are killed. Guns are a problem in South Africa as they are almost anywhere in the world. Guns can kill people. There is no doubt about that. But knives and rocks and beer bottles and fists and tires and a whole bunch of other weapons are also people-killing problems in South Africa, as they are in many places in the world.

Given the murder rate in South Africa, and the vulnerability of any one individual when attacked by a group (no matter what those old Chuck Norris films might lead one to believe), a reasonable individual in that country might well want to own and carry a gun for self-protection. The same could be said of many people in other countries in Africa or Latin America or even some of this country's inner cities.

Porous borders

The homicide rate for Detroit, at 48.2 per 100,000, is even higher than that for South Africa. In Michigan, a license and training are required before anyone can legally buy a handgun. The law does not seem to have done all that much to keep handguns out of the hands of criminals. In Detroit, as in the rest of the country, most murders are committed with handguns. Most of the handguns used in Detroit are illegal. Michigan officials blame the problem on guns smuggled in from other states.

Officials of the Dominican Republic make the same argument. The Dominican Republic is on an island in the Caribbean. Like South Africa, it, too, has gun control. It also has a homicide rate of 25.1 per 100,000 -- more than five times that of the United States.

Gun control is clearly not the panacea Morgan believes it to be. There is, in fact, little reason to believe gun control would do anything to lower the murder rate in this country. The shooting that has caused the latest national crisis -- the horrible attack on school children in Newtown, Conn. -- is unlikely to have been affected by any sort of gun control. The guns used in the crime there belonged to a woman everyone seems to agree was an upright and responsible member of the community. Her own son killed her in order to take her weapons and go on a shooting spree.

Attention has, of course, focused on how one of the weapons was an "assault rifle." An assault rifle is a semi-automatic rifle made up to look like a fully automatic military weapon. Semi-automatic rifles have been ubiquitous in this country since the end of World War II. Surplus parts for the M2 carbine, a WWII assault rifle, were used by a variety of companies after the war to manufacture large numbers of civilian -- meaning semi-auto versus full-auto -- carbines for sale to the public. The U.S. government itself turned a quarter million over to civilians, not to mention the many smuggled back by GIs.

These rifles, like the models used during the war, had wooden stocks, Parkerized barrels and actions, and looked generally like most other semi-automatic rifles of the day. They appeared, without a doubt, less threatening than the all-black, folding-stock, barrel-shrouded "assault rifles" now offered for sale, but they worked the same and were every bit as deadly though nobody called them "assault rifles."

The fear of assault rifles makes it seem more and more likely Congress will consider legislation to define an "assault rifle'' and make the scary-looking guns illegal. This might get the dangerous looking guns off the street, but the guns left behind will be every bit as dangerous. The government could go further and propose a ban on all semi-automatic weapons, but that would surely to run into a firestorm of objections from the millions of hunters who use semi-auto sporting rifles and shotguns while still not going far enough to really change things.

Plenty of crazies, not enough Vikings?

Even a ban on all semi-autos would leave a lot of guns out there with which people could still kill each other. There are now 88.8 guns per 100 people in the U.S., according to GunPolicy.org. To get down to the gun ownership rate of England at 6.7 per 100, the government would have to figure out a scheme to take away about 90 percent of the guns owned by individual Americans. That's Piers Morgan's idea. Even to get down the ownership rate of Norway at 31.32, the U.S. government would have to take away about 35 percent of the guns in the country.

What sort of dope does a journalist have to be smoking to think this is realistically going to happen without setting off some sort of revolution in this country? Morgan might try to make his nonsense look sensible by inviting crazy Texan gun-rights activist Alex Jones on the Piers Morgan television show to rant, but in the cold, hard world of reality, Morgan is every bit as crazy, maybe crazier, than Jones.

Offering up the English model as a solution to America's gun problem doesn't get anyone anywhere. If, indeed, there is a gun problem. The gun homicide rate has been gong down in this country for years as has the homicide rate in general. It needs to go down more. But the simple reality might be that we will never get it as low as the Brits, let alone the Norwegians.

What would be really interesting to know is what transformed Norway. The Vikings of the old Norway had a nasty reputation for roaming the globe to pillage, rape and murder. And now look at them. They are among the most exemplary citizens of the planet. It certainly wasn't gun control that got them there. It certainly won't be gun control that gets us there.

The question is, what will?