There is another rhetorical meme that is common when discussing violence and gun control that bothers me: An armed society is a polite society. It sounds believable yet it gives me a creepy sensation.
Why is that?
The idea behind this statement is the assumption that people will be less likely to say something rude or act belligerently if there is a greater likelihood that the target of their ire is armed. In other words, as the chance that you have a gun increases, my willingness to express anger decreases. People who cling to this desire for an armed society believe that people will stop picking fights in there is a good possibility that everyone has a concealed weapon.
Politeness doesn’t exist under duress or obligation or anticipation of lethal retaliation. That is not what it means to be polite. That is called fear. An armed society is not a polite society; it is a society that is afraid. A fearful society is not a safe society. Terror engages our flight or fight mentality. People act stupid when they are scared.
However, the idea of stockpiling weaponry is somehow responsible for creating polite citizens is backed up by statistics. Well, allegedly supported by numbers, as demonstrated here.
The best lies are wrapped in a shred of truth. Yes, both nations have comparable population in terms of gross numbers, however the demographics are vastly different. Honduras does have the highest homicide rates of any nation on earth. Switzerland’s homicide rate isn’t the lowest, but it is extremely low. But the factual statements in the infographic end there.
Are Swiss citizens required to own a gun? Well, yes and no. The government requires all men to enlist in mandatory military service and all members of the military are issued a gun. However, the soldiers can only bring the gun home without ammunition and all government issued weapons are returned upon completion of military service. Civilian gun ownership is allowed but far more restrictive than the above infographic implies: automatic weapons are banned. Concealed weapons require a license, and there is a mandatory background check for all handgun purchases.
What about Honduras? Handguns are the weapon of choice in a vast majority of their murders. Analyzing the map to study the geographic location of deaths in Honduras, it is easy to see that most killings are related to drug trafficking – a problem that is nearly non-existent in Switzerland. And Honduras doesn’t ban guns. Most of the 9mm guns used in violent crimes were legally purchased. Watchdogs describe gun laws in Honduras to be less restrictive than other nations in the region from Brazil, to Venezuela, to Mexico.
Guns are readily available and legal in both Honduras and Switzerland. Yet one nation has the highest murder rates in the world and the other experiences very few homicides. Both societies are armed, but one is clearly more polite than the other. What is the difference? Perhaps some additional comparisons could be relevant.
Consider some of the nations with lower murder rates than Switzerland: Japan, Singapore, Iceland, Monaco. Their gun laws are extremely restrictive and they all see less than 0.5 homicides per 100,000 population. These countries are industrialized, wealthy, and educated. At the other end of the list ranking intentional homicides by country, the top ten with the most murders include many of Honduras’ neighbors: El Salvador, Venezuela, Belize, and Guatemala. These are uneducated, impoverished, and caught up in drug-trade; some are governed by militaristic regimes.
We have one set of nations with gun laws ranging from strict to permissive with low rates of violent deaths. The other set of nations also have gun laws ranging from strict to permissive but experience the higher rates of homicide than anywhere else in the word. What sets the two groups apart is not an accessibility or lack of weapons. The laws in these nations have minimal impact on gun violence within their borders. The difference between the peaceful and the dangerous nations is a matter of economic and educational opportunities.
An armed society is not a polite society. Perhaps the best phrasing might be that an educated society is a polite society.