The Australian press are so desperate for a change in US gun laws and so in love with President Obama that they have started to make stuff up. Yesterday the Sydney morning herald had the headline “Obama Says Time for Change on Gun Control”. The ABC online had “Obama Flags Gun Control Changes” and The Australian had “Obama vows to act on gun control”. What are they talking about? Since the school shooting tragedy in Connecticut President Obama has not even said the word ‘gun’ in public.
President Obama is not going to spend political capital on changing gun laws because the US public is not much interested in gun law reform. I am not criticising President Obama here – he has other fish to fry and could spend all of his political capital and still not enact meaningful gun control measures.
The reason that gun control is not a central issue in the US, even though over 9,000 people were murdered by gunfire last year, is because Americans don’t feel unsafe. The murder rate per 100,000 people is about 4.0 in the US in 2012 (down from 10.4 in 1980) and about 1.0 in Australia. However the murder rate among white Americans is about 2.0 because the murder rate among black Americans is nearly 20 (down from nearly 40 in 1980). Half of all the victims of homicide in the US are African American even though African Americans are only 10% of the population. In the figures quoted here ‘white’ means not African American.
I don’t know what the murder rate is among people who vote in the US, but I bet it is much less than the national average because voting rates are much higher among older voters who are much less likely to be murdered. My guess is that murder rates, and the rates of other serious crimes for the group of white Americans who consistently vote in national elections is not much higher than serious crime rates in Australia. White Americans who vote are just not in much danger of being victims of violent crime.
The frontier mentality is still strong in much of the US and it is expressed in attitudes to violence. In US history from the early 1600s until the late 1800s most European Americans lived in communities that they viewed as well ordered, peaceful and civic. But, they recognised that outside these communities, in frontier parts of America, there was a lot of violence. I think that attitude lives on in the US. Most Americans live in well ordered, peacful communities and they are neither concerned, nor think it unnatural that other parts of America are riven by violent gangs and drug fueled domestic violence.
Many people outsider the US seem to think that the majority of Americans are desperate for gun control and that those reforms are just being held up by the “over my dead body” attitude of a small percentage of crazy people in the US. But that is not true. Most Americans are indifferent to gun control. The majority of Americans who consistently vote don’t view their society as particularly violent. There may be parts of America that are nearly lawless, but so what? It was always thus. Most Americans don’t have gun control high on their list of priorities for improving America. I lived in America for seven years. People hardly ever talk about gun control. It is not a big issue.
President Obama knows this. He knows that he has to utter some vague comments about changing things at a time of national mourning andd to satisfy gun control advocates in his party. But, he won’t even say the word ‘gun’; that is how little capital he is prepared to spend on this issue. Who can blame him. For most Americans gun control is not an issue and for a small percentage of Americans it is the only issue.