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175 - Stilling the Killing Fields: Getting Guns off the Streets
“Some people say it’s not the gun that shoots the bullet but a man. But if that man doesn’t have gun, the evil in his head can’t do any harm.” Those are the words not of some anti-gun violence agitator in the United States, but of a right-wing, autocratic, president of Serbia, the Balkan Republic that is friendly to Putin and often hostile to Ukraine.
Following two sudden back-to-back mass shooting incidents in and near Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, last week, President Aleksandar Vucic declared war on guns in civilian hands. Seventeen people were killed and 21 injured in the two incidents. A seventh-grader shot eight fellow students in one attack and another random assailant the next day killed eight more, this time villagers.
After the unexpected massacres, Vucic immediately promised his nation “the almost complete disarmament” of his country and its 7 million inhabitants. He also declared a two- year halt to new licensing of guns of any kind. He warned all of the nation’s shooting ranges that they would receive enhanced surveillance.
To help achieve his laudable objective, seemingly welcomed by most citizens, Vucic gave Serbians one month to surrender illegal weapons of all kinds without penalty before he took them away forcibly and imposed stringent regulations regarding the ownership and use of any home arsenals.
In the first week, Serbians gave up more than 13,500 illegal and legal pistols and rifles. The police also collected 461,000 rounds of ammunition, hand grenades, and 884 other explosive items, including 771 bombs and anti-tank rocket launchers.
The authoritative Geneva-based Small Arms Survey estimates that Serbia held at least 2.7 million firearms, half unregistered and illegal, in 2017. It ranked Serbia third in the world per capita for gun ownership after the United States (!) and Yemen, which has been mired in combat since 2015. The Belgrade government believes that 400,000 Serbians legally owned guns before the recent voluntary surrender.
Serbian police also raided homes throughout the country to confiscate caches of arms, subsequently charging a range of residents with the illegal possession and trafficking of weapons and explosives. After the amnesty period ends, Serbians with unlicensed guns and explosives will face prison sentences as long as fifteen years.
Serbia is only the most recent country to restrict gun ownership following episodes of mass violence. Britain banned semiautomatic weapons in 1987 and handguns in 1996, the latter after a nasty school shooting spree. Firearm offenses have decreased steadily since 2004, falling by half since 2011.
Australia purchased guns from civilians after a mass shooting in 1996, removing 20 percent of privately held weapons from circulation. That action produced significant reductions in gun-inflicted injuries, homicides, and suicides. Canada started imposing strict gun-control measures after a mass shooting in 1989. Germany did so in 2002 and New Zealand in 2019.
In every case, fewer guns have meant fewer homicides and suicides. That is a clear lesson for these United States. There is a direct causal connection, not just a possible association, between fewer guns and fewer killings. In no country since 1980 has reducing lethality (guns) meant more deaths from guns. Indeed, even in the United States, the Congressionally-legislated ban on assault weapons (AR-15s and their like) from 1994 to 2004 led to substantially fewer mass shootings and killings overall.
Since increased gun ownership permissiveness, especially that of assault arms, and the mere existence of abundant guns of all kinds, we in the U.S have experienced wave after wave of school shootings, mall shootings, attacks on innocent or hapless bystanders, and unspeakable random attacks everywhere. The latest was yesterday in New Mexico.
More than 200 persons, including 5-year olds, have lost their lives horrifically since the first of this year. (Last year the total was 646 in mass shootings.) Both are shameful totals that we should drape around the consciences of all of the legislators, politicians, and Supreme Court justices that have enabled each slaughter of the innocents.
The Second Amendment mandates state militias to bear arms. In those years the fear was that Britain would attempt to recapture these United States. It also authorized bearing arms against internal rebels (like those who followed Daniel Shays and other debtors in 1786-1787 in central and western Massachusetts). But nothing but a politicized National Rifle Association-sponsored initiative could provide readings of the Second Amendment that allowed all Americans, by right, to buy and use lethal long guns and hand guns (supposedly) to protect themselves. Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia understood that nuance in his majority opinion in DC v Heller in 2013.
Just as President Vucic has acted in Serbia, we as Americans we must demand that all of of our leaders at all levels act to undo the massive mischief that the Supreme Court’s radical Second Amendment holdings have visited on Americans. Real democrats can stanch the American killing fields just as Vucic (and Britons and Australians before him) is curtailing gun ownership in Serbia. Let us learn wisely from others. American lives are valuable, too.,