There is a surprising lack of discussion about the strong correlation between lack of gun control laws and the extent of police brutality, though the two seem closely intertwined. It seems strange that we prefer discussions on gun control over the discussions of the individual after a mass shooting, but in cases of police brutality, the onus comes not on the guns which do the shooting but on the individuals who pull the trigger. Given the unacceptably high frequency of each crime, it seems that both types of crime should be analyzed systematically rather than on a case-by-case basis, in order to prevent further occurrences.
At the time of writing this article, there have been 821 incidents of people have been shot and killed this year by police, and of those, 649 of those killed possessed a deadly weapon at the time, while 614 followed violent crimes (i.e. shootouts, stabbings, hostage situations, assault etc.). Of the 76 that were unarmed, 26 were black, while 205 out of 821 of those shot and killed had confirmed signs of mental illness.
Compare this with developed countries with far stricter gun laws and lower gun ownership rates and the results are, quite frankly, shocking. American cops kill more civilians in a day thanNorwegian cops have in a decade. In two decades,Australian cops killed almost as many civilians as American cops did in the month of March of 2015. This is a disturbing contrast for a country that considers itself ‘The Greatest in the World.’ While I am by no means denying the need to discuss race and mental illness as roles in police brutality and gun crime in general, it seems clear that the most common element in police brutality is the presence of guns themselves.
While it is easy to criticize cops for being too quick to reach for the gun—and more often than not, in the case of police brutality, it is correct to do so—we must understand that policemen, being humans, experience fear as well. There is sufficient evidence that explains why police officers fear for their lives when going out on patrol in bad neighborhoods. Keep in mind thatofficers are three times more likely to be murdered in high gun ownership states. It is therefore far more understandable and, more importantly, acceptable, for a police officer to draw his weapon in America than it is in any other country.
In Darren Wilson’s testimony, he claims that no other intermediate weapon was available for use at the time. He was not carrying a Taser or using pepper spray because it was“uncomfortable,”and his baton at the time was inaccessible. It is clear therefore that this is not just a case of being in the “heat of the moment”, but that Wilson was mentally prepared before this incident to use his gun if anything went wrong. This fact is incredibly disconcerting.
In a highly developed country, a police officer should be comfortable using alternatives to guns in live duty. And even though law enforcement officers need to be armed and trained to use firearms, it should be expected — since they are merely humans — that some level of discomfort will be felt by officers when they draw and shoot a lethal weapon. The apparent lack of this shows that there is a culture amongst American cops that leads them to believe that the use of firearms is not a big deal, and that it is not the last resort. Moreover, this culture has reduced the accountability and sensitivity attached to the consequences of using a firearm.
In order to prevent further crime, we must stop unnecessarily categorizing different types of gun crime and regard it as one issue. The fact of the matter is that America does extraordinarily poorly in all variations of gun crime, whether it be massacres by the mentally ill, gang violence, hate crimes, or police brutality. Mental illness, racism and ignorance are problems that most definitely exist in America that need to be addressed directly and immediately; however, since they are deeply complicated and subjective issues, they will take generations to fully resolve. For relatively quick change to occur, strict gun control reform must happen, as indicated by the experiences of countries like Australia and Japan.
Although guns are deeply ingrained in American culture and the American mindset for many, we can only begin to erode the unhealthy proclivity for using and protecting guns by weaning them out of our society’s consciousness. It is up to politicians to understand that, statistically, the overall societal consequences of high gun ownership far outweigh personal benefits. So far, progress on this issue has been disappointing, but one can only hope that one day Congress will open its eyes to the blatant facts.