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TIM MAYLANDER: Gun culture leads to more shootings, police militarization

Wednesday, September 3, 2014 | 6:20 p.m. CDT; updated 4:29 p.m. CDT, Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tragedies always cause the public to ask the tough questions that are hard to answer. The shooting of Michael Brown is no exception.

Some people are asking why an unarmed black 18-year-old with his hands in the air was shot by a white police officer. They want to know why the police force is disproportionately white while the community is mostly black.

Others want to know why this "gentle giant" was a suspect in a robbery and had an altercation with the officer who eventually shot him. These people want to know why Brown's death justifies the looting of businesses and rioting in the streets.

But one underlying string of questions is starting to receive national attention in light of the Ferguson shooting and riots: Why do our officers shoot first and ask questions later? Why does the police department need to use tear gas and tanks?

These types of questions all revolve around the militarization of our police force, and there's no debate that's happening. In recent years, our police force is looking more and more like a paramilitary group than the traditional friendly patrolman on the street corner.

Why the change? It's quite simple, really. Police need to be better armed than the people they have to arrest. And in today's world, that means our boys in blue need to up their arsenal.

Make no mistake about it: Incidents like the one in Ferguson are the price America pays for having the Second Amendment in our Constitution and fostering a culture of guns throughout our nation. And that culture is growing.

Americans own guns at a rate of almost 90 guns per 100 people. That's easily the highest rate in the entire world. The next highest rate comes from Yemen at almost 55 guns per 100. No other nations go above 50.

As more guns flood the market, especially now that assault-style weapons are popular, our police force has no choice but to stay one step ahead of the public. When the average citizen is armed to the teeth, how else can the police be expected to protect and serve?

This is especially true for states that don't have restrictions on gun ownership or states that allow conceal and carry. And thanks to a new constitutional amendment Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved just last month, we're about to fall into both of those categories.

Do we realize that the rest of the world is laughing at us? In Great Britain, there were just three incidents where police discharged their firearms all of last year.

The number of people fatally shot? Zero.

Japan has all but outlawed guns from its islands to the point where not even the yakuza — Japan's organized crime syndicate — carry them for the most part, which dispels the argument that if we outlaw guns, only criminals would have them.

Their percentage of gun-related murders per capita? Virtually zero.

Yet in America — and in Missouri in particular — the trend is to remove restrictions, not to add them. As a result, we enjoy a firearm homicide rate of almost 20 times the average of most developed countries.

When citizens can carry concealed weapons without a background check and without any restrictions on ammunition or accessories, it's unsurprising that cops reach for a handgun instead of a Taser.

Gun advocates will say that for every bad guy with a gun, at least 10 good guys have guns. But until police find a way to know in a split second which category a suspect falls into, they have to assume the worst and act accordingly.

Other factors absolutely come into play when discussing why the shooting in Ferguson happened, and our gun culture isn't the only answer. But it is the main one. We don't know how big of a factor race played in the shooting, but we do know how much of a factor the proliferation of handguns played.

The difference is we don't talk about our gun culture because it's easier to ignore. As with all addictions, the first and hardest step is admitting you have a problem and then seeking help for it.

Even though high-profile shootings occur nearly every year, we are still reluctant to place a single additional restriction on gun ownership. Common-sense proposals such as background checks and limiting ammunition capacity have been fervently shot down. The president himself has seen how big a deal it is merely to suggest that there's a problem in our country.

If we think the militarization of our police force is a problem, then it's time to address the root cause and finally do something about our societal gun culture.

Sadly, Missouri voters have already said they don't want to, so we can expect stories like the Ferguson incident to hit the news even more frequently than they already do.

Tim Maylander is a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism.


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Comments

John Schultz September 5, 2014 | 4:11 p.m.

What a ridiculous assertion. Mike Brown is dead because there are lots of scary guns in Missouri? I don't think we have to wait for the grand jury to throw this theory on the scrap heap.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 6, 2014 | 6:56 a.m.

@ John Schultz:

Over the years there have been numerous studies - some intended to be serious - to connect incidence of various situations (for example, number and/or duration of sunspots) to financial market trends. One, as I recall, concerned fluctuations in retail sale of bananas to financial market trends (or was the attempt to tie fluctuations in banana sales to fluctuations in human birth rates, at my great age I tend to forget such matters).

The point being that one can ATTEMPT to connect any two things. It's a recognized passtime.

As far as the death in question is concerned, I'd really like to have some relevant facts, versus demonstrations (including one or more on a certain campus), looting, social psychobabble*, and good old rampant speculation, and I'd like to have that information without regard to where and upon whom it might place blame.

*- Often spouted by persons holding PhDs in one or more of the "pseudo sciences." The number of such experts seems to be quite large.

(Report Comment)

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