If they didn't have guns …

Fred Russell

The other night on cable TV I watched I Shot My Parents, a BBC documentary about a 14-year-old boy who walked into his parents’ bedroom in the middle of the night and shot each of them three times in the head. This happened in Moses Lake, Washington, in 2013. The boy, Nathon Brooks, was a seemingly cheerful, seemingly well-adjusted basketball star at the local high school. Under police interrogation he cooked up a story about hearing screams, seeing a man moving through the house, and hiding until the coast was clear. When he was told that the security cameras in the house had picked him up running around in his underwear with a gun in his hand, he broke down and confessed, and though he couldn't say why he had shot them, he did say that just before he shot his mother the thought had flashed through his mind that he didn't have to do what he was about to do and that afterwards, when he sat alone on the staircase, he understood that he had done something awful.

No one understood why he had done what he had done: not his parents (who miraculously survived, the mother with impaired vision, impaired hearing and impaired memory, the father fully recovered, at least physically), not his best friend, not the prosecutor, not the defence attorney. The prison psychiatrist diagnosed him with major depressive disorder after ruling out psychosis, adding that despite his happy-go-lucky reputation he was an introvert with bottled-up emotions, angry and resentful at being recently grounded. He pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and got 15 and a half years. His parents have forgiven him.

In all this, amazingly, it didn't occur to anyone to suggest that one reason the boy had shot his parents – and one reason five are killed by their children every week in the United States – was that the house was full of guns. The boy was surrounded by them. Not too long ago he had shot his first deer. His mother had shot her first at the age of 12 and had her own muzzle-loading hunting rifle in the gun cabinet. They were a gun-toting family. However depressed, angry and resentful Nathon may have been, if there hadn’t been guns in the house, it would never have occurred to him to shoot anyone.

The gun lovers say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. That’s what they were saying at the NRA’s annual convention in Dallas last week, when they weren’t voting for Oliver North to be their organisation’s new president. The gun haters say that without guns, people wouldn't be killing anyone. To be honest I don't know what the specific retort is to the latter argument. Maybe the gun lovers say that if the criminals and maniacs didn't have guns they'd find other ways to kill, which is doubtful in the vast majority of cases, though I will say that if guns had never been invented, the gun lovers might very well be walking around with sticks of dynamite to throw at targets, animals and even prowlers. Then their 12-year-old children would be taught how to light the fuse and when to throw the thing so that it didn't explode in their faces. In any case, I understand that if you took away their guns (or their sticks of dynamite) these people would feel great deprivation. The rest is bullshit. I mean the arguments about the Second Amendment and self-defence. Trampling on the Constitution never bothered these freedom lovers when it came to African American civil rights or banning books. As for self-defence, the idea that untrained civilians can outshoot armed criminals is preposterous, and a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

What amazes me about the Nathon Brooks case, again, is that while searching for an answer, it did not occur to a single one of the principals to note that the availability of guns in the house was at the very least a contributing factor in the shooting. The gun culture that envelops places like Moses Lake is so pervasive that the act of shooting is as natural as turning on the TV or fiddling with a smartphone. It is always on the menu. It is always an option. That is where the problem begins.


  • 8 May 2018 at 5:26pm
    deadbirdbybird says:
    Thank you for this post, Fred Russell. As an American that is pro-gun reform laws (banning bump stocks and assault weapons, restrictions on purchases, more in-depth criminal background checks) I would have to say that easily-accessible guns do, in fact, kill people. Arming teachers or having more armed security officers at schools has done nothing to stop these now common-place shootings (Parkland, FL had an armed security officer that did not enter the building and did nothing to stop the mass shooter). There have been over 30 mass shootings in the United States since 1 January, 2018. This statistic is completely unacceptable. But what has been done? A handful of state and city governments have adopted bans on assault weapons but nothing on a national scale. American culture likes to espouse claims of "freedom for all" but this nation has nnever admitted and reckoned with the history of forced slavery, the massacres of thousands of Africans and African-Americans, the many massacres of Native Americans and the forcible taking of their lands, Civil War, Jim Crow legal segregation in Southern states, the forcing of Japanese and Japanese-Americans into interment camps during World War II. There's no open talk of how racism, ethnocentrism, anti-Semitism, sexism, class/economic division, labor laws and violence have all played into the creation, growth and furthering of what is American society. We're still a young (and arrogant) country if you start counting from 15th-17th century Spanish and Dutch "exploration" and most people don't like to be reminded of their own mistakes. So the long answer about how to solve the prevalence of gun violence in America, from my perspective, would be: to ban assault, military-grade weapons and enact other common-sense gun reform legislation; confronting national and historical divisiveness; holding elected officials accountable for gun reform laws (or lack of gun reform laws- which is happening more publicly right now), and reckoning with the cultural prevalence of violence.

  • 8 May 2018 at 7:59pm
    John Cowan says:
    As a pro-gun-control American and the husband of a former gun owner, also pro-gun-control, I agree with much of what you say. However, the self-defense argument isn't about shooting people as such, it's about threatening them. An armed robber is definitely more likely to pick on an unarmed target than a conspicuously armed one. As for Brooks, he would probably have done less harm with a knife, but there's no saying that he wouldn't (resentful as he was) attacked his parents with one. There are plenty of good arguments for well-chosen gun control without using bad ones instead.

  • 8 May 2018 at 8:47pm
    Melinda says:
    The best argument for banning guns is that people should not go round killing animals for sport or killing other people. They should have more compassion.
    Earlier today Mr Justice Bryan in the Preston Crown Court sentenced a man (M) to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 26 years before parole for shooting and killing (H) who came to M's house and threatened M and verbally abused M. The judge's condemnation of M's behaviour reflects the views of a civilised society. (We also don't hang people here.) Cultural differences perhaps could make it hard for some Americans to understand the revulsion people feel for Nathon's actions and the pity that they have for a human being who could reach that level of inhumanity.

  • 8 May 2018 at 11:31pm
    Alices Restaurant says:
    Thousands of US military veterans--active, former, and retired--know enough to put several rounds into the enemy before they get close enough to do damage--whomever that might turn out to be.

    However, you have point with Lenin's Bay Area and New York City's Neo-Marxists.

    • 11 May 2018 at 6:17pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ Alices Restaurant
      Sheer bluster, macho posturing, and rather pointless. As a veteran who served in Vietnam and was a decent shot, I've never felt the need the own a gun (and I've walked through many an urban neighborhood that would probably make Alices Restaurant quiver with anxiety or terror - he (or she) seems to be that kind of sensitive type). Living thirty miles north of the city, maybe my brain has been contaminated by an insidious Neo-Marxist thought-cloud, though I thinks it's AR who should get real and come back to earth

  • 9 May 2018 at 9:06am
    noyaux says:
    Perhaps, given the sheer numbers, this should be considered in terms of a civil war? Thus enabling the discussion to take on a different dimension, notably a consideration of American social relations such that they have this effect on the population. It is unlike anywhere else, after all.

    • 9 May 2018 at 1:59pm
      ikallicrates says: @ noyaux
      There are more guns than people in the US, yet the majority of Americans don't own guns. This statistic is explained by the fact that the minority of Americans who do own guns usually own several. And they seldom use them in self-defense. Some Americans use their guns to kill their loved ones in domestic disputes, but almost half use them to commit suicide, so perhaps the way to resolve this seemingly intractable controversy is for the rest of us to wait for all the gun owners to kill each other and/or themselves.

    • 12 May 2018 at 9:42am
      FoamingPig says: @ ikallicrates
      "almost half use them to commit suicide" seems a little high? I would expect to read of many more suicides in my local news if were true.
      The (unintended?) consequence of recent, reasonable (but knee jerk response) firearms restrictions in my area has been an increase in sales amongst current owners.

    • 15 May 2018 at 5:13pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ FoamingPig
      The problem here is statistics, starting with what ikallicrates meant by “almost half of them”. That can’t be gun-owners or the national suicide rate would be immense. Does it mean that half the deaths per year from gunshots are suicide, the other half being a combination of murder and accidents? Or does it mean that almost half the suicides in the country result from self-inflicted gunshots. I don’t know.

      On the other hand Foaming Pig might just be missing the local suicide reporting in newspapers (and their on-line ancillary services). The suicide rate in the USA for 2017 was 13.4 per 100,000 people (this adds up to 43,500 per year, more than we lose in our series of endless wars in any year since WWII). Spread out over a year in a small city of 100,000, this would mean one report a month, and not all such reports might be in the news section – some of them might be “masked” by the language of obituary notices. While there might also be suicide-clusters (specific cities, towns, or regions), there would also be areas where the rate is lower than the national average.

  • 11 May 2018 at 6:41am
    RobotBoy says:
    The U.S. has roughly four times as many murders per capita than the U.K. Interestingly, the U.K. has much higher rates of violent crime than the U.S. (And the highest in Europe). While certainly not grounds for celebration, the much lower murder rate in the U.K. despite the higher rate of violent crime leads one to believe that gun control plays a role - it's just a lot easier to kill someone with a firearm than by most other methods.
    The one decent argument I've heard against strict gun control in the U.S. is made by the small Trotskyist party, the SWP. The SWP doesn't exactly campaign on a 'Guns for Everyone!' platform but they make the point that in periods of instability, the government will likely be using the police and paramilitary groups to attack demonstrators and strikers. Since the paramilitaries will be supplied weapons by the government (covertly or not), looser controls on firearms benefit leftist revolutionaries and the militias they'll start forming to resist state power. 'Well,' you might respond, 'the government will just send in the military.' That's not true however as in real revolutionary conditions, the federal government tends to be unsure, even afraid, of rank and file soldiers. Revolutions usually succeed because soldiers refuse to shoot protestors and then switch sides. Anyway, something to consider in our age of increasing polarization.

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