Gun Laws and banker’s bonuses

Two issues which have dominated this week’s news; both are damn near impossible to legislate, no matter what the public desire.

First the guns:
In case for some amazing reason you missed it – Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford has been shot along with six others who have been killed – one of which was a nine-year old girl. Which has understandably brought forth (again) the debate about US and gun laws.

Many in the UK think this lack of gun control in the US is crazy – or in the words of @cromercrox ‘I’m really quite perplexed by the US of A’. Cromercrox brings up in his blog ‘Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Picturesque Seaside Town of Cromer’ dealing the perplexity of US gun laws – where even the ‘quite normal Americans’ engage in what he calls gunsplaining – eg annunciations of the reasons why guns are here to stay – unlike rock and roll which is apparently dying.

Cromercrox suggests banning guns altogether, or in his words ‘get rid of the guns’ – which is never going to work in the US.
So at the risk of being termed a gunsplainer, or seeming not quite normal – here is my view on the perplexity.

Many Americans know that gun control issues are near as damn it dead issues in the US of A – despite the recent shootings. However lots of people also explain this by evoking the 2nd amendment or the constitutional right argument. The right of the people to ‘keep and bear arms’ as written in the Bill of Rights is really a pretty crap, weak argument.

Constitutional amendments have been added and overturned since the US government was born. The Constitution states that slaves are allowed to be owned and only represent 5/8ths of a human (for census purposes) which was repealed by the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. The constitution also had a prohibition amendment (the 18th) passed in 1919 which was repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933 (when people really needed a drink).

And prohibition is good example of why a gun control amendment (or even a mere federal law) would never work. Did people stop drinking because alcohol was illegal? No. Think speakeasys and moonshine liquor. So by the US imposing some kind of gun law, would this work, would people suddenly give up their guns? No. How exactly would you round up all of those guns? US gun ownership is estimated to be around 300 million with around 45% of US Citizens owning some type of gun. And these are just the registered ones. Do you think people will just turn them in? A large number of people own guns for hunting (just like you can in Britain) as well, do you deny them their guns?

So say you regulated guns down to British levels, with no automatic weapons – where only permit holders and criminals and the police had them, this would reduce the number of gun deaths but they would still happen and I think the effect would be marginal. Because this is assuming that by some kind of legislation you could ban guns and collect them, guns are already there, good luck trying to get ’em out. People that are not very likely to mow down the general public with their automatic weapon (or hand gun for that matter) would be the only ones turning them in- which wouldn’t reduce gun crime significantly I would think.

As an aside, contrary to popular belief many UK police officers do have guns: just take a stroll around London where many police at high security locations are posted with machine guns (something you don’t see so often in the US – police with machine guns, they usually have hand guns). Gun deaths do happen in Britain.

Now the banks:

Do you really think regulating banker’s bonuses will make them stop making money or feel remorse. Watching footage of the treasury select committee interviewing Bob Diamond – he was asked questions like ‘Are you grateful to the British Tax payer?’ and ‘Are you going to resign your job?’. These are just sort of non-questions which might make the MP questioning him look like he is being ‘tough on bankers’ but are useless in reality. Of course the man isn’t going to resign his job, Barclay’s emerged relatively unscathed from the banking crisis (Bob is one of the big banking dudes that wasn’t fired) and who cares if he is eternally, externally grateful, even if he said it.

So say you did cut banker’s bonuses, would they really not find some loop hole to still make money? Instead of cash bonuses maybe they would get stock options, or a new car, or a new Persian rug? Financial guys can easily find their way around regulations – If you read the book ‘The Road from Ruin’ by Michael Green and Matthew Bishop, two British authors (launched in the USA but available in the UK after February) – they cover this topic quite nicely.

Regulation, in both of these cases, isn’t going to be effective, and is moreover not cost effective to any government. And in these financial times, the later is a pretty persuasive argument.

In both cases – ‘ban all guns’ and ‘stop banker’s bonuses’ you are treating the symptom rather than the underlying problem, and it provides no real solution. How to regulate the financial sector is a lot more complex than the relatively small example of bankers bonuses – which seem like a lot to us mere mortals but represents tiny amounts of money on a large scale (there are some good suggestions for real effective financial regulation in the Road from Ruin).

Ban all guns or even some won’t decrease violence in the US and won’t really ever be effective, as the gun ban would yield marginal returns. How to stop violent crime in any country is a difficulty and one I have no idea how to solve (along with scads of politicians world wide)

About Sylvia McLain

Girl, Interrupting aka Dr. Sylvia McLain used to be an academic, but now is trying to figure out what's next. She is also a proto-science writer, armchair philosopher, amateur plumber and wanna-be film-critic. You can follow her on Twitter @DrSylviaMcLain and Instagram @sylviaellenmclain
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7 Responses to Gun Laws and banker’s bonuses

  1. sylviamclain says:

    Apologies to my email pals, I accidentally posted early, so what you received is probably crap… Feel free to re- read

  2. Teresa says:

    I agree with what you have said here, and I think there here in the US the problem of gun violence is going to increase, over time, as more people get hungry and desperate when the economic “recovery” doesn’t actually help them. So the question becomes, what CAN we do? Is there any way to keep all those people with guns from using them? How can we bring the level of human discourse back to civility? I don’t have an answer, but I’m interested in your ideas.

  3. Cromercrox says:

    I’m not sure whether I said ‘ban all guns’ – rather I noted that the guns, not the political rhetoric, were the problem – and that the presence of so many guns, in such a friendly and open nation, is an abiding perplexity to this Brit.

    • sylviamclain says:

      Sorry didn’t mean to misquote.. But you do say..
      “to me the case is clear. Get rid of the guns’ which I was assuming is equivalent.. I will change the post to say this instead

      I am also not defending gun ownership, I just think they are impossible to get rid of in the us, and the more effective thing is how do you stop violence? I don’t have an answer for that

  4. Steve Jones says:

    I must admit that in online discussions with several Americans on gun laws I’ve come to the conclusion that for a considerable proportion this is almost a matter of faith and isn’t really open to debate. That easy access to guns increases deaths (homicides and suicides) than it would otherwise be seems to me inescapable, of only for the “impulse” reasons. That is, even compared to knives, the gap between and angry action and a death is narrowed. However, guns in the US are so embedded in culture I just cannot imagine what would ever change it. Not just that, but these guns leak into the Central American drug trade (as we see in Mexico).

    Having worked out over the past few years that nothing much is going to happen over US gun law – there is no political will power, quite apart from the practicalities – and that, really, it’s not fundamentally my business, I still find myself shocked when, on a photographers’ forum, somebody posting up photographs of his family practicing their skills with semi-automatice weapons.

    Incidentally, the statistics from the US are that guns are almost useless for self-defence. In fact the majority of gun deaths are suicides, accidents or homicides in families. Outside certain hot-spots associated with gang culture and social deprivation, firearm homicides by strangers are rare. Indeed many parts of the US are a good deal more polite than the UK and the most likely cause of a violent death will be in the stubbornly high rate of road traffic deaths.

    As for bankers, apart from noting that Bob Diamond isn’t going to get a job in PR, it is a difficult issue. Bob Diamond’s banks only (just about) survived without state intervention was largely because the state did intervene to prop up others. If those had gone down, and the loans to those institutions had turned bad, it would have been a very, very different issue for Barclays. Indeed a lot of the sovereign debt issues have a banking behind them (Ireland & Iceland, two countries separated by one letter and a few months). Anyway, the problem is a structural one – the fact that such huge sums can be made over an entire industry points to a market failure. It should not escape people’s attention that the financial industry is producing every decreasing returns for the average person in the street, to pensioners, to savers and the like. Also, Barclays have been doing quite well, but not as far as the shareholders are concerned. These are organisations that have been financially hijacked by a significant cabal of their employees.

    nb. police toting guns in Central London may be a moderately frequent sight, but it certainly isn’t in general. I cannot ever recall seeing armed police in the town (of about 40,000) that I inhabit just outside London. Indeed apart from a few places (Heathrow for instance), then it will be a rare sight in outer London.

    • sylviamclain says:

      I would agree that people don’t like to debate it – but perhaps it has to do with the fact it is an issue that is dead before it even starts – its pointless on the level of trying to convert a fundamentalist Christian to Islam, or the like – its not going to happen. I think the real problem is not guns per se, but that violence needs to be addressed but this is such a difficult issue. Lots of people in lots of countries have guns, but don’t tend to have as high of rate of gun deaths as in the US – why is that? I have no idea but I think maybe this is the real problem… but almost impossible to address

      I am American (obviously) and live in the UK – I have never ever ever owned a gun, nor would I – why? Because if you don’t know how to use a gun and if own a gun you are much more likely to get killed by a gun than if you don’t own one. I am not freaked out by guns either – but that is probably because I grew up in a place where people have them – I am freaked out about police (anywhere) with machine guns – as opposed to hand guns which are holstered – but again, this is just what you get used to. I have also never been in fear of being gunned down, but perhaps it is like a plane crash – one of those things you can’t really think about because there is not much you can do about it.

      Thanks for the comment

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