Pam – Thank you for taking the time to consider the points I made. I did indeed state that the desire to kill preceded the design and use of the gun and that I believe we do focus our attention far too much upon the tool rather than the will to use it for the purpose for which it is intended …to kill.
Whilst I believe I can reasonably claim that some human beings possess the desire to kill I do not believe there is any evidence to support a claim that this thought process is innate to all humanity, i.e. a product of our evolution and therefore coded into our DNA.
There is in fact evidence to suggest that the very opposite may in fact be true. We did not evolve as carnivores or even as true omnivores, we come from herbivore stock that learned how to scavenge. The first ‘meat’ we ate was bone marrow and brains scavenged from the carcasses of animals killed by true carnivores. Our small size at the time put us at the bottom of the pecking order and dictated that we were the last scavengers to arrive at the carcass when all the bones had been picked clean.
We did however have the advantage of intelligence and made primitive tools which we used to pry brain tissue from skulls even lions jaws couldn’t break open and to split open hefty bones and extract the marrow. Although our diet and behaviour was that of a herbivore we learned how to supplement our diet with offal protein. That however is a very long way from being a true carnivore developing a natural instinct to kill with tooth and claw that later also encompasses the gun.
We had to learn how to kill with weapons we made for ourselves to compensate for the natural weaponry our evolutionary path has resulted in us not possessing. We had to learn how to track, how to ambush, how to predict the behaviour of our quarry, how to injure and kill it before it could kill us. Most importantly we had to learn how to summon the resolve to kill.
These behaviours could only have been developed in earnest after we had the intelligence to conceive of these behaviours and develop the tools with which to accomplish the deeds. In evolutionary terms that was yesterday on the time-line of our evolution as a species and not in my opinion long enough to develop an innate instinct to kill. We are however very, very good at learning how to do things and killing is one of the things.
We do however have a gene for aggression that we share with chimpanzees. It fortunately does not express itself to the same extent in us as it does in chimps who do have a natural instinct to kill and do so frequently. We appear to use that aggression in much the same way as other animals, to defend ourselves and our offspring and social group etc. That Pam is what I believe is at work in your entirely rational desire to defend your family from would be aggressors. It is however a million miles away from you wanting or feeling an innate desire to kill anyone or anything.
The gun provides an illusionary supplement to the need to defend oneself. Even in a society like the USA where I believe that most people do have the utmost respect and knowledge of the weapon it is still the case that in the majority of homicides resulting from an intruder illegally entering a home the homeowner is predominantly the one who gets shot and frequently with their own weapon. Contrary to urban myth in the USA and EU most illegal intruders actually arrive unarmed though they often leave with a weapon obtained on the premises.
The logic appears to be straightforward …guns are powerful and can kill therefore if I own a gun and learn how to use it I will be able to defend myself better than if I had no gun at all. Unfortunately as with many seemingly straightforward uses of logical imagination this reasoning is flawed because it fails to take account of the many variables which reality actually brings to bear in circumstances where the gun would have to be used.
The mortuaries are regularly filled with people for whom the logic of gun ownership failed but as individuals we do not like to think of ourselves as being one of the majority who failed. We prefer to see ourselves as one of the lucky minority whose lives were saved by owning a gun and who could blame any individual for wanting to buck the trend and get lucky?
We have a monumental vested interest in our individual safety and cannot be trusted to evaluate the math impartially and there would be something wrong with us if we could. Governments however do have a responsibility to stand above individual interest and coldly evaluate risk to society as whole. In this cold light of reasoning gun ownership by the mass population is far from advantageous.
In the USA it would be political suicide for any administration to remove the right to own a gun from an American citizen. It is however worth bearing in mind therefore that the status quo is maintained not because there is a viable and sustainable argument in favour of mass population gun ownership but rather that is in the vested interests of individual politicians and political parties.
You are right Pam when you say that we would never have 100% consensus on any reasoned debate about the need to curb thinking which results in the desire to kill but one of the advantages of democracy is that a majority will suffice. I believe we already have that majority, now all we need to do is focus or minds on how to achieve what we know the vast majority desire …a peaceful existence.
A seemingly impossible task perhaps but so was walking on the moon.
Nitro – Thank you for your comments. In reply I must say that unfortunately I am no stranger to killing. I have experienced the chaos of combat and the exhilaration of adrenalin and walked on air only later to feel the deepest of depressions and be utterly repulsed by myself as a consequence. I have witnessed the violent deaths of human beings including those of friends and loved ones.
I also must insist that a gun is made for no other purpose than to kill. Guns and their ammunition have undeniably been designed with that specific intent. I did not however state, as you assert, that it is my belief that everyone who owns a gun does so because they want to kill, I did not say this or imply it. I actually believe that a minority own guns with a specific intention to kill, the majority own guns because they have a desire not to be killed and believe that owning a gun will help them stay alive in a life threatening situation. A false belief in my opinion which appears to borne out by the facts.
Re-read my earlier points and you will realise that I do not focus on criminals at all. Rather emphasize the point that gun ownership does not help citizens to defend themselves from a corrupt government, neither do the majority of citizens in the USA need to defend themselves from wild animals. Every citizen of the USA and every other society does however want to defend themselves from people who would do them harm and that is the context upon which the pro-gun ownership debate predominantly draws it’s majority support in the USA.
Hunting is another matter entirely. You state hunters don’t hunt with the intention of slaughtering the prey in totality, tell that to the dodo and thousands of other species which have been hunted to extinction. Human beings hunted animals to extinction long before the gun and currently use the net as the preferred means of slaughtering the totality of some species of marine life. The gun has however improved man’s ability to kill with far greater efficiency and to kill in very great numbers. The African bush has been decimated by the bush trade and many species are on the point of extinction.
Poachers do not care if the rhino and tiger become extinct in India they care only for the money they make from Chinese medicine suppliers and dagger hilt manufacturers in the Oman. All hunt with the snare and the gun.
Not all hunters behave in this manner but it is my bitter and extensive experience that most do. You refer to sport hunters in designated areas of the USA, these represent a tiny fraction of human hunters world wide where I can assure you attitudes to wild life and species conservation are very different. Even within the USA whilst there are some excellent examples of conservation funded by sport hunting and of hunters using their extensive knowledge of habitats and ecosystems to the benefit of the environment there are also many examples of hunters with a total disregard for wildlife and habitat and many species are threatened with extinction and habitat loss is beyond alarming.
Perhaps controlled sport hunting does have the potential in some countries to provide the funding to enable some forms of conservation but other countries have very advanced and successful conservation projects without hunting playing any part at all. It is also not logical to conclude that mass gun ownership in any population should be permitted because a tiny minority of that population want to hunt with guns.
I agree with you that we are indeed part of nature, we evolved just as every other organism has. We also as part of that natural evolution developed the ability to do something insects cannot …think rationally. Mass population gun ownership simply cannot be supported by rational thought. I do accept however that there are legitimate cases which can be made for specific circumstance gun ownership.
I do not seek or expect or even want to live in a Utopia but neither do I want my brains blown out. The knowledge that people are actively engaged in the debate about why humans have a desire to kill and how to curb it makes me feel safer than any gun ever has or could. I just wish more would enter the debate …I believe they will.