Beyond the Gun-Control Debate: This Reflection on the Virginia Tech Massacre Looks beyond the Gun Debate to the Importance of Cultural Morality in Reducing Senseless Crimes of Violence

Article excerpt

The toll of the Virginia Tech shooting was 33 human beings dead and dozens of others injured. The loss of so many innocent youths to a madman was heart-rending. Making matters worse, if that's possible, was the manner of their deaths. Some were found in defensive positions, instinctively trying to ward off bullets with their bare hands.

I reflected long about what could have been done to prevent this useless carnage and pain. As I reflected, I listened to news commentators such as Charles Gibson, Katie Couric, and Brian Ross ask questions about whether lax gun-control laws were to blame for this shooting. Each of them strongly implied that new gun-control laws are the answer.

"But," I thought at the risk of offending those media luminaries, "where they're placing the blame for this violence is at odds with the respondents of an April ABC News poll, who blamed popular culture."

When asked in that April poll to choose a "primary cause of gun violence, far more Americans blamed the effects of popular culture (40 percent) or the way parents raise their children (35 percent) than the availability of guns (18 percent). In no population does more than about a fourth cite the availability of guns as the chief cause of violence."

What if popular culture is to blame--or more specifically, what if a lack of cultural morality is to blame? If the poll respondents are on to something and guns are not to blame, it needs to be asked, "Can a correlation be shown between cultural morals and rates of violent crime--especially gun crime?" Let us see.

Held Up High

Three of the most important countries held up to prove that gun-control measures work are Japan, England, and Australia. These countries' restrictive laws against civilians owning guns, which make owning a gun for defensive purposes either difficult or nearly impossible, are credited with producing much lower rates of gun deaths in those countries than in America. Assuming the lower death rates are true, it must only be learned whether the lower reported deaths are owing to gun control or culture.

The results of my perusal of the research on this topic were conclusive: cultural morality is hands-down a more reliable factor for predicting violence with guns than gun-control laws are.

Japan: Japan has both very strict gun-control laws and a very low number of shootings each year, yet the gun-control laws don't seem to play a major role in reducing violence and deaths. In Japan, only a tiny fraction of people may own handguns, and the owners of rifles and shotguns must pass several tests to acquire a gun and then they must keep the guns in a locker at home. Recently, Time magazine reported that there were only 53 shootings there in 2006 in a population of just over 127 million. A pretty good record in anyone's book.

But researcher David B. Kopel pointed out in a 1993 article for the Asia Pacific Law Review, entitled "Japanese Gun Control," that "more than gun control, more than the lack of criminal procedure safeguards, more than the authority of the police, it is the pervasive social controls that best explain the low crime rate." In his article, Kopel explains, "Almost everyone [in Japan] accepts the paradigm that the police should be respected. Because the police are so esteemed, the Japanese people co-operate with the police more than Americans do. Co-operation with the police also extends to obeying laws which almost everyone believes in. The Japanese people, and even the large majority of Japanese criminals, voluntarily obey gun controls."

In fact, Japanese police visit the home of each Japanese citizen twice each year to update the extensive dossiers that they keep on each Japanese citizen. The dossiers are so inclusive that they even list the reasons teen girls give for having sex.

Kopel explained that Japanese culture is all about tradition, conforming, joining, self-respect, and honor--not about individuality and self-gratification. …