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Just gun talk

By Terry Joseph
April 03, 2002

The minute a psychotic security guard commits suicide or with malice aforethought shoots someone else, a ricochet follows first report, deafening us with sheer lament about guns being “in the wrong hands”.

What invariably ensues is yet another round of armchair analysis and promises of a policy to control lethal weapons, prattle decorously described as “gun talk” by concerned and cynical citizens alike.

Whether triggered by ill-timed bravado or insipid brawn, “gun-talk” at best purchases little more than fleeting theatrical value, its well-articulated threats seldom resulting in identifiable action and almost never securing sustainable attitudinal change.

In the wake of last week’s double-death at the hands of a gun-toting security guard, instead of attempting to wrestle the problem at source, National Security Minister Howard Chin Lee was calling for review of the procedure by which security guards gain access to firearms.

Describing guns as “killing machines” (motor vehicles actually take more civilian lives than guns in any year), Minister Chin Lee joined the already swollen ranks of those who think such weapons must not be placed “in the wrong hands”.

Manager of the Firearms Training Institute, Towfeek Ali echoed the Minister’s finding, calling for a nebulous “standardisation” of the security industry. What they both should have known well before the latest incident is that shooting deaths plummeted in the US when gun ownership escalated to an all-time high, a fact reported in great detail on August 4, 2000, by The Wall Street Journal.

And although suicides account for two-thirds of all gun deaths in the US, Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck makes clear in his book Point Blank that no known form of gun control has any effect on the total suicide rate.

Psychopaths bent on taking their own lives may be equally effective using items as outwardly harmless as ripe bananas. In short, you don’t have to be a weapon-carrying security guard to commit suicide. In any event, decisions about whose hands the gun should be in are not made by security guards but by the brains of the business places they protect. More often than not, desperate or paranoid proprietors deliberately request sadistic-looking security guards, demanding they overtly bear fearsome weapons.

At last count, there were 408 security companies listed locally. Competition is fierce and when a lucrative contract requires armed personnel, aspirant firms secure precepts from the police by the shortest possible route and simply appoint to the task shooters of no real skill or tested psychological balance.

If among those firms there is one that will do the job far more cheaply than the average quoted price, we may surmise its employees are accepting lower pay as a direct consequence of sub-standard intelligence or ability.

The unnamed manager of a small security firm, quoted in a Sunday Guardian story headlined “Guns in Untrained Hands”, admitted organisations of that size do not physically or psychologically evaluate their guards as often as they should. In reality, most small security firms limit the concept of employee evaluation to an audit of unpunctuality and absenteeism.

But let us go back to source. When commercial banks introduced armed guards in the nervous period that followed the civil uprising in 1970, the premise was that revolutionaries yet at large, who frequently pattern their behaviour on classic models, would target such institutions.

Times change. Today, what the image of a bank guard with a revolver does best is convert robberies into newsworthy shootouts. Those who strut around with pump-action shotguns know they cannot discharge such weapons in an environment where, upon final count, dead customers might outnumber felled criminals.

Still, no one seems to be talking about non-lethal alternatives as a way of achieving conflict resolution, so guards with holstered six-shooters are pitted against terrorists openly bearing laser-guided automatic weapons and carrying the whole nine yards of ammunition.

David B Kopel of the American Independence Institute cites a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (July 2000) that legislation requiring background checks on potential gun owners has not had any impact on gun homicides. BBC News reported on January 18, 2000, that the British ban on private gun ownership had only resulted in a crime surge.

Minister Chin Lee must therefore compose a team that seizes these and other available facts and distils them into data upon which he can act. His police might wish to further investigate the use of tazers and pepper spray as a way of reducing the “oops” factor, where discharge of a weapon seems justifiable at first glance.

In putting together his think tank, Mr Chin Lee must be careful, however, to avoid placing the responsibility for corrective measures in “the wrong hands”. I am tempted to add “…or else”, but then that, too, would only be gun talk.

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