Last night, at least 120 innocent people were killed in Paris at the hands of terrorists. I doubt I need to expand on the details, since anyone with a computer or a TV will already have heard about the monstrous atrocities that were committed. However, I do think this story highlights two important issues that are unlikely to get mentioned often (if at all) in the mainstream media. Before I begin, however, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider what happened to be horrendous and completely inexcusable. The murder of innocent people – under any circumstance – is a terrible tragedy.
That said, when these events occur it is important to put them into perspective. In Western Europe, where we have been fortunate enough to be spared the horrors of war for the last six decades, such acts of violence are deeply shocking. The thought that something like this could happen in Rome (my home town), in places I’ve walked past hundreds of times, is almost impossible to fathom. And yet it is easy to forget that for thousands of people, this is a daily reality of life. For many, it is the sudden break from this kind of violence that is a shock. If Facebook encouraged us to change our profile pictures every time a massacre such as this one occurred, we would likely be changing it every week.
Most importantly, for thousands of people this terror is, or was, inflicted by the militaries of our democratically elected governments. We rightly regard the terrorists in this most recent attack as grotesque, murderous brutes – and yet our governments have routinely carried out military operations that produce exactly the same results on a much grander scale.
Perhaps the best example is that of the Iraq war, in which dozens of states participated (although it is worth noting that France did not in this particular case). The troops of several countries, mostly led by the United States and the United Kingdom, killed anywhere between 150,000 and 1,000,000 innocent civilians, in a war that everyone now knows was initiated under completely false pretences. All of those victims were innocent, and happened to be living in the wrong place at the wrong time. And yet while we rightly raise cries of outrage against this most recent terror attack in Paris, almost everyone has forgotten the crimes committed by various world leaders when they ordered the murder of innocent people on behalf of a false agenda. An even closer parallel could be drawn with the United States’ current drone program, which targeted 41 people but killed 1,147. Ironically enough, these types of actions greatly fuel the growth of terrorism, by providing terrorist groups with thousands of husbands of murdered women, fathers of murdered children, and sons of murdered parents from which to recruit and swell their ranks.
Tragedies like this latest attack in Paris should make us think about the brutal realities some people are faced with every day. Can you imagine if this sort of scenario was a common, daily occurrence? Because it is precisely what we impose on any country with which we decide to go to war. Whether the murderer is called a terrorist or a soldier shouldn’t change the moral implications of killing an innocent person. While it is only natural to be more shocked by tragedies occurring closer to home, we should be quick to raise cries of outrage when exactly this type of tragedy is committed in our names, by people that are supposed to represent us.
The second important issue raised by these attacks, that I doubt will get any coverage whatsoever in the media, is that of gun control. After every mass shooting in the United States, the first thing we hear is that it’s time to start banning guns. Why won’t we hear it now, when the tragedy happens in France? Because France already has restrictive gun laws. In fact, across the entire European Union automatic weapons are banned for civilians, as are most semi-automatics, and all other firearms are strictly regulated and require permits. Since the attackers used Kalashnikovs, it is clear that the legality of the gun didn’t have any effect on the attacks. In fact, the same guns were used to kill 17 people in the Charlie Hebdo attacks less than a year ago.
What has now become apparent is that it is extremely easy for criminals anywhere in Europe to get their hands on automatic weapons, and they’re usually pretty cheap too. What this means is that criminals, even pretty average ones, have access to all the firearms they want, while ordinary, law-abiding citizens don’t.
My personal opinion is that there is generally much less gun violence in Europe than in the United States simply because our culture is less violent, and because we’ve historically had smaller populations that are more ethnically homogenous – which would explain why if you compare the United States to other countries in the Americas, it has one of the lowest murder rates. And yet interestingly enough, if one compares the deaths caused by mass shootings in France and the United States this year, France has almost double. In the United States, so far this year, 0.12 people per 100,000 were killed in mass shootings – and this includes mass shootings in which only 1 person was killed, which are generally not what we would consider a mass shooting. In gun-free France, meanwhile, 0.2 people per 100,000 were killed in a mass shooting.
With the advent of terrorism, it should be crystal clear that even in Europe, where gun laws have been restrictive for decades, if someone really wants to go on a murderous rampage and kill innocent people they will have no problem doing so. Breivik didn’t have a problem, the Charlie Hebdo shooters didn’t, and the perpetrators of these last six attacks didn’t. Making automatic weapons illegal has had little or no effect on how many people get killed by guns – because, as cliché as this might sound, guns don’t kill people, people do.
In this article I dealt with two very different issues, which had little to do with one another. While it may have been more effective to write two separate, shorter articles, I did so purposely to highlight a third issue, which is why disdain for libertarians is so universal in media outlets. While most people on the right (at least in the US) will agree with my views on gun control, they will strongly disagree with my views on war and the military. Those on the left, on the other hand, while sympathizing with my views on war, will find my opinion on gun control despicable. Each group seeks to control the State to impose their own social goals, but what they all agree on is that a State should exist to impose a social agenda on their populations. But a government with the power to do everything you want it to do also has the power to do everything you don’t want it to do, which is why it’s so rare to meet someone truly satisfied with their government. A system that relies on the right person being in power is flawed by definition.