Renouncing Guns — Imagine This

Renouncing Guns – Imagine This

Guns were introduced into Japan by the Portuguese in 1543. Over 16 factories manufacturing high-quality matchlocks were in business by the end of that century, concentrated in Nagahama and Sakai. But after a last major battle in 1637, Japan gave up guns for over two centuries. There was no mandate to abandon firearms and no clearly articulated prohibition against their manufacture. Rather, the Tokugawa shoguns gradually restricted manufacturing and sales of guns. Gun manufacturers went back to making swords, which were once again the weapon of choice. Interest in guns was not revived until British, Dutch and ultimately American traders convinced the Japanese that firearms were essential to military control in modern Japan. Guns finally replaced swords as the weapon of choice after the abolition of the shogunate and the defeat of the samurai rebellion in 1876 .

It is hard to pinpoint why the gun effectively dropped out of sight and out of use for two hundred years. Noel Perrin, in his gem of a book Giving Up the Gun – Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879, posits several reasons rooted in Japanese culture and society. Swords were valued, even revered, as works of beauty and regarded as symbolic of honor. The efficiency of guns as killing machines cut no ice with the samurais, Japan’s substantial warrior class until the late 19th century, for whom swords represented aesthetic values of movement and ritual. Shooting a matchlock required disregard of aesthetic principles, as a 1607 manual by the Inatomi Gunnery School made clear.

             Lord Tokugawa Ieyasu also attempted to ban smoking as a means of fire control, Professor Perrin notes. Smoking was not counter-culture, however, so the edict was wholly unsuccessful, despite the penalties it carried. It is a curious contrast to the American experience. Cigarettes remain a major cause of death throughout the world, including almost a half million deaths in the U.S. annually. They have, however, been widely denounced as dirty, smelly, deadly and uncool. Regulations, prohibitions, litigation, exposes and taxes have reinforced a powerful anti-smoking marketing campaign that have together saved 8 million premature deaths in the U.S. since 1964. At a mean addition of 19.6 years per person, the reduction in smoking in the U.S. accounted for 157 million additional years of life between 1964 and 2012.

At the same time, the carnage resulting from gun violence in the U.S. is growing. As of August 5, 2015, there were 7,641 gun deaths in the U.S. this year, and 15,000 more injuries. Children under 12 accounted for 442 of these incidents. If we were only as effective as we’ve been in reducing smoking deaths, those numbers would be reduced by one-third. But other than collective gasps of horror, we do little to discourage or even burden the manufacture, distribution, ownership and use of guns in this country. As has often been noted, gun ownership is engrained in American culture. Guns are associated with freedom and bravery. Renouncing guns seems impossible in this country and any attempt at regulation is met with the equivalent of the 19th century samurai rebellion, which was triggered by an edict prohibiting the warriors from wearing two swords.

            But imagine, if you will, a pervasive ad campaign that depicts the gun owner as a fearful coward, a barbarian. A campaign that drives celebratory gun violence from movies and television. A campaign that depicts the ugliness of deaths from guns – much as Emmett Till’s mother insisted on an open casket to force America to face the violence done to her son. Heavy taxation of the manufacture and sale of guns – rather than exemption from federal excise taxes for small gun manufacturers and importers.   Relentless prosecution of unlawful gun sales and ownership; persistent lobbying to reverse the exemption from strict liability for American’s gun manufacturers; and large-scale litigation to secure an interpretation of the Second Amendment that squares with effective regulation, reason and life. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke. We, men and women in America, have done nothing about guns for too long.

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