Every time the media wants to push for new gun laws, they look to Europe. They find a low-crime European nation and then point out how their gun laws make everything better.
Most recently, NBC News decided to look to Iceland. The country hasn’t had anyone killed with a gun since 2007 and does allow civilian ownership of firearms. At least to a point. Of course, people there attribute that to their gun laws and apparently, so does NBC News.
Like many of his countrymen, Olaf Garðar Garðarsson is eager to get his hands on a rifle.
But he can’t just walk into a store and buy one. Instead, he is sitting through a mandatory four-hour lecture on the history and physics of the firearm.
This is Iceland — the gun-loving nation that hasn’t experienced a gun-related murder since 2007.
“For us, it would be really strange if you could get a license to buy a gun and you had no idea how to handle it,” says Garðarsson, 28, a mechanical engineer. “I would find it very odd if [a gun owner] had never even learned which is the pointy end and which is the trigger end.”
Iceland is a sparsely populated island in the northern Atlantic. Its tiny population of some 330,000 live on a landmass around the size of Kentucky.
St. Louis, Missouri, which has a population slightly smaller than Iceland’s, had 193 homicides linked to firearms last year.
Icelanders believe the rigorous gun laws on this small, remote volcanic rock can offer lessons to the United States.
And I think Icelanders don’t understand what the real difference is between the United States and Iceland.
Iceland and the United States are very different when it comes to key issues, namely those of culture. Iceland is culturally homogenous, with 94 percent of its population coming from Norse or Celtic roots and only six percent coming from some other group. Because of this, the Icelandic culture is easily dominant, making those who come from other cultures step up and adhere to the social rules of their new nation as much as the civil and criminal rules. The fact that the culture has been there, more or less, for over a thousand years solidifies that in a lot of minds. While that culture has changed over the years, it’s still there, and it drives society.
Meanwhile, the United States is culturally diverse. It’s encouraged for people of different groups to develop their own cultural identity for the most part. As a result, you have multiple sets of cultural rules that come into being within the same borders. Also, immigrants aren’t encouraged to embrace American culture and are instead permitted and even encouraged to hold onto their own culture despite living in a new nation.
While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does create some unique problems. This is especially true when a number of factors combine to create a criminal culture such as gangs which thrive in so many of our urban centers, including St. Louis.
Iceland has been without a firearm related homicide since 2007, but Mexico–who has much tougher gun laws than Iceland–hasn’t been able to go more than a few minutes at a time without there being a murder.
Here’s the thing, though. Iceland doesn’t have to worry about that culture seeping across its borders. We do.
Even if Iceland simply handed every citizen a gun, they’d still have a ridiculously low homicide rate. Their culture doesn’t currently have anything quite like the drug-related criminal activity that we do.
To be fair to NBC News, they don’t just present one side of things. They even admit that Iceland’s system can’t just be transposed into ours.
It would be misleading to suggest that the model in Iceland — a small country where income inequality is low — could be seamlessly transposed onto the U.S.
Most guns here are used for hunting or competitive shooting. Crime of any nature is so infrequent that few if anyone argues that they need to own a weapon for self-defense.
“The system in the U.S. is so different to the one we have here,” says Sveinbjörnsson, the police spokesman.
The truth is, while the media likes to argue that no nation in the developed world has the problems we do when it comes to violence, they also forget that the United States is the gateway to the developed world for millions. We take in all types from all different places and, frankly, we don’t do that good of a job keeping out those who may not have the American Dream in mind when they cross the border, especially since many are crossing that border illegally.
And, to be honest, that’s just one aspect of the coin.
The truth of the matter is that the whole situation is incredibly complex and few, if anyone, is willing to delve into the roots of violence in this country to try and determine just why we have these problems. NBC News suggests income inequality may be at play, and I think that plays a factor. In particular, the way income inequality is reported on and discussed, but that’s another topic for another day.
The truth is, it’s not that cut and dry, and mentioning it halfway down the story that it isn’t is just another way to try and obscure that reality.