America’s Gun Culture


How about some reader mail?

Dear DR Team,

I am an Agora Reserve member and really take a great interest in your views. I love Addison’s and Bills books and am looking forward to IOUSA. However your description of Charlton Heston as great is way over the top. He was never a great actor regardless of his academy award. He was just lucky enough to star in a couple of Hollywood epics that made a lot of money. In recent years his main claim to fame was as President of the NRA. At a meeting of that despicable and powerful lobby group he stood up holding a gun and proclaimed “You can take my gun from my cold dead hands”. Overly dramatic and terrible overacting. This made many Americans sick as it did me. Americans shoot more of one another than any other comparable country on earth. Gun control is essential.

I could spend a long time compiling a list of great Americans but Heston is not one of them – not even close.

Stick to your knitting fellas, you’re really good at that.

Just for the record I’m a licensed shooter that believes in very strict gun control.

Yours faithfully


We will take your note in the spirit which it is offered Tony. But surely you know, as a long-time Daily Reckoning reader, that we rarely stick to our knitting. After all, the Daily Reckoning is free. We give ourselves permission every once in a while to write about things that are not strictly financial.

In this case, we have to respectfully disagree with you on Heston and gun rights. As a migrant to Australia, we realise this position is the one that most Australians find baffling if not irrational, offensive, and morally reprehensible. Gun rights?

We can’t really explain it. But as a libertarian from the American West, the best explanation we have to offer is that Americans have always had a deep distrust of authority. Perhaps this comes from the origins of some of the country’s first settlers, escaping religious persecution in the Old World.

What’s more, for its first 100 years, America was a frontier society. You couldn’t call the police if you were having trouble with a neighbour or wild animals attacking your livestock. You had to fend-and defend-for yourself. Guns were practical tools of personal self defense. In many places they still are.

Now we know that many of the weapons on sale at low prices in America are not “practical” in the sense that farmers and ranchers are using them as tools. You would not shoot a wolf with an armor-piercing bullet.

In fact, as America’s workforce moved off the farm and into the cities in the early half of the 19th century, having a well armed populace took on a whole new dimension. People in large cities seem to be more uncivil toward one another and more distrustful. Gun crime (much of it related to drugs) has increased.

We chalk this up to the utter stupidity of America’s drug laws, which perpetuate high drug prices and incentivize drug crime. It pays more to deal drugs in America’s inner cities than it does to work for an honest living. Decriminalise drugs and the prices fall, meaning drug lords wouldn’t be going to war to fight over falling profits.

But really, the core of America’s gun culture is both violent and fiercely independent. As Australians know, the frontier is a violent place. America was a vast frontier and its gun culture matured as that frontier was explored.

Today, the right to own a gun is a man’s only real defence against the arbitrary abuse of government power. That doesn’t mean you can go shoot your neighbour if you feel like it. But it does means-and we are merely trying to explain in to our fine Australian readers-that some Americans still have a fundamental distrust of the supposed benign nature of the coercive power of government. They see guns as their last defense against that coercive power.

In our experience, Australians are not nearly so suspicious of government power. This is a generalisation, but Australians-from our observations so far-seem to basically believe that the government is there to help you, can usually be trusted, and is more or less on your side.

Those are all alien thoughts to us. But then again, we’re a legal alien, so they would be alien wouldn’t they?

Please don’t write in telling us to see any Michael Moore movies or telling us about school shootings. We know the issue up and down and inside out. We’re just trying to give you an insight about why Americans hold on to their guns. Maybe it’s actually worth thinking about, instead of just criticising in a knee-jerk fashion.

Dan Denning
The Daily Reckoning Australia

Dan Denning
Dan Denning examines the geopolitical and economic events that can affect your investments domestically. He raises the questions you need to answer, in order to survive financially in these turbulent times.


  1. I have to admit, there is another side to the gun control debate, that we just don’t see much in Australia, that I have come to slowly appreciate. I too used to just chalk people like Charlton Heston as further evidence of a peculiarly American insanity, without looking deeper with fresh pre-judgemental eyes. Good on Dan for standing up for his developed views here.

  2. Well put, Dan. In Australia, shooting is the SAFEST sport there is. ( Most of our gun deaths (78%) are suicides, yet only 5% of suicides here involve guns, usually after other means have failed.

    Our tough new gun laws have not dropped the murder rate at all.

    Democracy, meanwhile, is based on one fundamental fact: You cannot trust the government.

  3. Or a simpler way to explain the difference is that Australians are subjects while Americans are citizens.

    It is our right to overthrow our government (as was the method of installing the current form), but a right without the power to exercise the right is meaningless.

    The analysis of the drug angle is spot on. The unholy alliance of drug cartels, police, political hacks, judges, lawyers, the religious right all conspire to keep drugs illegal – and drug profits high. This fuels war.

    We used to have alcohol prohibition. When that was in effect, we had crime syndicates, drive-by shootings, bootleggers, turf wars… all the things we now have because of illegal drugs. But since the repeal of prohibition, I’ve not heard of one bartender shooting at another because the latter served a drink to one of the former’s clients. Bars don’t go to shooting wars over the profits in the alcohol trade because, being legal, the profits aren’t worth it.

    Once you remove the drug-related shootings (and shootings by blacks – who comprise 1/8 of the population, but commit 1/2 of all murders), our gun-related homicide rate is no worse than Canada’s… which has relatively strict gun control.

    Meanwhile, the U.K. has just outlawed swords. Knives are already regulated and self-defense of any kind is a dicey matter.

    Since the U.K. and Australia surrendered their rights to self-defense, crime has shot up and now generally surpasses crime in the US. The University of Leiden did a study on crime victimization. It is no surprise to me that Australians and Brits were victimized more than any other westerners (#1 and #2 respectively), while the US didn’t even enter the top 10 in terms of most lawless societies.

    One example: The hot burglary rate in the U.K. is several times higher than in the US. Why? In the U.K., burglars run little risk of injury – may even collect damages if injured by a victim (think: Tony Martin). In the US, burglars run a serious risk of being killed by homeowners, and when that happens, they are not generally punished for their public service.

    See for details.

    Were drugs legalized in the US, I think all the western world would envy the safety and security which we, the People of America, hold in our own hands.

    One more item to think about: In the last century, more people were killed BY THEIR OWN GOVERNMENTS, than by criminals or by war. (See Think of Somalia and Rwanda as two recent examples. When your government turns on you – and it may – what will you do?

    Should our government turn on us, tens of millions of riflemen (over 240 million firearms in private hands) would be free to respond with deadly effect.

    Kurt Amesbury
    April 8, 2008

    Upon this Nineteenth Day of April, Two-thousand and Eight Years A.D.,

    We The People, Do Hereby Declare and Proclaim Ourselves;
    To Be in Agreement with the Spirit, Meaning and Intent of the Constitution which Established the Republic Acknowledged as that of These United States, and In General with the Spirit, Meaning and Intent of Constitutions Having Established Our Respective States within the Union.
    We the People, Do Hereby Declare and Proclaim Ourselves;
    To Be Peaceful and Law-abiding American Citizens and Hold every Honest Intent to Assent, Abide and Bind Ourselves to;
    All Constitutionally-Permissible, Just and Rightfully-Enacted Laws.

    In Honor of and Having Respect for, Those Patriots who Responded to the Crisis which Occurred on the 19th day of April in 1775;
    In Honor of and Having Respect For, Those Righteous Persons who Sacrificed All Which They Had to Cause Tyranny and Despotism to Be Abolished;
    In Honor of and Having Respect for, Those who Courageously and Brilliantly Brought Forth from the Articles of Confederation a System of Government by Consent of The People;
    A System which Separated the Powers Within and Limited those Powers Afforded to the New General Government;
    In Honor of and Having Respect for, Those Who Sacrificed and Died, those now Passed Away, Those who Served and those Now In Service Defending Our Nation from Our Enemies

    We The People, as Self-Governing, Self-Regulating and Responsible American Citizens, Do Hereby Issue to All Federal, State and Local Governments;
    All Branches, Agencies, Agents, Authorities, Officials and Representatives of The People Thereof and Therein,
    An Order To;
    Cease and Desist from Any and All Further Attempts to Infringe Upon the GOD-Given and Common-law Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms.

    As Any and All Governments within these United States Derive their Just Powers Only From The People; and
    Continue to Govern Only In Accordance With the Will, By the Grace and With the Consent of The People;
    We the Independent, Peaceful and Intentionally Law-Abiding American Citizens Residing as Members of the Whole Body of The People;
    Do Declare and Proclaim by All which We Hold to Be Morally Right, Just and Consistent with Individual Rights Endowed Upon Each Person by Their CREATOR;
    Not In Any Way Granted or Afforded by Any Lesser Authority;
    In Accordance with our Moral Obligations and Duty to Ourselves, Other Citizens, State and Nation;
    As Testament To and In Accordance With Our Will;
    We The People Do Hereby Declare and Issue This PROCLAMATION.
    As It Has Been Said, So It Shall Be.


    To be posted 19 April 2008

    Suggestion also to fly the Gadsden Flag 19 April 2008

  5. What Australians don’t understand is that even if gun ownership is no more necessary in the U.S. than in Australia, guns are nonetheless more useful to Americans. Even if you assume that my risk of being victim of a rape, robbery, or burglary attempt were as great in Australia as in the U.S., a gun in Australia would be useless to me due to the prohibition against its use in self-defense — even Australians who have guns are allowed to use them only for sport. A gun would serve no important purpose even to an Australian who was vulnerable to being robbed.

    In America, legally owned firearms _are_ allowed to be used in self-defense (for shooting rapists, muggers and burglars — or anyone else who criminally puts you in a realistic fear for your life). Contrasted with mere sport, the loss of this right would be a significant loss, indeed.

    Though police may help to protect us, Americans cannot trust them with the entire job; their conflicts of interest impose competing priorities on them. Urban police take orders from their chief, who takes orders from the mayor. The mayor has to deal with the threat of race riots should the police enforce the law too stringently. Many low-income voters ameliorate the guilt of common criminals on grounds of “lack of legitimate opportunity” and argue that crime should be dealt with, not punitively, but by treating the “root causes which are poverty, racism and economic inequality”. This forces the mayor (and the police) to tolerate a baseline level of street crime.

    Many delinquent teens would not doubt prefer to rob unarmed middle-class victims than to risk being killed in a war over drug-gang territory. I, in contrast, prefer that they do the latter. (Better still that they should flip burgers or shine shoes, but many are determined to be criminals one way or the other.) Regardless of my fellow voters’ politics, I nevertheless claim an absolute right not to tolerate being robbed. If this means that more innocent poor people die in the crossfire of gang wars, then let them be more supportive of the police in those neighborhoods and stop getting angry whenever the police kill one of their criminals.

  6. Just a small comment on some of the erroneous details.Most hunting ammunition can pierce body armor,so the armor-piercing comment may be an exaageration.Also,if an inexpensive gun is all one can afford to defend the family,it’s better to have some means of self-defense than none,a lesson that the Austrailian and English population have learned in the time since they were disarmed.We had a family member,unarmed,who was killed by a drug addled,knife equipped,knuckle-dragging low life on a back country road.The police didn’t get there for over an hour.I don’t think any member of our family will make the same mistake,no matter who it offends,no matter how ‘the law’ feels about that.The article,overall,did make a decent dent in explaining some of the reason that Americans will not be disarmed.If our armed,free society offends the rest of the world,we can live,survive,and go on with our lives without much worry that the rest of the world will change us.It doesn’t mean we are hostile to are friends in beautiful Austrailia or anywhere else,just that we make our own decisions.

    chester arthur
    April 9, 2008
  7. Somehow,the word ‘are’ slipped in instead of ‘our’ in the last sentence of the previous post.Sorry for the lack of proof-reading.

    chester arthur
    April 9, 2008
  8. Heston was a maverick. Actor who left acting to serve his country in WWII. Returned a staff sargent, and back to acting. (He was a gunner in a bomber) Not the best actor, but took jobs that portrayed strong male role models. Aside from being married to the same woman his whole life he walked the walk, talked the talk. A man of unwavering principal.

    He saw the Constitution as sacred and unique. All ‘men created equal’ was his belief so much he marched, and stood next to Martin Luther King when he gave his historical speech. Who else from Hollywood put thier carrer at risk to do that, at that time? No one.

    My brother-in-law is from Australia. A country the size of the continental US, but with the population of CA’s Bay Area. He’s now a shooter and doesn’t understand the land of his birth. He is glad to be a citizen here.

    If the Australians understood natural law, self-defense, and equated gun ownership with civil rights, they might get a clue. Instead they make a great example of policies the US will never adopt.

    April 9, 2008
  9. There is a misconception in many countries that the US has no gun control whatsoever. That is false. We have over 22,000 laws on the federal level concerning firearms. Many people think that you can go down to the convinience store and pick up an AK-47, which is not true. Gun dealers are very strickly regulated and are held to higher standards than the agency that regulates them is. Real AK-47’s are very very expensive and difficult to get, along with all other fully-automatic firearms. Two of those lawfully held, fully-automatic firearms have ever been used in a crime in the US, and those have both been by cops. The firearms that look like military firearms in the US are not military weapons. They are semi-automatic only versions of a similar design. Even owning the parts to make one of those firearms fully automatic will land you a lengthy stay in a federal prison. Background checks are nearly instant now thanks to advances in technology, although they can take several hours or days if the system is busy. The background check is esentially done beforehand as all records prohibiting firearm ownership are fed into the system when a person is convicted of a felony, etc.

    What also makes our country unique is the fact that states provide a lot of their own laws as opposed to the federal level. Federal firearms laws concern fully-automatic firearms, firearms dealers, importation of firearms, and interstate transportation of firearms. Other regulations are left up to the state governments. Most states have very similar laws, but the state laws are not mentioned by the media.

    And to all of the folks down under, don’t rely on CNN for your view of America, our culture, and our laws. They do not even come close to portraying our lives in this country.

    As to the letter writers, our distrust of the government is prevelent, and would seem justified now as much as ever. An example would be the idea of a “license” to shoot a firearm. Many in the US would cringe at the idea. It is a right in our country, and self-defense is a basic human right, but the right to arms can be taken away if that right is used to violate the rights of others.

    April 9, 2008
  10. …if you were to get the guns out of the hands of criminals…and that’s a pretty big IF….criminals would have to become more sophisticated ,educated…and does society really need more bankers….no…i think it’s best to leave well enough alone….in america the military employs a lot of people…unlike switzerland…do they have a military…i’m not sure….

  11. Hey, Mr. Tony Balony, who wrote the letter in Dan Denning’s column above – take it from me, a Jewess in the US: America wasn’t won with a registerd gun! And criminals are stopped by FIREARMS, not by talk. That is why all REAL Americans put our 2nd Amendment FIRST!

    Wendy Weinbaum
    April 9, 2008
  12. Charleton was a great man and one who came to see the destructive effects of socialism through his own experiences with Hollywood unions. He supported civil rights and marched with M.L. King at
    a time when such activism was risky. His appreciation of the Second Amendment freedoms which Americans enjoy was an extension of Heston’s great respect for civil rights. He wasn’t acting when he made the “cold dead hands” remark, and millions of Americans quite rightly agree with him. Australians, and particularly urban Australians, wish to believe that government is a benign entity and their freedom is secureed by the ballot box alone. Good luck with that.

  13. I’ve recently obtained a firearms licence here in Australia. It is a highly illogical system.

    After first applying for my licence, I receive permission to attend a firearms safety course, which costs $90.

    I attend the course, get my certificate, have to reapply for my licence with aformentioned certificate, wait 28 days, then receive permission to obtain a licence, costing $200.

    But wait there’s more, to then buy a rifle I must re-reapply for permission to buy a firearm, costing $30, waiting another 28 days, every time I wish to buy a rifle! What is the government going to do, turn around and tell me I can’t buy a gun after taking my $200?!

    Just another example of a stupid government grabbing the cash.

  14. I remember when the gun laws came here in Australia, a lot of people in rural areas hid their rifles in pvc piping in creeks and such. With the drought, these “hiding places” have been popping up everywhere. hahaha

    Having said that, I have spent a fair bit of time in Texas, USA, where guns are a standard item in the glovebox. When I compare how “safe” I felt, I must say I felt far safer here in Australia.

    Gun laws will never stop criminals and I support the right to bear arms, but the less of them around the better.

  15. Break a bottle and put it in a idiots hands and he will kill some one! Not all Aussies dislike guns in fact us country folk still see a practical use for them and they are like tools as there is the right gun for the right use. Now i know some of the boy`s get a bit excited and have to have the V8 of there chosen toy but that is not the mentality of a country and i am sure Americans would agree!Australia is sheep country and sheep tend to follow the leader, now we dont like making a fuss [keep it simple] unfortunately our government is well aware of this and use it where they can, and the sheep follow! the other unfortunate fact in this country is the bulk of our population lives in cities [penned sheep]and the decisions for the rest of the country are made by these ignorant voters. In the country all these laws represent the loss of rights, the rights that were earnt by tameing this country and making it productive so the beuracrats could be comfortable while they introduced civilised behavour!Well were civilised and behaving but they still keep taking our rights away.

    Diggin it!
    April 9, 2008
  16. What our friend Tony misses out are a few details that spoil his picture.

    1) Michael Moore completely misrepresented Heston (and most others) in Bowling for Columbine. How can Tony hate someone based on a liar’s story?

    2) The Australian intelligentsia’s idea of the NRA is completely false. Our journalists ideas of them are got from the ad hominems of liberal US journalists, commentators and left-wing activists. The strawman evil that they portray is totally unrealistic. Again, Tony’s hate is based on a falsehood created by partisans.

    It has been claimed that Australians suffer from ‘tall poppy syndrome’. It is far more correct to say they can act en masse like a bunch of methodist wowsers, pumping moral outrage at the flick of a cliche on ’60 Minutes’.

  17. Australia has Rebecca Peters; thankfully, the USA does not. She tried to come over here to the USA to shove her version of gun-control onto the people of the USA. Along the way, she engaged Wayne Lapierre, the Executive Vice-President of the NRA in a debate about gun control and was left looking like road kill in the middle of the Santa Monica Freeway.

    P.S. – The Australian government sure did a beautiful job in protecting its subjects during the Cronulla riots, didn’t it? And you wonder Down Under, why we in the USA have the right to keep and bear arms.

    Antonio Salazar
    April 10, 2008
  18. Compare personal safety in Australia with that of the USA?

    I cannot believe that people argue ‘for’ the right to own guns. Annette is correct, it is not the right to own a gun that is important, its keeping the sheer numbers of guns at a low level.

    Cronulla riots?
    Let’s just take a reality check for a second and read some reports of school kids rampaging through their schools on murder suicide rampages. Or, lets see which country has by far the highest rate of gun related crime in the world.

    This debate is a no brainer. Lets please not reduce it so far as to even consider favourably comparing the US to Australia in terms gun laws.

  19. Antonio, you are wrong. Rebecca Peters is working in the USA, for IANSA. Her job is funded by George Soros. She has been there for over 10 years. For a picture of Rebecca, check out my article here: .

    Pete, my sympathy on having to deal with no-brainers. It must like totally kill you. Just remember, it isn’t facts or evidence that matter but moral righteousness. You go guy.

  20. I can understand your disbelief Pete, I used to share it. There is more to the issue than can be resolved with a simple reduction, as attractive as that may be, as:

    “Compare personal safety in Australia with that of the USA”

    Correlation ain’t causation. The Swiss experience is particularly telling. If you want to see how intelligent and moral people can indeed argue against gun control, may I suggest you look put down your preconceptions first.

  21. some of us Aussies hold that we have rights, our government disagrees, and we exercise our rights in their ignorance.anyone who trusts the government/s in aus is a sheep.actually, sheep are quite smart by comparison.The Americans look at us and wonder how we tolerate the jackboot, we look at them and wonder why they dont apreciate the freedom they have.its illegal to kill and harm people, making laws wich adversely affect thousands of people, just to make a political point, in the aftermath of a crime, is patently wrong and abuse of office. the fact that the “majority” of australians voted for the vile little creature again, tells me the same majority are almost to dumb to breath for themselves.

  22. Pete, how many guns were used at the Cronulla riots?

    How much has British gun crime INCREASED since their total ban on handguns?

  23. Pete: “I cannot believe that people argue ‘for’ the right to own guns. Annette is correct, it is not the right to own a gun that is important, its keeping the sheer numbers of guns at a low level.”

    One way you could minimize the number of guns being carried is to reduce the number of policemen. Would that make you safer? Obviously not.

    If guns can be used in self-defense, the what is important is ensuring that a great many good people in every place are carrying them — to increase the chances that someone violently abusing his possession of a gun will be promptly shot. For the sake of freedom, it is vital that most of these people be ordinary private citizens rather than uebermenschen who take orders from the Great Leader.

    The difference in opinion is because most people who oppose the death penalty don’t want criminals to get shot, either.

  24. So many religious people should have a concept of how to live. The right to kill your neihbour is not acceptable. Question the society you live in that drives him to want to harm you.

  25. And if Jesus had a gun he would not have suffered the same fate. The master choses his own fate.

  26. “Let’s just take a reality check for a second and read some reports of school kids rampaging through their schools on murder suicide rampages. Or, lets see which country has by far the highest rate of gun related crime in the world. ”

    I love when anti-gun people name the school rampages as their evidence, because it is the perfect example for the pro-gun people. Why? Because those kids shooting up schools are under 18, which means they got their guns illegally anyway! Gun laws didn’t stop them! The right to own a firearm is completely irrelevant to the subject, and the example only provides evidence that gun laws DON’T WORK! IF people want to acquire a gun, they will do so either way. But gun laws only prevent good law-abiding citizens from having guns and protecting themselves, and thus increase crime.

  27. William is on the money. I see most of the issues in the USA right now as affecting Australia too. A central bank, fiat money and inflation, huge foreign debt, ridiculous bank profits and so on.

    I’m holding my gun close!

  28. BRIAN wrote: “The right to kill your neighbour is not acceptable. Question the society you live in that drives him to want to harm you.”

    Then why do you find it acceptable for a policeman to have a right to kill your neighbor? Besides, it’s not my neighbor that I have a right to kill, it’s the rapist, burglar or mugger who might be criminally putting my neighbor in a fear for his life after he gets done with me that I have a right to kill. And no, society isn’t driving the criminal to want to rape or rob; it’s perfectly natural for him to want to do that if he can get away with it — just like a wolf hunts a deer.

    Sure, society and religion can _sometimes_ indoctrinate people against certain tactics, but no such indoctrinization will ever be perfect. That’s why we, as members of society must be ready to use force of arms to defend our society’s standards. That’s why we have police; and it’s why we need guns when police aren’t around.

  29. Anti-gun activists and journalists caused most of the mass killings, especially Port Arthur, by their salivating news and current affairs reports. Their reports unwittingly recruited deviants to imitate, taught them how to do it, offered the equivalent of millions of dollars worht of publicity as a reward for doing it, and showed how to escape consequences.

    Criminal gangsters get guns freely in Australia, but gun laws are targeted in moralistic condemnation of the ordinary responsible people who own them legally.

    They are laws founded in hate, the hate of self-righteous ‘progressive’ people against their fantasised strawman ‘gun lobby’.


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