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Brik McDill

Of the 21 most gun-violent countries in the world, as measured by gun-related homicides, 17 are in the Americas -- North, Central and South. Interesting fact. Bears looking into. But where do we look to understand gun violence, or any violence for that matter?

A country's laws surrounding gun ownership and use for sure affect the prevalence and incidence of gun violence, with the clearest example being Japan, which forecloses entirely the right of private gun ownership. Death by gun there is barely measureable (11 gun homicides in Japan -- population 128 million -- in 2008). Can a simple causal connection be made from Japan's example that banning guns in extremis will eliminate gun deaths? Well, simply speaking, yes. Make all guns disappear, gun activity of all types disappears. But does that translate to anything transferable to a country like the United States? And, given our Second Amendment, is that option even enactable?

What about a country's national temperament? Is there such a thing? Maybe so. Yesterday's Japanese children (less so today's) were trained toward obedience, harmony, discipline, and conformity with these traits so deeply ingrained anything other was so deeply shameful as to warrant social ostracism, reduced marital prospects, and ruined social and professional opportunities. Japan also was and remains a genetically rather pure and insular country.

What can be said about the national temperament of those countries with the highest gun violence rates? While it is by no means the most gun-violent country, the United States is illustrative of trait-related personality patterns. What traits are grained into our youth? Achievement, individuality, action, success (usually at all costs), self-focus, standing out, competitiveness, hyperactivity, winner takes all, being above and better than the rest, recognition seeking, reward seeking, materialism. We are, additionally, a hodgepodge of ethnicities and genomes with a deeply rooted core of rugged survivalism from our earliest immigrants onward, which by now is both our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. But that's another column.

Moreover, is the Second Amendment even relevant today? It begins with a qualifying sentence fragment ("A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ...") pointing out the importance of an armed militia, of which at the writing of our Constitution we had none. Our only means of national self-defense (and we were surrounded then by those who would do us harm) were ragtag mobs of barely governable, musket-toting, sharpshooting, untrained, self-sacrificing, state militia volunteers willing to arm themselves with whatever they happened to have at home and, mostly at their own expense, bravely venture into wars under horrifying conditions, in the face of horrific risk, facing the best-equipped and best-commanded armies in the world. And when all was said and done, they'd bested them all; God bless 'em. Thus was the background and setting of the Second Amendment.

It has been argued that Switzerland, the most universally armed and militarily trained country in the world, is also the country most free of gun violence. It has also been correctly argued that in the states where guns are the most numerous, gun murders are likewise the most numerous. A case against stricter gun control laws can successfully be made by pointing out that cities with the strictest gun laws, such as Chicago, are also the cities with the most gun violence. Seems like statistics and examples can be marshaled to make whatever argument one wishes. It depends upon how questions about gun violence are framed and asked, of whom, and in what context.

It seems wisest to look for and at the roots of violence rather than at its form. Violence is a slippery Proteus, changing its form at will and as necessary. Eliminate one, another appears in its place. As we found with the lost wars against alcohol (Prohibition) and against drugs (Nixon's still-running war on drugs), without getting at the root there is no triumph over the disease. And as with Proteus, only when he was pinned down and poked would he reveal the truth, and in so doing be then of help to the victor.

Brik McDill, Ph.D., of Tehachapi, has spent 40 years in private practice in clinical and forensic psychology. Community Voices is an expanded commentary of 650 to 700 words.