Since the last post, tthe terrible massacre in Charleston occurred, and broke our hearts. It was a wrenching tragedy, and our prayers go out to the victims and their families. And of course it started all sorts of conversations, about race, gun control, and excessive violence in America,
An American friend asked me this week , "What's the story on guns in France?" So I decided to look into this a bit deeper.
First, some observations from across the pond: In the US there is increasingly a culture of violence, shockingly evident when we go back to visit. In the US local papers, every day seems to bring fresh gun violence. Movies, TV shows and video games are disturbing in their ever more graphic violence, and Americans seem to have an insatiable thirst for watching it (how blood and gore got to be entertainment will always be a mystery to me). French movies and TV do not follow this violent pattern. Though of course American culture-creep is unavoidable, so US movies are shown here as well.
French gun laws are tough, and violent crime is low. In France the gun culture is pretty much limited to those who hunt, a popular pastime in the countryside.The recent massacres by deranged (foreign) gunmen in France have caused France, and Europe, to tighten their strict gun laws even further (this has not happened in the US, sadly). Private ownership of handguns in France is illegal, but hunting rifles may still be bought by those who hold a hunting license (frequently renewed, psychological evaluation required), and owners must register their ownership of a hunting rifle with the police. There are regulations about how to store guns in the home.
The municipal police in France are not generally armed, though they can be. The national police are a branch of the military, and they are armed.
One reason civilians don't carry guns here in France may be because they don’t feel the NEED to carry guns. Violent crime here is rare. It’s seems to be a vicious circle in the US: guns begat more violence, causing more people to believe they should carry guns, which then causes more impulsive violence, firearm accidents, and suicides with guns. That cycle doesn’t exist here. Photo right: Gun control issues in France? No, the national discussion here at the moment is more about the dangers of messing with vegetable genes.
So let’s compare the statistics.
Number of guns owned in the US: about 90 per 100 people
Number of guns owned in France: about 31 per 100 people
Murders per capita: The US has nearly five times the number of murders per capita as does France or the UK.
Percentage of murders involving guns, US: 67.5%
Percentage of murders involving guns, France: 9.6%
(Source: the Washington Post )
There is no equivalent of the strong American gun lobby here in France. To understand the philosphy of the all-powerful NRA in the US, you only have to listen a member of the NRA board, who blamed the VICTIM in Charleston, saying the Charleston incident wouldn’t have happened if the preacher had been armed. Now picture this: per this NRA board member, the good reverend is supposed to walk around all day, even at prayer meetings, with a loaded gun in his pocket, instantly accessible, John Wayne style. And when someone suddenly points a gun at him, he is supposed to have time to pull out HIS gun and shoot someone who already has a gun pointed at his head? I don’t think so.
By the way, did you read about the guy who was at a wedding at the Waldorf Astoria two weeks ago, and the loaded gun in his pocket accidentally discharged? Injuring five people, as it ricocheted; one person was shot in the head. Yet the NRA wants to put guns in kindergartens, and arm college students (who have been known, on occasion, to drink excessively and act irresponsibly. Hey, let’s add guns to that mix!). In France—or any other country in the civilized world, for that matter—this would be laughable, unthinkable, deplorable. As it should be.
My friend also asked, "If France isn't as violent, what about those riots in the big cities?" They are indeed a problem, and they typically occur in poor neighborhoods where there are disenfranchised youth. But the main outlet for male French frustration is not gunplay but setting empty cars on fire. Even in a peaceful week, auto arson is popular in les banlieues, or ghettos (bad behavior, but I’ll take property damage any day over shootings).
I’m not sure why burning cars is a tradition. Maybe the fire evokes some sort of male caveman instinct, just as guns are so much about flaunting machismo, and male aggression (sorry guys, but over 90% of homicides in the US are committed by males).
The bottom line is, when it comes to crime, we feel much safer here in France, and the numbers confirm that. As do the repeated horrific US shootings. Can’t we Americans take a lesson from the French on this one, s'il vous plâit? Make l’amour, not war!
In the COMMENTS: Juanita, that is TOO funny that you had almost the same experience! And thanks for the cooking tip, y'all. I've never seen cooking spray in France, though surely it exists--I must look again. Augusta, it does resemble baba au rhum quite a bit (which I love), though it's a little more bread-like and not as sweet. Surely they are culinary cousins. Martin talks about Flammenkuche, a good subject for another blog one day. Jane, thanks for the tip on a local source, see you at the market I hope. Ellen, I think it will freeze just fine if you wrap it tightly. Natalia, oh my, nibbling around the globs, that sounds serious!
Favorite Reads & Views: Here's an interesting and funny article/video by an Australian comic. The subject: How the rest of the world sees US gun laws. On a lighter note, my friend Alix recommends My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine , by Kate Betts. She says it's a funny, light read. In the movie department, I can't wait to watch A Taste of Romance (Hallmark), recommended in the Comments section by our reader Colleen (of Colleen Taylor Fine Art).
Cartoon at top by Draw-ception.