"How many guns do you have?"
Luckily for Europe's gawking, gun-curious masses, I grew up in a somewhat stereotypically small-town American family and am able to give them a satisfying and invariably gasp-inducing answer.
Five. I have five guns. And to the inquirer's astonishment and immense pleasure I can do them one better. I can tell them about getting my first rifle at age 9. I can tell them about hunting at age 12. I can tell them about running through the woods with my friends every weekend as a teenager, unsupervised and shooting everything that moved. I can tell them about going fishing with a shotgun and the time we spent an entire afternoon felling a small tree one shot at a time with .22s. I can show them a picture of my diminutive wife firing an AR-15 that's nearly as big as she is and tell them about how my dad doesn't even go on a jog without a pistol strapped to some part of him.
By this point my new acquaintance is usually peering at me like a mutant zoological specimen out of some aristocrat's 18th century cabinet of curiosities. It's a raw kind of awe, mixed either with the respectful wonder due a gun-slinging outlaw of great renown, or alternatively, with the wary condescension one might pay an especially wild-looking troglodyte. It all depends upon the particular observer, of course.
At any rate, by the end, my stories always elicit the same slow head shake of disbelief. "I can't believe that's allowed," the European always says with post-climactic incredulity. Then they usually launch into a little diatribe about all the tragedies and shootings and violence that stem from America's lax gun regulations. They're not wrong, of course. Even someone who grew up steeped in gun culture and already reeking of Hoppe's #9 as a first grader can see that the prevalence of guns in the US entails a high human cost.
|Kinder Surprise eggs are especially popular in Germany. You should see people's minds explode when I tell them that the eggs are banned in America because the large plastic capsule inside contains a toy which U.S. authorities fear could pose a choking hazard.|
Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense, but I guess we enjoy squeezing off a few on a tacted-out Bushmaster that much more than we enjoy the sense of mounting anticipation as we peel the tin foil off of a Kinder Surprise egg, eat the layer of chocolate, and then crack open the plastic capsule within to reveal a Spiderman collectible.
Every country has its vices.
Germany is a fairly safe place to drive a car. In fact, per billion kilometers driven, Germany sees about one less fatality than we do in the U.S. Of course, you'd expect Germany to be a safe place to drive a car. The legal driving age is 18, driving school is mandatory, ultra-safe German-made cars are very popular, vehicle inspections are stricter, road maintenance is better, speed cameras are everywhere, and Germans are generally more anal about following the rules.
In fact, Germany should be an even safer place to drive than it is, but they do this thing on long sections of their highways that no other country on earth does- they let you drive as fast as you want. And some people do want to drive fast.
It works out for the most part. People are pretty good about moving over into the right lane after they pass. But trucks are only allowed to drive 60 mph, which means you have people doing 60 and people doing 160 mph on the same road. It can be pretty nerve-wracking pulling into the left lane to pass a truck. You might have to slow down all the way to 60 mph if you get stuck behind the truck, and a tiny speck in your rear view mirror can grow into a BMW slamming into your ass pretty quickly when there's an 100 mph differential in respective velocities.
|As you may imagine, when things go wrong on the Autobahn, they can really go wrong. I'm not a doctor or an automotive engineer, so I won't try to assess the survivability of the situation pictured above, but I think it's safe to assume that the occupants of this vehicle are a little... less alive now than they were before the crash.|
The people of Germany know they could set a highway speed limit of perhaps 80 mph or so like every other country on earth and save some lives. But those extra traffic deaths are a price they're willing to pay in return for the freedom to vroom vroom. Are the Germans with their fast cars getting a better deal than the Americans with their boom boom sticks? Hard to say. It's difficult to compare vices. How do you compare the cost/benefit analysis of drinking with that of smoking? Ideally I'd be doing both... while driving 150 mph and popping off my 9mm through the sun roof.
People say that you can't put a price on human life. That's a sentimental thought. Economists, governments, and insurance companies do it all the time. As of 2011, for example, most departments of the US government place the value of a human life somewhere between 6 and 9 million USD. That means we can at least estimate a cost for all this gun fun.
Let's be generous and just for the sake of argument say that homicide rates would remain the same in the U.S. regardless of gun control regime. Instead we'll just look at accidental gun deaths, which one could argue are a more direct proxy for A) having a lot of firearms and ammunition around, B) not requiring gun owners to complete an onerous level of safety courses or demonstrations of competency, and C) not requiring gun owners to go to unduly extreme lengths to store their guns. We'd expect A-C to all look very different under a restrictive gun control regime. Also, unlike with gun crime, it's very hard to make the argument that, "people will just use knives to accidentally kill themselves if you take away the guns."
So, assuming that American accidental (accidental/negligent discharge + undetermined intent) gun death numbers would roughly resemble those of Canada, Australia, or the U.K. under a comparable gun control regime, we can calculate that the U.S. loses about an extra 575 people per year (786 deaths in the U.S. in 2013 vs. the ~210 deaths we'd expect using the average of Australian, Canadian, and U.K. per capita accidental gun death rates applied to the U.S.' 320 million population in 2013).
At an average rate of $7.5 million per life, that's about $4.3 billion worth of human. Household gun ownership rates in the U.S. are probably just a touch south of 40% depending on whom you ask, so that's about 127 million people living in gun-owning households and presumably enjoying all the benefits thereof. That means America's gun hobby costs $33.86 per gun-owning household member per year, assuming that gun prevalence and homicide/suicide are uncorrelated, and that people who accidentally shoot themselves and don't die are covering their own medical bills.
$33.86/person/year doesn't sound like much, but remember, that is nearly 34 bucks in blood money, not regular money, so there's also that to bear in mind. Am I having $33.86 blood dollars worth of fun every year with my guns? I'm not sure. Cutting that tree down with .22s was pretty awesome.
It's hard to isolate the variable of speed when it comes to Autobahn fatalities. A few sources even claim that not having a speed limit has no affect on crash statistics, but most researchers agree that speed and fatalities are correlated. That means that just like our annual cost of $33.86 per person to enjoy guns, the Germans are willing to pay a certain cost in terms of human life (whatever that comes out to in blood Euros) to drive their cars fast.
The only value statement you can really make about vices is that whatever they cost, they should at least be pleasurable. That is the whole point of a vice, after all. Smoking Swisher Sweets, for example, isn't a vice; it's self flagellation of the palate with the added bonus that it also increases your risk of lung cancer.
And that's why rather than harangue my fellow Americans for their gun vice or lecture Germans on their Autobahn hypocrisy, I'd rather draw people's attention to a danger lurking in Europe that I doubt is giving anybody any pleasure at all; a danger so dumb and dissatisfying that there really is no argument for keeping it around.
I'm referring of course to double cylinder door locks, the Swisher Sweets of door hardware. And much like Swisher Sweets in Arkansas gas stations, double cylinder locks are ubiquitous throughout Europe.
|The classic single lever double cylinder mortised sashlock exterior door lockset, or as I prefer to call it, "The Grim Reaper."|
The unique feature of the double cylinder door lock is that in addition to locking yourself out, you can also lock yourself in. The deadbolt tumbler only turns with the key, and instead of automatically unlocking the door from the inside, the door lever(s) are useless if the tumbler has been locked from either side.
That means that if you live on the second story or higher, you've locked your door for the night, and you can't find your key in the morning, then you aren't leaving your apartment. I mean, eventually the police will break down your door and find your desiccated corpse still frozen in the act of one final desperate scratch against the door with your broken-off fingernails embedded in the fiberglass, but other than that... no. Not getting out.
Maybe you drop your key down the heating grate, maybe your kid hides it, maybe your significant other goes for a jog and locks the door behind them. Regardless of fire or medical emergency, no one is getting in or out of that door without a power drill, lockpick, or a battering ram.
Double cylinder locks would be in violation of most North American building codes, but in Europe they are the standard. In fact, amazingly enough, even many interior doors are double cylinder in Europe. At my old shared flat in Berlin we used to sneak into our one roommate's room while he was studying, grab his key off the bureau and then lock him inside his own room. Oh how riled up he used to get. We'd tell him we were in the living room on his Xbox account, trading away all the best players on his FIFA dynasty team. He would howl and whine and threaten. We'd announce that we were moving on to the kitchen to drink his precious Glenfiddich. He would beg and plead and cry. We'd tell him we were going downstairs to unlock his bike and give it to the next homeless person who wandered by. A generous gesture that was sure to bring him good karma, we consoled him.
There's a reason why the movie Hostel was set in Europe. Every room can be instantly converted into a torture chamber. If Hostel had been set in America the film would have been about 10 minutes long. Everyone just sort of wanders out of their dungeons and goes back to enjoying their vacation. Roll credits.
Aside from murdering you, European locksets also feature some extra inconveniences that no casual key-turner just trying to make it through the day should have to contend with.
The latchbolts in exterior doors in Europe lock by default whether you've turned the deadbolt or not. That means you turn the lever on the inside of the door freely, swing the door open, walk out of the house and then *click* the door locks behind you automatically. This means that A) you will get locked out of your house on occasion and B) you will become paranoid about patting yourself down like a TSA agent for your keys every time you set foot outdoors. You might be thinking, "well at least you save time by not having to lock the door manually every time you leave the house," but remember, it's only the latchbolt that automatically locks you out, not the deadbolt, which means that the door is really only half locked and your spouse or roommates are always going to guilt or shame you into taking the time to turn around and deadbolt the door as well because if someone ever broke in to the house you'd be to blame for everyone's missing stuff. So you turn around every morning as you leave to go to work and deadbolt the door, and then you pray that you aren't locking your loved ones into a fiery death trap if God forbid they shouldn't be able to locate their copy of the key on the other side in the event of an emergency.
When you get home after a long day at work you stick your key into the front door only to notice that the key doesn't seem to be going in the whole way for some strange reason, nor will the key turn. And then you remember- your spouse must have inserted their key into the other side of the door, and you're living in Europe where the locks are inexplicably designed so that a key in one side of the double cylinder blocks a key from the other side. You can't really blame your partner though, because at least they're playing it safe and keeping their key where it won't get lost so that they don't get burned alive in the event of a fire. But they weren't expecting you home so early and now they're vacuuming the upstairs with headphones on and you slowly sink to your knees in front of your goddamned Euro lock and your vision clouds with tears as you begin to sob, shoulders shaking and your wilting body slumped forward with your forehead resting against a VERY STURDY, VERY STUPIDLY CONSTRUCTED, COCK-SUCKING SINGLE LEVER DOUBLE CYLINDER MORTISED SASHLOCK.