Gun Control in Cuba, Gun Happy in Texas

Graham Sowa


HAVANA TIMES — Somewhere in Texas, right now, someone is wearing a t-shirt that has the pictures of Stalin, Mao, and Fidel with a caption that reads “Dictators Agree: Gun Control Works”.

I’ve seen the image and caption reproduced many times in my home state, a place known in Cuba and the world over, for its obsessive love of guns.

But if all Cubans equate Texas with gun happy hillbillies and all Texans equate Cubans with impotent victims of an omnipotent state I don’t really think either side is getting very close to engaging in productive debate.

So let’s break the stereotype for a few hundred words and see what other perspectives we can come up with.

Some Texans might be surprised to know that one of the often seen Fidel quotes pained on billboards and shooting ranges is:  “Every Cuban should know how to shoot, and shoot well”.

Every Cuban male, and some females, learn how to handle firearms and shoot when they pass through obligatory military service.  A few people, especially military, Ministry of Interior, and career police, have firearms in their home.

There exists a niche hunting culture in Cuba and there are public lands dedicated to the sport.  And just last month I heard of a paintball league that started in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.

Of course with all of that said there are caveats.  The Cuban shooting ranges use air pellet rifles, even though they only cost 1 Cuban Peso for 20 pellets.  Military service is becoming more lax and less intensive in its preparation.  I’ve never seen a gun show or gun store in Cuba.  And both hunting and paintball are probably well beyond the budget of your middle class Cuban.

Havana photo.
Havana photo.

Despite the presence of at least some trappings of armed military culture in Cuba I see that individual firearm ownership is looked upon with suspicion and even scorn.

When I tell Cubans I am from Texas it is usually followed by them doing an impersonation of someone lifting a pistol from a hip holster and then asking me if I’m a cowboy.  We usually then laugh together at this overplayed stereotype.

A hearty laugh should set the tone for a more jovial interchange, but often enough we start talking about guns.  Cubans want to know if it is true:  Does everyone there, in my home state, really own a gun?  Why?  Are we all lunatics?

The stereotype is so strong that they assume, by mere association, that all Texans are gun happy.

If I have the time I usually try to explain our affinity for guns from several perspectives: the history of the state militias, the lack of a government presence in our quickly expanding nation two centuries ago, the cult-like following of the second amendment, and the love of the hunt.

But usually my explanation of why we have so many guns gets whittled down to this: we have guns to feel like we can protect ourselves from other people with guns.

Some people feel like they want protection from thieves and trespassers, or those lunatics who murder 20 kindergartens or kill a bunch of people watching a movie.  Others want guns to protect themselves from the government and the police.

Feeling protected is the excuse I have heard most often to justify the self-armament of the Texan populace.  It is our right to feel protected and it is our right to get that feeling from guns.

Usually this explanation doesn’t get me very far with my Cuban listener.  They often want to know why people would want to keep having guns if they knew people were doing terrible things with them.  Wouldn’t it just be easier to get rid of the guns?  This question is simple in its logic and deserves and equally simple answer:  No.

Getting rid of guns, or extensive national gun control, in the United States might have been possible after World War I or II, when the population was feeling a little more homogeneous in national spirit.  But not ever again.

Cuban coastline.
Cuban coastline.

Too many half-hearted attempts at national gun control have lead to spurts of massive proliferation of assault weapons and 30 round magazines to the point that every person who feels like it is their god-given right to have one gun now has ten guns.

This is especially true of bored middle-aged men who live in the suburbs who are desperately looking for a way to be cool that doesn’t involve thinking, or doing, much of anything more than shopping online and going to the gun range every couple of months.

Unfortunately for my country, and the kindergarteners in Connecticut, and the theater-goers in Colorado, it is pretty easy for rampaging murderers to get guns.

And, unfortunately for my inquisitive Cuban friends and anyone else who wants answers, that is so insane that it is impossible to understand.

Usually I just end the gun conversation shrugging my shoulders and mumbling something about possibilities of local gun control (which actually seems like the only option at this point).  Because if our national priority is to let people keep shooting each other, at the expense of our protection of gun rights, then that is what will keep happening.


Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

Graham has 89 posts and counting. See all posts by Graham

17 thoughts on “Gun Control in Cuba, Gun Happy in Texas

  • **We can also argue about the second amendment and how it is no longer valid (it was drafted in the times of the muskets,***

    By this logic, freedom of speech isn’t extended to the internet because, well, the internet came two hundred years after the 1st amendment was written.

    *** nowadays the notion that a militia has a chance against a professional army or that it will keep the government honest is simply ridiculous).**

    Um, Checneya, ISIS and every successful victorious takeover of the Arab Spring by armed civilian rebellions.

  • Moses, we don’t have any tyranny to resist. We can vote for any candidate we like, we have two major parties and numerous minor ones, you don’t have to belong to a party to vote, and we can protest, petition, and organize elections against any government officials to whom we object without being jailed. You don’t use the same definition of “tyranny” for America that you use for Cuba. For Cuba, you use the accurate definition. For America, you limit it to attempts to keep military-grade weapons in the military, or at licensed and insured ranges for sport use by civilians. But that’s not tyranny. It’s just safety improving common sense.

    The First Amendment guarantees us freedom of assembly in public spaces, and prohibits Congress from passing any law restricting it. But none of us consider regulation of assembly to keep it off busy roads, despite those roads being public property, or the granting of temporary road closures for purposes of assemblies, to be “tyranny.” Anyone demanding the unfettered right to assemble at any time, in the middle of a highway, would be considered insane, and there is not, nor has there ever been, a lobby promoting that, nor has there ever been a candidate for office campaigning on a promise to provide it.

  • I think you’re missing something quite significant that happened between 1989 and now. Just a thought. I think it starts with Collapse and ends with Cuba’s largest trading partner.

  • An armed man is a citizen. A disarmed man is a serf.

  • I guess that’s why you see so many make shift boats leaving the U.S.A.’s shore trying to get to Cuba.

  • I personally hope the Republican convention this year allows those attending to carry weapons and the bigger the better. George W. should be a special guest. As several people have said, let them shoot it out and the last one standing would be the candidate to face Hillary or Sanders.

  • Do the Cubans have any kind of Freedom from their government? Is it worth it? “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” -Ben Franklin

  • Say what you want about George W. Bush and his policies but under him, and his gun rights policies, our crime rate was at a 40 year low. Violence was basically cut in half under Bush and the country was getting 4.5 million more guns a year for gun owners. In short, the more guns and gun owners, the lower the crime rate. The less restrictions on guns means less crime. You can fight and shout and scream all you want BUT, that is the absolute TRUTH!

    The nation’s murder rate is near a 40 year low and the
    number of privately owned guns in the U.S. is at an all-time
    high and rising by about 4.5 million annually.
    Right-to-Carry states had lower violent crime rates on
    the average than the rest of the country. Total violent
    crime in Right-to-Carry States was 24% lower; murder
    28% lower; robbery 50% lower and aggravated assault 11%
    The cities with the highest murder rates were cities with
    severe gun control.

    FBI Crime Report 2007

  • Thats kind of weird and the source smells fishy. If as you said, the Cubans wanted to keep a low crime profile to protect tourism, they simply would have disclosed bogus statistics to the UN drug and crime office (if anything), and if they got their stats from unofficial sources, they are simply bogus.

    Cuba is safe because it IS safe. I’ve walked with expensive gear in the middle of the night at places that would get me killed in the States or even Canada (ask Griffin about Jane and Finch) and never ever had an issue whatsoever. And I’m not talking about Old Havana or Vedado, with a cop in every block.

    As for rape, is extremely rare and usually involves mobs hunting and beating up the perpetrator before taking him to the authorities, not to mention that rapists usually don’t survive prison over there (you are usually interested in afro-cuban issues, do you know about the Abakua?)

    Yes, the legal system has some oddities, like the cow stuff, but even the cow “privilege” vanishes as soon as you commit a crime carrying or using a fire arm. As for “asedio al turismo” is not a predisposition to commit a crime, is a crime by itself (tax evasion at the very least) and doesn’t apply to regular people hanging up with tourists, but to what used to be the definition of jinetero before it became synonym of prostitution.

    But thats besides the point, I’m not saying that EVERYTHING they do is good and dandy, what I’m saying is that their legal system is more effective punishing violent crime involving fire weapons and as result the criminals rather go without them.

    Back to the second amendment, you must be kidding. A militia has the chance of a snowball in hell against a professional army. They lack tanks, planes, warships, drones, missiles, satellite networks, weapons of mass destruction, etc. The second they cross the line, they’ll get obliterated, most likely without even the chance to engage in actual combat.

    Under those circumstances, there is little they can do to protect the citizens from a corrupt government, and believing they can do so is extremely naive. To illustrate my point, the FBI is the one who takes care of cracking down on militias doing illegal stuff. The bottom line is that risk involved in such operations is almost never high enough to bother the army.

    Also, the right to bear arms is NOT part of the US constitution. As a matter of fact is not even a side effect of the second amendment:

    “In United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875), the Supreme Court ruled that “[t]he right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second Amendment means no more than that it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the National Government.”

    In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment “codified a pre-existing right” and that it “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home”[9][10] but also stated that “the right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose”. They also clarified that many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession listed by the Court are consistent with the Second Amendment.”

  • Texans that have guns cannot get it up without a gun

  • Ironically, according to Wikipedia, Cuba has a higher homicide rate than the US. One reason the ‘myth’ that Cuba is super-safe is because the Castros do not permit the government media to report crime. Nonetheless, word of mouth, is a very effective way to find out what is happening in the streets in Cuba. Cuba also ranks high in rape and sexual assault crimes. You will never read that in Granma, but Cuban women are acutely aware of the risks because of the ‘radio bemba’. Cuba also has its own anomalies with regard to their criminal justice system. Every Cuban knows you will spend more time in jail for killing a cow than you will for killing another human being. You can go to jail for up to five years for selling cigars on the street. In Cuba, it is a criminal offense to be predisposed to commit a crime. That means that a policeman can arrest you if he thinks you were about to commit a crime. ‘Asedio al turismo’ is the crime of simply associating with tourists.

    The US Second Amendment is just as vaild today as it was at its crafting. As with the entire Constitution, it must evolve in its interpretation as times and technology change.

  • Yet is several units of magnitude higher than in Cuba, generally considered a safer place. And population differences apart, I don’t see any news of crazy people in a rampage over there and in general the use of guns by criminals is negligible and their legislation seems to be working well for them.

    Speaking of which, thats only makes a hell of difference. To put it simply, the way the legal system works in US is kind of silly, your prison terms keep adding with every offense and relatively mild offenses can pile to more time in prison that murder, while in Cuba you are convicted based on the worst offense and the others add relatively little time to the sentences. In that circumstances, having a gun while committing a crime will get you more time than the crime itself, shooting the gun can get you up to 20 years and injuring or killing someone with a gun starts at 20 years and go up all the way to death sentence.

    The result is that criminals make a cost-benefit analysis and find that the risks involved in carrying and using guns are not worth of the benefits, so the gun crime is very very low (gun homicide rate is 0.2 killed 100000 inhabitants, compared to us 3.6, while suicide rate is 0.12 vs 6.3).

    We can also argue about the second amendment and how it is no longer valid (it was drafted in the times of the muskets, nowadays the notion that a militia has a chance against a professional army or that it will keep the government honest is simply ridiculous).

  • Nice quote, in which Fidel effectively endorses the embargo!

    Marxism fails again.

  • The 1959 Fidel said a lot of things that gave hope to Cubans that life would get better. The problem is that 30 years later in 1989 Fidel said to a Venezuelan reporter on October 30, “To tell you the truth, we do not need foreign capital to produce sugar in a sugar mill or to develop a new sugar product, we know that. We have the equipment; we have the land and we know how to till it; we have the water and we can use it to irrigate and improve the soil–we do not need foreign capital. I think it would be absurd for us to bring foreign capital for a sugar mill, because it is something we are capable of doing on our own.” Given the recent investment in Cuba’s sugar industry by Brazil’s private multinational conglomerate Odebrecht, we know how all that worked out for him.

  • Gun crime in America is down 39% since 1993. The few places in the US with rising gun crime also have strict gun control laws, such as Chicago, Detroit and Washington.

    In a speech he gave in 1959, Fidel Castro said this:

    “All the arms that were found by the rebel army are stored and locked in barracks, where they belong. What are these arms for? Against whom are they going to be used? Against the revolutionary government that has the support of all the people? Do we have a dictatorship here? Are we going to take up arms against a free government that respects the rights of the people? We have a free country here. … There is no tormenting of political prisoners, no murders, no terror. When all the rights of the citizens have been restored … why do we need arms? …

    We are never going to use force, because we belong to the people. Moreover, the day that the people do not want us we shall leave. As soon as possible I will take the rifles off the streets. There are no more enemies, there is no longer anything to fight against, and if some day any foreigner or any movement comes up against the revolution, all the people will fight. The weapons belong in the barracks. No one has the right to have private armies here.”

    Word to the wise.

  • Good article, Graham! There is no easy way to explain idiocy.

  • Graham, whether it is based in reality or not, the OTHER major reason Americans support gun ownership is to be able to resist the tyranny of governments like Cuba. That is the point of the t-shirt you referenced. Americans believe that no single man or group of people have the right to determine where we live, where we work, where we worship and, most importantly, who we vote for. I have never owned a gun in my life nor do I suspect I will. I have been deer hunting once and did not particularly enjoy it. Yet, I completely understand the fear most Americans have when the government is the only one with the guns. Of course, in reality, a society saturated with guns has proven to be more dangerous than one without guns. I am more likely to be shot by a gun-toting neighbor than I am by an agent of a fascist government. Still, empirical evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, Americans, especially Texans, want guns to protect the liberties that we have here that the Castros stole from an unarmed Cuban people there.

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