It's hard to ignore the national argument about guns these days. Between the president's recent executive efforts, the ravings of lunatic acquaintances on Facebook, and actual conversations with those old friends I am required to accept as sane, it's hard for me to resist formulating some kind of internal statement of principles in response to all the unsolicited opinions. (I know I coughed up something along these lines a couple years ago; I recall it was one of my more obnoxious posts.) As I probably mentioned then, I don't have any particular issues with gun ownership, collecting, or sports, and I recognize firearms as occasionally useful tools of land stewardship. It's not my bag, but hey, if you like the things, then more power to ya. And as far as hunting goes, I feel similarly about that as I do about smoking in bars, other people's backyard parties, or leaf blowers. Which is to say, I would greatly prefer the public space to accommodate my activities more than those of some orange-jacketed yahoo who might accidentally put lead in me, but I accept that some kind of compromise is probably appropriate here.
I don't reflexively hate the things, but I've arrived at a few considered points in my internal process that I can't work past, and which I've never seen adequately refuted in the public conversation. And, well, here they are.
- Owning a gun is one thing, but carrying a gun, on the other hand, makes you a dangerous asshole. You are dangerous because you're carrying a gun. And you are an asshole because you feel the need to be dangerous in my company.
- Any reading of the second amendment that gets around the "well regulated militia" part is incredibly tendentious. For something held so proudly forth as an unassailable totem of gun rights, it's front-loaded with weasel words.
- Gun manufacturers (and their lobbyists) don't necessarily have citizens' best interests at heart. Their goal is to sell guns, which may well be inimical to the well-being of the people, considering you can sell more guns when groups of locals are inspired to point them at one another. I won't address exporting them into conflict-rich zones (I don't know enough to comment), but let's take the NRA formulations as stated: the bad guys with guns, the world where only outlaws have guns. They didn't mysteriously appear in their hands of all these scary people. They bought arms that you, the gun companies, manufactured and sold to them. Are you seriously using the threat of the people you've already armed to sell even more guns to the rest of us? Fuck you, the NRA.
- It's not your imagination: mass shootings in the U.S have gone up in the last 15 years, according to the FBI. Meanwhile, our murder rate is higher than other developed countries, and guns make up the majority (like 60%) of those homicides. Guns are reported to increase the risk of suicide, at least among young people. I'm aware that statistics can be massaged, but these seem as reliable sources as anyone's going to find. I'm aware that overall, violent crime is down here, as it is in many parts of the world. But it's not too adventurous a hypothesis to propose that what gun access does is to change the nature of violence. They're death-enabling. Would-be murderers are empowered to take dozens of victims along with them. People down a rough path can have them right there when they're feeling their most desperate. Maybe this isn't for the best.
- You're almost never going to get the jump on a prepared armed person. Any self- or home defense scenario which requires you to grab a hidden pistol from your person, or fish it out of your possessions, you've already lost. Seriously, playing cat-and-mouse through your sleepy house, standing off a mugger, preemptively intimidating a violent display, it all presumes you've identified the offender and his intentions (not to mention established the safety of everyone in your dangerous path) before he's had a chance to perpetrate his crime. Good luck with that. It also presumes your threat identification skills are top-notch, and let's be honest here...
In order to ever put the odds of these kinds of scenarios in your favor, you have to be constantly prepared. There are situations where this level of perpetual adrenalized vigilance is warranted, but it is very stressful. Usually it's limited to people whose job it is (cops, soldiers, gang enforcers), and because it demands abnormally high commitment, they get paid for it.
It's true that sectors of normal life can also come under such routine threat as to require hyper-awareness, but when the social contract has broken down to such a degree as that, the equation changes. There are marginalized enough people in this country, sadly, but promotion of American gun rights has almost always been from a position of social privilege. I realize that I've been lucky, world-citizen-wise (as have the president, those Facebook loonies, and my friends). I'm not really at much risk getting wasted in the path of some neighborhood strongman or some aggressively deranged bastard, and I think obsessing about them is kind of chickenshit under the circumstances. I'm currently much more worried about drunk drivers, cancer, house fires, and botulism--you know, the perfectly rational stuff--none of which can be deterred with firearms.
Undoubtedly, the number one perk of civil society--arguably the definition of civil society--is that walking out the door isn't an invitation for death. A few legal hurdles don't sound too onerous to reserve guns for those who want them for nonviolent ends. The people who feel otherwise, I just wish to hell they'd make the honest argument that they feel the tradeoffs are worth it to them. If the increased risk of horrible violence (for someone) is worth the security/enjoyment/empowerment a gun provides (to you), then demonstrate your steel-eyed toughness and say so.