some final(ish) thoughts on guns

I like guns. They’re pretty cool. They make little tiny holes in things from far away, and carrying one everywhere you go (as I did for more than a year) makes you feel pretty secure and powerful, as long as you don’t encounter (a) an IED or (b) two bad guys who also have guns. On the other hand, I can think of three pretty compelling arguments against me having one.

The Mathematical

This is where I’m most ambivalent, because the science seems to be unclear. But it does seem possible that the number of lives saved by guns (and obviously that number is nonzero) could be less than the number of lives lost by our failing to enact some combination of gun control measures. And, clearly, if that is the case, there’s something to be said for putting my enjoyment of shooting, or even the warm, secure feeling a gun can give, pretty low on the list of social priorities.

The Philosophical

As I mentioned yesterday, Eric’s got a pretty good piece up about how if the chips are down and liberty is at stake, he’d rather be the unarmed guy standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square, or Woody Guthrie singing to keep up striking workers’ spirits, than to be Che Guevara running around in the woods with a gun. I think this is basically right. The best of the human spirit isn’t really shown in the ability to deal out violence — even righteous violence. Social change is probably always one part William Lloyd Garrison and one part Nat Turner — but I don’t think you get to be the best human being you can be if you’re forced to play the Nat Turner part.

To some extent I think this is true even when it’s not a revolution and you’re just thinking about your personal safety. As Dan Baum writes here,

Going armed… has militarized my life; all that locking and loading and watching over my shoulder makes me feel like a bit player in the perpetual global war in which we find ourselves. There’s no denying that carrying a gun has made my days a lot more dramatic. Suddenly, I’m dangerous. I’m an action figure. I bear a lethal secret into every social encounter…. [I]f accessorizing with firearms becomes truly au courant, the United States will feel like a different place. We’ll be less dreamy and more secretive. We’ll spend more energy watching one another and less on self-obsession. We’ll be a little more on-task, more cognizant of violence and prepared to participate therein.

I don’t think that’s how I want to live. I don’t want to be more cognizant of violence, even if that makes me more prepared to mete it out to unrighteous others. I’m already less dreamy than I used to be; I don’t want to spend the rest of my days approaching every stranger, every crowded room, with vigilance and the determination to kill rather than being killed. I think that attitude, if taken seriously, is fundamentally corrosive to one’s ability to trust in, engage with, and be delighted by other human beings. And if you’re not taking it seriously, then I think you’re just playing cowboy.

The Personal

Finally, even if gun control laws turn out to be unnecessary or counterproductive, and even if I could convince myself that an eternally vigilant life were somehow worth the spiritual costs, I still have a more basic and fundamental reason for not wanting a gun — one that also explains why I’m suspicious of other people having guns. The simple truth is, I know myself, and I don’t think I’m trustworthy.

I’m a jittery, high-strung guy. I once shot an unarmed prisoner (with blanks) during a military training exercise, because he moved too quickly and made me nervous. I’m quite convinced that if it had been real life, I would have done the same thing. Fortunately, people never asked me to guard POWs in real life.

I also have a terrible temper — especially in traffic. Once, about a year ago, some guy cut my wife off in a really egregious way in traffic, and in irritation I flipped him off. The guy pulled his car around in a nearby parking lot, caught up to us, and started screaming out his car window about how he would pull over and fight me right now on the sidewalk. Because I didn’t have a gun, and because I didn’t know what he did have, I blew him off. This was the smart thing to do — we drove away, and he drove away, and nothing came of the incident. But what if I’d had a gun? Would I have drawn it? Would I have pointed it out my car window at him, waiting to see if he’d change his tune or else draw his own weapon, giving me an excuse to shoot him? Would I have murdered someone over a bit of traffic rudeness in which no one got hurt?

I don’t know. Probably sixty-forty any given day.


The fact that I can’t answer that question makes me nervous. But if I — a gentle, liberal, mostly cheerful guy — feel that I probably can’t be trusted with a gun, then what would make me think that any of the rest of you should be trusted with one?

In this post I described thinking about other people carrying concealed in ordinary places as “weird” and “fucking creepy.” A commenter took (very mild) exception to that characterization, but what I was trying to get at is, I’m largely skeptical about human nature, because I see tremendous evidence of human frailty all around me and — most especially — deep inside me.

Ultimately, I am my own best argument for gun control.

But I promise I’m working on it.

“The truth is, you’re the weak, and I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.

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One Response to some final(ish) thoughts on guns

  1. L'homme de la lune says:

    Once upon a time I used to carry a rubber ducky (Plastic and metal mockup M-16) in my car. Not because it was ‘cool’ mind you! I was conducting training on a fairly regular basis and it was a fairly convenient way to store it. I found myself in one of those awkward situations where a gentleman pulled up alongside me and began violently berating me for my driving habits. Bemused, I reached over, grabbed the ducky, and pointed at the man. I know this was stupid, and probably fifty shades of illegal, but it was worth it when I saw his face go Casper pale. The situation could have gone so many wrong ways, but he just sped off.

    Gun control laws are a fairly interesting conundrum here in the states, where many people take gun ownership for granted.

    I’m sure you’ve heard from others about Washington, D.C. and other places that have enacted handgun laws in the past. Washington D.C. passed a law in ’76 enacting rather strict gun control laws for the time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firearms_Control_Regulations_Act_of_1975 I normally don’t cite Wikipedia, but seeing as this information is readily available and fairly cut and dry, in this case I’ll make an exception.)

    There’s a page full of information about D.C. crime rates from 1960 to 2010 (http://www.disastercenter.com/crime/dccrime.htm). Looking at the information we can see a pattern. Or rather, a lack thereof. Some people claim that you can see an immediate increase in violent crime as a direct result of gun control law, but this is inherently fallible logic. That’s like saying that things fall from the sky because they can be seen. After all, if you can see it, it can fall, right? Looking at the information, we can see that, although there wasn’t an incredible rise in violent crime, neither was there an appreciable fall from ’76 on. In fact, crime per capita (murder particularly) rose over time. Population fell and murder rose, albeit slowly and over time.

    Was this as a direct result of enaction of gun control laws? I heartily doubt that it was the sole perpetrator, but it probably did have some influence.

    In 2007 the law was repealed (http://pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200703/04-7041a.pdf) and all of a sudden we do see a rather drastic change in murder rates. Population rose and per capita murder rate fell fairly appreciably. Again, in this case we can’t necessarily argue that causation and correlation are the same thing, but on this one the numbers seem a bit more stark, if not logical.

    I honestly believe that there’s no way we can prevent violent crime altogether, whether we enact gun control or not. As long as humankind can bang one rock against another and make a spark, someone, somewhere, will bang a rock against a head to see the pretty liquids. (I know that’s a rather dim view, but one that I think unfortunately true.) Taking guns away from everyone is only going to ensure that the only people who have guns are the ones who are willing to thumb their nose at the establishment and get their own.

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