Guns Kill People

January 17, 2013 5:17 p.m.

I’ve gotten a lot of powerful responses to my post on the non-gun tribe — many agreeing, others angry, empathetic, many with thoughtful critiques. They’ve run the gamut. There are many pieces I write not to convince or advocate but simply to capture as clearly as I can a certain perception or belief. They also help me learn more about the topic at hand and often more about myself. Much of what I wrote in this post was not to advocate or convince anyone but simply to capture an experience that seems too little unexpressed but is shared by many, many people.

One criticism of the piece has been to ask why I’m elevating my feelings or discomfort to the level of something that should dictate public policy. Some people have actually compared this feeling of discomfort to the ‘ick’ factor some people feel around gays and lesbians. So, that’s awesome whatever you guys want to do in San Francisco. But I think it’s gross. So don’t parade it in front of me here in Boise or Omaha.

When I first heard this I didn’t know whether to laugh or be shocked. I had more than one person say that I was basically a bigot against guns. So let’s stipulate that it’s utterly bizarre and wildly offensive to compare the rights of people with the rights of dangerous small metal objects. But if I’m compelled to address the point on its own terms I’d say that while gays sometimes discharge accidentally, they don’t kill people.

To be more specific, I used the language of feelings and perceptions. But there’s a reality behind these feelings. It’s not moral panic or prejudice. Guns kill people. Many people now use them for different purposes. But guns were invented to kill people. And the kind of guns most people are inclined to carry in public — handguns — are specifically people killers. They kill easily, quickly and efficiently. That’s not prejudice. It’s a perception of safety and an attitude about autonomy and violence, one that is grounded in a lot of empirical evidence and I really think should be so obvious as barely to require stating.

Given the data about how often people who buy guns for protection in the home end up getting killed (or having family members killed) by those guns I think there’s a much better argument that it’s the gun owners who elevate the need to feel safe rather than be safe. But that’s a topic for another conversation.

I mentioned as a hypothetical in my post that even if there were real (as opposed to bogus manufactured) evidence that we could be just as safe with everyone armed as no one armed, I’d still definitely prefer no one armed. And by this I’m not saying no one owning guns. I’m talking specifically about bringing loaded firearms into public spaces — driving, at the bar or coffee shop, at the little league game as opposed to hunting or at a shooting range or in the home.

My friend Steve Clemons talks in the context of international relations of high-trust versus high-fear relations between states. The last time we discussed this (on some panel I can’t remember just where) it was about how the doctrine of preemption had created a world that was more the latter than the former. I think something similar applies to civil society. Maybe everyone carries guns but everyone is deterred from firing them in anger because everyone else has a gun and someone will shoot back. But even if we buy that mass gun deterrence vision, that’s a high fear society, not one I want to live in. It’s also not a vision of freedom that I buy into or want to be a part of. More like a race to the bottom of autonomous violence.

My point of characterizing this as ‘tribes’ was to make the point that I get that there are parts of the country where people carry loaded weapons and that’s the culture and it seems to work for the people there. And that’s fine. It’s a different culture. It particularly makes sense, as I noted in my post, in rural areas. If you’re living in the middle of nowhere, far from where police or anyone else could get to you quickly, the safety and defense issue becomes very different. One emailer talked about living on a ranch and needing a gun for work, another about walking his dogs in the woodlands near his home and carrying a pistol because there are wolves in the area. Whatever the reasons, a whole different calculus applies in cities.

I’ve struggled for years with a fear of flying. But I recognize it as a phobia, an irrational fear. I don’t want to be around people carrying firearms in public because guns are inherently dangerous. That’s a reality. I also don’t want to be in a race to the bottom where we need to be in an arms race with everyone else who’s carrying.

[Image: Shutterstock]

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