Why do you need a gun? Edited.

In the wake of the shoot­ings of tele­vi­sion reporter Ali­son Park­er and her cam­era­man Andy Ward by some ass­hole, there has been a renewed vig­or to the gun con­trol safe­ty debate.

I have been tak­ing advan­tage of this by ask­ing peo­ple on Face­book (an excel­lent venue for thought­ful dis­cus­sion, btw) why they need a gun. I can imag­ine why they want a gun, but I am curi­ous as to why they feel they need one.

Some peo­ple may legit­i­mate­ly fear for their safe­ty, because of where they live, or because of some­thing that may have hap­pened to a friend or neigh­bor, or because of some­one they know. But there are always oth­er steps that can be tak­en to help, besides (or instead of) get­ting a gun.

I hope those peo­ple know this, and can see a way out of their trou­bles. Get­ting a gun would be a last resort to me. After all, it can only do one thing.

I don’t know if I’ll get any insight, if I do I’ll report back.

It’s been a year. I got busy. I did get respons­es, and the most thought­ful ones came down to one thing: fear. Guns, for these peo­ple, are a secu­ri­ty blan­ket against an unpre­dictable world, whether sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sound or not. Since I post­ed this, we’ve also had addi­tion­al mass shoot­ings. But there is one fact that I ate across in the last year that real­ly sur­prised me, and crys­tal­lized my con­cerns about guns.

In 2016 so far, there have been 328 mass shoot­ings, with 426 peo­ple killed and anoth­er 1,238 wound­ed. Mass shoot­ings are often blamed on guns, but also on men­tal health care, par­tic­u­lar cir­cum­stances, the shoot­ers them­selves, etc. (Source: massshootingtracker.org)

In 2016 so far, there have been 9,908 gun deaths in Amer­i­ca, with anoth­er 20,646 injured. These aren’t just mass shoot­ings, these are mur­ders, sui­cides, acci­dents, etc. These are inci­dents caused by a myr­i­ad of con­di­tions, from depres­sion to stu­pid­i­ty to abuse, to yes, men­tal health. (Source: gunviolencearchive.org)

But it is clear to me, from this, that guns are the prob­lem.

NRA: Shoot the bad guys for double points!

There is so much to say about today’s NRA state­ment in rela­tion to the Sandy Hook shoot­ing. But let us start with this. The NRA blames the shoot­ing on a cul­ture of vio­lence. They call out video games (spe­cif­ic ones, I guess you know who your friends are now!), media, the gov­ern­ment. It’s actu­al­ly a pret­ty com­pre­hen­sive (if slight) overview of the com­plex prob­lems of child­hood and games and tele­vi­sion and men­tal health and the econ­o­my. I’d say bra­vo for rec­og­niz­ing that the issue is shades of grey upon shades of grey. Except…

Iron­i­cal­ly, their answer is to present the fix to society’s ills as a video game:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Wayne LaPierre, NRA Lob­by­ist

Bad guys. And good guys. Shoot the bad guys to save the chil­dren.

Well, I have some black and white rhetoric for you, too, Mr. LaPierre.

What is safer than a good guy in a school with a loaded firearm? No firearms. Not for good guys. Not for bad guys. Leave the firearms to the pro­fes­sion­als who need them.

Hunters and their guns

So, my wife and I had a lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion today about hunters and their guns in light of my pre­vi­ous post. We eat meat, and that meat has to be killed; hunters kill ani­mals, and some of them eat that meat… she won­dered if there was a prob­lem with my argu­ment in that con­text. I had to think about it for a moment before I wrapped my head around it.

But I’m good now.

I don’t have a moral prob­lem with killing ani­mals for meat. Nev­er have, real­ly. I have lots of prob­lems with the way we raise and kill food ani­mals, and try to buy my meat from local pro­duc­ers with small scale slaugh­ter­ing oper­a­tions. I don’t eat a lot of meat, for health rea­sons. But I’m fine with ani­mals as meat, killed by humans.

In that sense, I don’t have a prob­lem with indi­vid­ual hunters going out and killing ani­mals for meat. And while I may have a per­son­al dis­taste for hunters going out and killing ani­mals for fun, that isn’t what my argu­ment is about.

I have a prob­lem with peo­ple own­ing guns.

As I have said before, pro­fes­sion­al gun own­ers need their guns to do their jobs. Fine. But recre­ation­al gun own­ers do not need their guns. Recre­ation­al hunters do not need their guns. Recre­ation­al hunters do not need to kill ani­mals, and they cer­tain­ly don’t need to do it with guns.

They may want to. But that isn’t a good enough rea­son to own a gun.

  • You want to be one with nature? Go camp­ing.
  • You want to feel the “thrill of the hunt?” Grab a cam­era on your way out to the blind.
  • You want to feel like a man? Vol­un­teer at a soup kitchen. Build a house. Read at the library.
  • You real­ly need to kill? Do it with a bow, if you must. I’ll con­cede that piece of ground.

Your hunt­ing rifle does not make you safer. It puts every­one around you in dan­ger. What is safer than a respon­si­ble, trained hunter with a prop­er­ly secured gun? Not hav­ing a gun.

And then there’s this:

…the urge to kill lies with­in us all, espe­cial­ly as chil­dren. With­out prop­er chan­nelling of these instincts, chil­dren often grow into phys­i­cal­ly abu­sive and/or mur­der­ous adults. Can any of us hon­est­ly say that, as kids, we didn’t shoot birds with our sling­shots and bb guns, or set home­made traps for oth­er crit­ters? I say that if you can say that, then you either nev­er had an oppor­tu­ni­ty as a child, or you’re an excep­tion to the rule of human nature.”

From Why do Hunters Hunt? by Russ Chas­tain

I’m sor­ry, you have an instinc­tu­al “urge to kill” that you need to chan­nel prop­er­ly? And you had it as a child? I don’t have an alter­na­tive for you, except to hope to God that you are the excep­tion, not the rule.

Some of the read­ing I did for this:

You should not have a gun

I heard about the shoot­ing in New­town, Con­necti­cut, hours after it hap­pened. I was fly­ing East that day, and hadn’t checked in with the news. I don’t know any­one involved, but I have two boys in ele­men­tary school, one a six-year-old first grad­er. I have been sad, con­fused, and angry in turns, some­times all at once.

It has been sev­er­al days, and I think I’ve come to some… con­clu­sions about what I think. Buck­le up.

First off, men­tal ill­ness is a ter­ri­ble prob­lem. Unlike with guns, it is an almost unfath­omably com­pli­cat­ed top­ic, of enor­mous impor­tance, that I am com­plete­ly unqual­i­fied to speak to. I do think that, as a coun­try, we should be able to tack­le both guns and men­tal ill­ness. Both clear­ly need the atten­tion.

But, on guns, I think this:

  • I believe that peo­ple should only have access to guns if their pro­fes­sion requires it. Yeah, I’m a lit­tle left of Lib­er­al on this. But there is no rea­son, in a civ­i­lized soci­ety, for indi­vid­u­als to own guns for any sort of recre­ation­al pur­pose. None. Try your best to give me a rea­son. I like them doesn’t count. I grew up with guns doesn’t count. I need to defend myself (from oth­er peo­ple with guns) doesn’t count. I’m part of a well-reg­u­lat­ed mili­tia and I need them to defend myself from a future totalitarian/socialist gov­ern­ment. Real­ly? Guns kill, and you can’t tell me that killing is an accept­able end goal. Pun­to final.

  • If you own a gun for recre­ation­al pur­pos­es, I will be civ­il to you (lest you, you know, shoot me), but I will not be your friend. My chil­dren will not play at your house. You had bet­ter tell me now, and get it over with. You can unfriend me and we can go our sep­a­rate ways. My chil­dren and I will be safer.

Sure, a full-on firearms ban will nev­er fly in this coun­try. I under­stand the prac­ti­cal prob­lems with my stance. A ban on assault weapons, or on high-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines, or on bul­lets, is like­ly to be much more suc­cess­ful. But I remain con­vinced that you do not need a gun. You should not have a gun. You are not safer with a gun. I am not safer if you have a gun.

Gun-relat­ed deaths in 2010 in the Unit­ed States, from the CDC:

  • unin­ten­tion­al firearm deaths: 606
  • homi­cide firearm deaths: 11,078
  • sui­cide firearm deaths: 19,392
  • total firearm deaths: 31,672

Gun relat­ed non-sui­cide deaths per 100,000 peo­ple:

  • Unit­ed States, 2008–2010: 3.97
  • France, 2009: 0.68 (17.1% of US total)
  • Italy, 2009: 0.47 (11.8%)
  • Aus­tralia, 2008: 0.26 (6.5%)
  • Ger­many, 2010: 0.16 (4%)
  • Unit­ed King­dom, 2011: 0.07 (1.7%)
  • Nor­way, 2010: 0.06 (1.5%)

Yes, in the US, you are 56 times more like­ly to die from a gun than in the UK. That does not include sui­cides.

Once they come out of hid­ing, the NRA will trot out all their usu­al tropes: guns don’t kill peo­ple, gun safe­ty train­ing is very impor­tant, every­one should have gun locks, or gun safes, or unloaded guns, or some­thing that makes your gun safer.

You know what is more effec­tive than gun safe­ty train­ing? Not hav­ing a gun. You know what is more effec­tive than gun locks? Not hav­ing a gun. You know what is more effec­tive than gun safes? Not hav­ing a gun.

You know what is safer than hav­ing a gun? Not hav­ing a gun.