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.