A Plea for Responsible Gun Non-Ownership

“We can’t tolerate this anymore” has got to rank among the scariest expressions in the English language. As President Obama made this promise to the nation, he pledged to support a reinstatement of the assault-weapon ban. White House press secretary Jay Carney has said there are “other elements” of gun legislation, including a ban on high-capacity ammunition clips, Obama would consider.

None of this sounds terribly sweeping, but Adam Lanza’s late 27-person killing spree has gun-control advocates shooting — so to speak — for the moon. In Slate, Will Oremus reviews the case of Australia’s 1996 law prohibiting, among other things, citizens from purchasing weapons strictly for self-defense. In the following decade, gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent.

Still, there are currently 310 million firearms in private hands in the U.S. That means a huge number of citizens have been using their guns strictly for honorable purposes. No one should propose curtailing their rights without taking into account their good example. In the Atlantic, Connor Friedersdorf wonders just how far citizens will go to guarantee their safety. Will they lock up the mentally ill, en masse, for good? He points out that Obama’s anything-to-save-one child rhetoric isn’t too far from the reasoning that justified the “War on Terror excesses that make a mockery of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.”

Well, in the name of responsible gun lovers, harmless kooks, friendly Muslims, and even American citizens who happen to be working for al-Qaeda, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to call on my fellow citizens to take action. I want us to demonstrate to lawmakers that they needn’t govern us with too heavy a hand for the simple reason that we’re capable of governing ourselves.

Here’s my proposal: If you own a gun and think there’s the slightest chance anyone might use it for ill, get rid of it. If you don’t own a gun precisely because you’re afraid of where the bullets might end up, keep up the good work. Better, name yourself. Stand up and be counted. Come out of the closet, for Pete’s sake.

I’ll start.

In principle, I like guns just fine. I learned to shoot at summer camp, a summer camp owned by an Israeli who kept a small arsenal in his home and occasionally invited us campers in for a look. I was favorably enough impressed to keep it a secret from my mother, who’d have thrown a towering Upper West Side hissy fit if she’d known that’s where my two-grand boarding fee had gone.

I’ve seen firsthand the effect visible firepower can have on small-business loss prevention. On my corner is a Circle K whose clerks cooperate with robbers as a matter of course; robbers show their appreciation by hitting it up like an ATM. Next door in the other direction is a liquor store. It used to be a head shop, and its owner was a good friend of mine. He’s a big, mean bastard — a Pathan by ethnicity and a distant cousin of Afghanistan’s exiled shah. A true son of his people, he was always packing, usually a .40 caliber Glock 20-something-or-other in a shoulder holster. He stayed open till midnight, selling glass stems to hard drug users, and the neighborhood respected his shop as though it were the Kaaba itself.

I am, I suppose, a typical armchair tough guy in that some foolish, unenlightened part of me insists on thrilling to the idea of gunplay. My favorite poet, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin, managed to get himself lit up in a duel. Some nights, I lie awake wondering how much richer the literary canon would be if Pushkin had been the one to drill d’Anthès, and if the ball had kept on flying for 60 years, eventually catching young Bosie Douglas in his dainty, Grecian mug while he was out sculling on the Cherwell.

I live in Arizona. With no legal difficulty, I could buy myself a FA-MAS in time to fire a 25-round feu de joie this upcoming Camerone Day. In my neighborhood, nobody would notice. Or, if they did, they’d think I was training for Cinco de Mayo, the following week.

But I haven’t, and I won’t. You see, I have a temperament I like to describe as melancholic. Most of the time this means I’m your basic Eeyore — no more, no less. But, for about seven days in any given year, I end up in the very slough of despond. As a Catholic, I believe in and fear hell. Worse, my bishop, the Most Reverend Thomas J. Olmsted, is a by-the-book straight arrow who probably buries suicides at the crossroads after driving stakes through their hearts. To ensure I’m never standing too close to the exit, I observe a few simple rules: no motorcycles, no kit-built 1955 Porsche 550 Spyders, and for Pete’s sake, no guns.

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 38,364 people committed suicide in 2010, half of them using a gun. If it weren’t for my foresight and self-discipline, those 19,182 gun suicides could have been 19,183. You’re welcome, NRA.

A recent study undertaken by the Harvard School of Public Health reports higher suicides among people of all ages in states where more households have guns. That’s a pretty loose connection, but dead surbuban kids have a way of throwing the nation into a panic. If you’re anything like me and Nietzsche — that is, if the thought of ending it all generally mellows you out like a hot toddy — or if your spouse or child has been looking glum, lose the gat, or whatever kids are calling them these days. Prove to Congress that the American people shouldn’t have to set the table with plastic.

In 2009, guns were involved in 9,146 homicides. That trend has been decreasing since the 1990s, but that might not cut any ice with the public just now. Most of the contributing factors brought out by number crunching are on the broad side. For example, cities with high unemployment rates also have higher gun murder rates, as do states with working-class economies. To tell readers, “Disarm yourselves if you live in a crappy area” seems a little unfair. Besides, restricting gun ownership to places where the creative class is overrepresented probably wouldn’t satisfy anyone’s plans for a well-regulated militia. Can you really imagine a phalanx of software engineers facing down John Bull at Lexington or Concord, or running interference against North Korean invaders?

But attention must be paid, the Great 2012 Gun Throw-Away must proceed along some lines. So, for better or worse, here they are: if you have a choleric temperament, if you suspect your spouse of cheating, bury the Mossberg and visit a high-end cutlery store. Remember what worked for Canio in Pagliacci and Lorena Bobbit in real life. If your son strikes you, like mommy blogger Liza Long’s strikes her, as the type to spray a schoolyard, give the Bushmaster to your sister, the tiger mom. Let’s all be good sports as well as good citizens. Let’s leave the grim, black muzzles to the shiny, happy people.

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