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.

  • Alana de kock

    What do you mean “no kit-built 1955 Porsche 550 Spyders” that would be an anti-depressant in my world, not a weapon!

    But seriously, you have raised the two sides of the same coin here. Responsible gun ownership means that people who own guns must have insight into their own mental health and that of those who may be able to access the gun. The problem with that it seems, is that people who have mental health issues that actually kill with guns have no insight. In addition, how people perceive those close to them is generally not objective.

    It seems that everywhere, in the US and where I am from, RSA, it is necessary to really address violence in all it’s forms, including mental health issues that can lead to violent behaviour. Isolating guns only, will not effectively deal with what is an issue embedded in the fabric of society and the human psyche.

  • John Flynn

    Your stats on Australia are completely wrong…. their crime rate has soared… don’t trust Slate for facts…

    Accidental gun deaths are 300% higher than the pre-1997 ban rate

    The assault rate has increased 800% since 1991, and increased 200% since the 1997 gun ban.

    Robbery and armed robbery have increase 20% from the pre-97 ban rate.

    From immediately after the ban was instituted in 1997 through 2002, the robbery and armed robbery rate was up 200% over the pre-ban rates.

    In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are now up 171 percent.

    [Good to know. Pass it on!]

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    It may be useful to distinguish between handguns and rifles:

    “…of 12,664 murder victims last year, 323 were killed with rifles…” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/us/lanza-used-a-popular-ar-15-style-rifle-in-newtown.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Probably worth mentioning that even before farmers fought Redcoats along Concord Road, American citizens have been free to bear arms comparable to those of the military.

  • Gingerbread Woman

    I’m fairly repulsed by guns and we don’t own any. Once a neurotic New York type, always a neurotic New York type. I’m also an avid indoorswoman who finds the idea of going out into the woods to shoot something too inconvenient and uncomfortable to consider. I am revolted by the idea that teachers and professors should carry guns in the classroom. This idea assumes high levels of mental health and personal responsiblility on the part of educators. I will go no further than to say that after over 25 years in the teaching profession, it is my professional opinion that such assumptions should not be made. I am also living in an area where my views are in the distinct minority. This has been good for me, and has forced me to reconsider my profound anti-gun sentiments. I think there are good arguments to be made for responsible gun ownership, and yes, I want Gretchen’s husband’s rights protected. But I have met a few nuts in my time who want to assemble arsenals to protect themselves not from common criminals, but from the government. Aside from whether such a view is moral or ethical is the practical issue–you’re not going to win against the United States government. And sometimes arsenal assembling leads to provocative confrontations such as Ruby Ridge. I don’t trust the government, nor do I trust would-be rebels to do the right thing. What was that Marshall McCluhan quote about the “medium” being the message? I think that applies to this issue, in the sense of guns that have high capabilities and the damage such things can do, vs. other types of weapons. Now I’m having visions of Woody Allen bringing McCluhan out from behind a concealed panel to tell me, “You know nothing of my work…How you ever got a job teaching anything is amazing.”

  • http://platytera.blogspot.com/ Christian

    “protect themselves not from common criminals, but from the government.” I think that’s pretty much the point of the Bill of Rights.

  • sjay

    The results of the Australian move are hotly debated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Australia#Contention_over_effects_of_the_laws ) with the Australian Attorney General accusing the NRA of “falsifying” government statistics.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    A responsible adult with a loaded weapon could have saved a lot of lives in that school. But this president and his minions don’t care about our Constitutional rights, he’s already proven that with his stance on forcing Catholic Church run hospitals to provide abortion and birth control. He doesn’t want law-abiding citizens to have weapons because he’s afraid that we will stand in the way of his grab for dictatorship, which I am still convinced is in the back (perhaps not too far back) in his mind. For the same reason that Japan didn’t invade America after Pearl Harbor (they knew many Americans were well armed), he cannot continue to subvert the U.S. Constitution as long as we hold fast on the 2nd Amendment.

    Every day, as sincerely and humbly as we can, we must pray for the continued viability of our beautiful Republic. It is gravely threatened.

    [A responsible adult would have been ideal, but in that situation, even a temporarily civic-minded Crip could have done some good. The NRA has just called for armed guards in schools. I haven't thought through the idea all the way, but I'm definitely intrigued.]

  • Jessie

    Ruby Ridge was not caused by the Weavers creating a large arsenal but by a single, illegal, sawed-off shotgun and overeager FBI agents shooting at innocent women and children. Waco was probably caused by the govt. seeing a cult accumulating weapons, but once again, it was the govt. that caused the horror and deaths there. Both have been investigated and the government faulted in both. Mr. Weaver won a lawsuit against the govt. for killing his wife and kid. Just food for thought that sometimes the reaction to perceived threats by government agents lead to more bloodshed than leaving the nuts alone would have….mainly because you just never know how those nuts will react, but it probably will not be reasonably. After all, normal people don’t have sawed-off shotguns or live in cult compounds while accumulating weapons for the end of the world.

  • bill bannon

    The NRA press conference was the only high profile indictment of violent entertainment I can remember and the media had to present it because they were dying to criticize the NRA afterwards for other things. The NRA bank point was so cogent, the media never repeated it…we have an armed guard at every bank to guard our money but we’re horrified at such a guard ….guarding our kindergartners. We’d rather gamble than admit reality stinks. We want the belief that our children are safe in disarmed schools…even after Newtown. We do that through probability theory…our gamble has good odds statistically and we image such gambling as being civilized.
    Realistically the US has strict search and seizure laws so if it went to a ban of all guns, there would be three groups: law scrupulous people who turn in their weapons, criminals who would
    not because police cannot search them without probable cause, and anti government rad
    independents who also would keep theirs because they know the police would not search them and if asked due to registration lists at municipal hall, they would say it was stolen in an unreported breakin. So a ban would disarm the most obedient citizens.
    I think armed people at school is the best idea all week and media will denigrate it for cultural delusion reasons and pols will avoid it for fiscal cutback reasons. Somehow the US has enough money to fight the entire world armament-wise but we can’t afford to have unemployed ex snipers protecting our children from Adam Lanza. The US has enough money to give murder felons free lawyers for ten years of death penalty appeals but we can’t hire unemployed vets to
    protect our most innocent citizens.
    And here on the New York harbor as I work on inherited real estate for future sale, I will keep my gun since I actually have a felon who threatened to return and kill me for my choking him out after he robbed that house of goods and of a weapon which I had to retrieve and did…since I’m built like an NFL wide receiver at 6’3″ 230 (don’t try this at home unless you are Carlos Condit at a much lighter weight). Frankly I wouldn’t try it again since I didn’t know how many perps I was tracking when I set out. Yeah…I brought illegal back up which I confessed to the cops later. One said after my confession…”ay…U did what Uuu hadda duu…now hide that pistol grip shotgun before the detectives get here…it needs a stock in New Jersey.”
    I hid the gun and later ordered a stock over the internet and affixed it; and I’m legit since now it’s more cumbersome in tight spaces when my felon returns in the middle of the night.

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar

    “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.” Did he happen to mention Australia’s OVERALL homicide rate? Probably not. And it would seem that John Flynn has the info.

    I don’t think it should necessarily fall upon teachers and professors to protect. If I recall correctly, Golda Mier recruited retired relatives of students with carry privileges to guard Israel’s schools, when the PLO and Hamas took to arming their suidice “martyrs” with AK-47s to shoot them up. I would tell any principal or dean to URGE any of his students’ relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc) who already have a CCW to volunteer to guard the school.

  • Pearty

    Have you got a source for your stats on Australia John? I can’t make head and tail of what I’m looking up.

    There was a massive decrease following ’96, but the port Arthur massacre that year made up a third of all gun related homicide. Govt stats suggest it has hovered around 50 each year since. I’m not so cynical as to question the numbers. Most articles here commenting on US gun ownership run along the lines of, “They’re crazy, don’t bother trying to understand.” Very condescending to my mind.

  • Bill S

    The NRA showed incredible moxie suggesting that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. How about them not using their political clout to prevent the extension of the assault weapons ban when it lapsed in 2004. I blame the NRA for every assault weapon caused death since 2004.