The Gun Thing

Now that we’ve had a number of high profile mass shootings in the US, it looks like there may finally be the political will to address the idea of gun control. For years it’s been a one-sided argument by NRA-type folks that use the bogeyman of socialists taking over the government and confiscating guns in order to raise money around election times. Democrats have mostly given the issue a pass since there’s such a huge entrenched interest defending gun rights that regulation has been a local thing in large cities and urban states. Increased controls on firearms hasn’t been addressed by Congress since the 90s.

So, we’ve had a couple of decades of increasingly hyperbolic warnings from conservatives about the dangers of gun control and not a whole lot from the other side. That’s now become a little weird.

Since gun rights advocates have been ginning themselves up into a righteous snit for years now against a non-existent opposition, the die hard positions that they’ve adopted seem a little nonsensical. We’re at the point now where the best defense against an armed attacker is to blow him away. The only way to protect your home against intruders is to blow them away. Gun lobbyists have managed to get those concepts enshrined as law in states around the country with Stand Your Ground and Make My Day statutes. The same instincts are now causing gun advocates to call forĀ increased gun ownership and for things like armed teachers in schools to combat mass shootings. Finally, public opinion is seeing that kind of stupidity for what it is.

The thing I think is weirdest about gun rights advocates is that I don’t think they know how guns work or alternately they don’t know how people work. I grew up around guns. There were guns in the house and my relatives went hunting. We knew what guns were for– putting a hole in something that you pointed it at. The assumption was always that you didn’t point a gun at anything you didn’t want to kill, including whatever might be behind what you’re aiming at. As far as anyone in the house was concerned, every gun everywhere was loaded and had the safety off and should be treated that way. These are the basics that they teach in every hunter safety course. My dad and grandpa followed the basics up with what they learned in the military– never carry a gun unless you’re prepared to use it without hesitation. Because they were not on a battlefield or lived in some post-apocalyptic wasteland, neither one of them ever carried a gun or had any interest in getting a concealed and carry permit. My dad actually refused to go hunting unless he knew that he wouldn’t be surrounded by armed morons.

The dipsticks that are out at gun rallies don’t seem to understand any of that stuff. The first week of the legislative session, a bunch of people decided to rally outside the capitol in Denver with their guns. Just the other day, a couple of guys went for a walk in Portland Oregon, carrying their AR-15s in order to “educate people” about gun rights. Naturally, people ran like hell and called the cops. These are just the visible examples of the people that think that carrying a loaded gun around in a city is a good idea on the off-chance that some scary thing will happen and they can wave their bullet-spitting magic wands to solve the problem.

For some reason, gun advocates tend not to put much emphasis on hunting. That’s probably because handguns aren’t particularly accurate and hunters that find it necessary to riddle the landscape with the contents of their extended mag assault rifle are just kind of pussies. The money shot for the gun nuts is self-defense.

So what about self-defense? In the past decade or so, there has been a big expansion of what you can do with a gun in the name of self-defense. Stand Your Ground laws are all about self-defense. If you’re out on the town and feel threatened and you’re in a Stand Your Ground state, then you can start blasting away without worrying about the consequences. The NRA gives the impression that these laws are necessary for people to protect themselves. The thing is that people could already protect themselves (with a firearm even) since it’s absolutely legal for anybody to use force to defend themselves and others when given no other alternative. Of course, if it turned out that you weren’t in danger after all then you used to have to face the music for shooting somebody. Stand Your Ground laws are pretty much an excuse for stupid paranoid folks to shoot people and get away with it.

Make My Day and other castle doctrine laws are the same concept as applied to your premises. They operate off of the paranoia that we’re all potentially going to be raped and murdered in our beds or robbed at gunpoint at work. Home defense has been the big go-to for gun advocates for a long time since everyone can identify with a fear of someone breaking into his or her home. The same issues apply though. The law has always allowed the reasonable use of force to defend your property. Shooting an intruder hasn’t been against the law since ever. With Make My Day type laws, shooting a scary looking dude on your porch, the neighbor kid climbing into your yard, or the wannabe burglar who’s running away are all now just fine as well. Again, stupid paranoid people get an opportunity to shoot first and not worry about consequences.

Even without the terrible laws that make shooting people the consequence-free solution for interpersonal problems, using a gun for self-defense is almost always a stupid idea. If you live and work in an isolated, rural area, then carrying a gun or keeping one handy in the car or house can occasionally come in handy. For example, we had a rabid skunk one time that we had to shoot. Tweakers trying to break into a shed can probably be warned off with a gunshot when you live half an hour away from any police presence. As soon as you’re near other people, your gun isn’t going to do the thing you think it is anymore.

To begin with, the latest threats that guns are going to solve are these mass shootings in public places. The NRA story is that an armed dude, locked and loaded at the Aurora Cinemark could’ve stopped the violence in its tracks. Ideally, from their standpoint, several armed dudes would’ve taken charge. That’s bullshit. Outside of the fact that a shooting like that usually plays out in seconds as the shooter sprays the crowd and then either runs or shoots himself, even under ideal conditions an armed civilian in the crowd would have to be prepared to react instantly, identify the correct target, have a clear shot, aim accurately, and somehow identify himself to police and other people during and after the exchange of gunfire. Without all of those things, then the carnage is just worse as people are caught in the crossfire. It gets even worse if you multiply the number of guns in the space.

How about a less crowded environment? The assault in a dark alley scenario would seem like the ideal opportunity to use your boomstick on some evildoers. That’s assuming that you have the presence of mind and the training to keep your gun if you get jumped. That’s also assuming that you shoot first at the right person because the story isn’t any good unless you’re up against an armed assailant and you’ve already made this a gunfight rather than a robbery. Finally, you don’t miss and hit someone else on the street, across the street, or on the other side of a wall. So, with specialized training and in very specific circumstances your gun is just about as effective at protecting you without unacceptable collateral damage as a number of other non-lethal alternatives.

The non-disastrous home defense scenario is even narrower. If you’re home, aware that an intruder has broken in, and have your gun accessible, then perhaps you stand a chance of using your mighty weapon to protect your property and your life without dire consequences. That’s assuming that you’re absolutely aware of where everyone else is in the house, that you are an expert marksman or don’t have any neighbors, and that you didn’t give a house key to your drunken brother-in-law.

In essence, you have to live in an action movie in order to be in a position to effectively defend yourself with a gun and not fuck things up further. That’s not even taking into account the vast majority of the time when your gun is just a big liability. Your easily accessible gun is an invitation for accidents. Arguments can much more easily escalate into deadly violence. Depression far too easily becomes suicide with a gun at hand. An inaccessible handgun is useless for defense, so why even have it since it’s a prime target for theft. The rare legitimate use for a gun in self-defense is far outweighed by risk to an individual gun owner, and to society. Even the nebulous idea that the knowledge that they’re operating in an armed society will deter criminals falls apart faced with the fact that mass shootings commonly end with the killer shooting himself and that murder/suicides are a typical scenario for domestic shootings. Rationality and criminality rarely go together well enough that dudes willing to commit a violent crime will sit down and weigh the risks. Further, violent crime has been falling throughout the US and in other countries no matter how well-armed the locals happen to be.

Most of the people that the NRA is advocating for don’t have any particular training. They don’t live far enough away from other people to not pose a hazard, and they don’t have to rely on themselves in the absence of neighbors and police. They’re just paranoid and willing to be stupid in order to grasp some false sense of safety. That’s a danger to everyone.

So— wacky gun owners who shit themselves and stock up on ammo ever time anybody mentions gun control, shut the fuck up and settle down. Quit carrying your piece around like a moron and get some training in how to actually use it. Work with us to figure out how to have a society that isn’t ok with lead flying through the air and lodging in people as a routine thing.