In American politics, strangely enough what gets people really fired up are not the major issues of the economy or wars but the three g’s: guns, god, and gays. (Also abortion, but it ruins the alliteration.) The split on this issue is pretty much along ideological lines. Self-described conservatives tend to oppose almost any restrictions on the ownership and carrying of firearms while self-described liberals see unrestricted ownership as an invitation to increased crime and violence.
The latest issue of Harper’s magazine had an interesting article (subscription required) titled Happiness is a worn gun by Dan Baum about the recent trends around the country that allow people to more easily own and carry handguns, either openly or concealed. Baum has owned and used guns a long time but just recently tried out what it was like to carry a gun around on his person, either concealed or openly, in those places where it was legal to do so. He estimates that around 6 million American routinely carry guns on their person.
I agree with Baum when he says:
To the unfamiliar, guns are noisy and intimidating. They represent the supremacy of force over reason, of ferocity over refinement, and probably a whole set of principles that rub some people the wrong way. But a free society doesn’t make people give a reason for doing the things they want to do; the burden of proof falls on those who would forbid. I started out thinking widespread concealed-carry was a bad idea. But in the absence of evidence that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns is harmful, I come down on the side of letting people do what they want.
I am not fearful of people owning guns. I am not a supporter of an outright bans on guns and support the Second Amendment. I can see where having an armed public can be beneficial in some situations and can also be a deterrence against a tyrannical government. This stance puts me at odds with almost all of my family, friends, and the people I move around with in the normal course of my life, who are shocked at my views whenever the topic comes up.
Where I disagree with the extreme pro-gun groups like the NRA is in their desire to view even reasonable restrictions on gun possession as evil. I can see the need to make sure that people who buy guns are screened in some way to weed out criminals and the mentally ill and that they be required to undergo firearms training to show that they know how to handle them. The right to own a gun should be treated like the right to drive a car. Just as we are willing to give ordinary people the right to drive vehicles (which can be lethal weapons) provided that have shown that they have had training in how to use it and handle it responsibly, so it should be with guns.
As Baum says,
We may all benefit from having a lot of licensed people carrying guns, if only because of the heightened state of awareness in which they live. It’s a scandal, though, that people can get a license to carry on the basis of a three-hour “course” given at a gun show. State requirements vary, but some don’t even ask students to fire a weapon before getting a carry permit. We should enforce high standards for instruction, including extensive live firing, role playing, and serious examination of the legal issues.
Baum lists five reasons that people give for opposing handgun ownership: “you think it so unlikely you’ll be attacked it’s not worth the trouble or the sacrifice of Condition White; you expect the police to come to your aid in the event of trouble; wearing a gun makes you feel less safe instead of more; you’ve decided you couldn’t take a life under any circumstance; or you don’t want to contribute to a coarsening of society by preparing to kill at a moment’s notice.”
(Baum says that the gun advocates have a color-coded system for the level of alertness. “Condition White is total oblivion to one’s surroundings—sleeping, being drunk or stoned, losing oneself in conversation while walking on city streets, texting while listening to an iPod. Condition Yellow is being aware of, and taking an interest in, one’s surroundings—essentially, the mental state we are encouraged to achieve when we are driving: keeping our eyes moving, checking the mirrors, being careful not to let the radio drown out the sounds around us. Condition Orange is being aware of a possible threat. Condition Red is responding to danger.” Baum said that whenever he carried a gun, he always found himself in Condition Yellow. He ultimately gave up carrying a gun because he found that he enjoyed being in Condition White, where you can get lost in your own thoughts.)
I personally will not choose to carry a gun myself, mainly because I am not sure that I have what it takes to actually kill another human being, though one never knows what one might do in extreme situations where one’s own life or the life of a loved one is threatened. Carrying a gun and not being able or willing to use it lethally seems worse than not carrying one at all. Another reason is that I hate carrying unnecessary stuff around on my person. After being nagged by my family, I now carry a cell phone for them to contact me in an emergency but only they know the number and so I never get any calls on it (since I can usually be reached by them at home or at work) nor do I make any since I hate talking on the phone anyway. Carrying in my pocket every day something I never use irritates me but I do it to accommodate the family. A gun would be bulkier and the chances are almost zero that it would be ever used so why carry one around all the time?
(To be concluded tomorrw.)
POST STRONG: If only Eve had had a sassy gay friend…
A comedy cliché is the sassy but sensible gay friend who saves the heroine from doing something foolish. Actor Brian Gallivan has made it into his signature character.
You can read an interview with Gallivan here about how he arrived at this series.