And so, inevitably, there has been another mass shooting, this time at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and we can expect the gun control debate to heat up again. I am not opposed to private gun ownership. I can understand how a ‘well regulated militia’ might be necessary for the ‘security of a free state’, as the Second Amendment to the US constitution states. I can understand how some people in some areas can feel so frightened that having a gun lets them feel more secure.
But the right to own guns does not mean that such ownership should be free from restrictions. I can see the need for restrictions such as fairly long waiting periods to prevent people from purchasing them in anger, thorough criminal and psychological background checks, and the need to require training on how to use them that leads to an owner and user license (like drivers education that leads to a driver’s license) that shows competence to handle them safely in various situations.
The last item is especially necessary because of the argument put forward by gun enthusiasts that an armed populace that routinely carries guns around may be able to stop these kinds of rampages early on, because the police typically take quite a bit of time to arrive, whereas they are on the spot and could shoot the assailant.
But having many armed people around who are indistinguishable can be dangerous. A friend of mine who is a police officer says that the presence of more than one person with a gun in such situations ups the danger and complexity of such situations by an order of magnitude. Identifying the killer becomes problematic and even police and soldiers with extensive training have difficulty, as this tragic story of a police officer mistakenly killing his own son illustrates.
Joe Zamudio was one such gun carrier who was at a store near the event that congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding in Tucson, AZ last year. Hearing the shooting, he drew his gun and came around the corner
with it cocked and ready and saw a man with a gun in his hand. But this man was not the shooter Jared Loughner but someone who had just wrested the gun away from him.
The Arizona Daily Star, based on its interview with Zamudio, adds two details to the story. First, upon seeing the man with the gun, Zamudio “grabbed his arm and shoved him into a wall” before realizing he wasn’t the shooter. And second, one reason why Zamudio didn’t pull out his own weapon was that “he didn’t want to be confused as a second gunman.”
This is a much more dangerous picture than has generally been reported. Zamudio had released his safety and was poised to fire when he saw what he thought was the killer still holding his weapon. Zamudio had a split second to decide whether to shoot. He was sufficiently convinced of the killer’s identity to shove the man into a wall. But Zamudio didn’t use his gun. That’s how close he came to killing an innocent man. He was, as he acknowledges, “very lucky.”
That’s what happens when you run with a firearm to a scene of bloody havoc. In the chaos and pressure of the moment, you can shoot the wrong person. Or, by drawing your weapon, you can become the wrong person—a hero mistaken for a second gunman by another would-be hero with a gun. Bang, you’re dead. Or worse, bang bang bang bang bang: a firefight among several armed, confused, and innocent people in a crowd. It happens even among trained soldiers. Among civilians, the risk is that much greater.
This is the problem with many people firing guns in such situations.
While understanding the argument of the right to own guns, I personally would never own one and would much rather live in a society in which guns were absent. From reader Norm, I read this article about how Japan has virtually no shooting deaths.
In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.
Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country’s infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.
It may be that this is one of those issues where there is no middle ground and one has to go to the extremes, that one cannot have a society that allows some legal ownership of guns. One may have to have a total and complete ban to achieve the kind of security that will make people feel safer without one than with one.