On Finding A Way to Talk About Guns

M&R Photography
Taken at a gun show in Houston. A picture says a thousand words. Four of those words are “Our society is sick.” By http://flickr.com/photos/glasgows/ (http://flickr.com/photos/glasgows/432945997/) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
In the last post, I wrote about guns in the US. Since then I’ve heard from a few people I love and respect about how I’m being too harsh on gun owners.  The argument seems to be that owning guns, keeping them locked in a safe place, and using them in controlled spaces only for recreational purposes ought to be considered blameless exercise of 2nd Amendment rights. I’ll grant that, though I’m not sure gun enthusiasts appreciate the full meaning of the amendment, which suggests that the government allows you to keep guns so it is easier to form militias when needed to defend the State (the amendment was written at a time when the new country was not interested in the idea of maintaining a standing army). Gun owners should take that string, pull it, and see if they like the implied consequences (hint: I don’t think the average gun owner wants to be shipped over to Iraq or Syria).

But I don’t really want to write about or argue about the 2nd Amendment here. Maybe some other time. Instead, I’d like to publish my response to one of the gun-owning people I love and respect. I hope it clarifies my thinking and that it comes off as more respectful and reasonable than the previous post. I won’t include links to the statistics but they are real statistics from legitimate sources that I found while writing to the person. Also, there’s some light editing for spelling, grammar, and clarity. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“Onto guns. I’m mostly trying to push the conversation in what I think is the right direction. There are rarely any policy questions that are black-and-white, and what to do about guns is gray indeed. But nothing happens in American politics without a critical mass, and usually that critical mass has to be a clear majority of voters. Right now, we don’t have that. At best, no more than 50% of Americans support the kind of policies needed to deal with guns effectively.

So, it’s tempting to say that guns are a thing reasonable people can agree to disagree about. Maybe saying people should be ashamed is not a good approach for winning hearts and minds. Maybe we can reach critical mass without a change in the culture surrounding guns.

If all gun owners were like you and the ideally responsible hunter – they kept their guns locked in a safe place and only used them for recreational purposes in a controlled space – then this wouldn’t be an issue. But all gun owners are not like you and the ideally responsible hunter. Why is this? Well, it has fundamentally to do with the nature of the object. Guns are killing machines, period. Guns were invented to kill other beings. Study after study shows that the people who own guns tend to be more prone to violence, gun or no gun, because guns were invented to kill people, and people who want to hurt other people are the ones who tend to own guns.

What about more practical studies? Study after study shows that you are much more likely to be killed by a gun owned by someone you know than by a gun owned by a stranger. One study shows that enough gun owners are so irresponsible about their gun ownership that 43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm in the house. An experiment suggested that 1 out of 3 boys aged 12 or under who find an unlocked firearm will pull the trigger. Study after study shows that people who live in states with tighter gun control laws are less likely to be a victim of gun violence than in states with easy access.

None of this is to say that you, specifically, are the person we find in these studies. So let’s be clear that I’m not calling you a violence-prone irresponsible gun owner.

I don’t get gun-owning as a hobby. Fine, I like cooking, other people don’t like cooking. But it is definitely within the jurisdiction of a self-governing society to decide what are reasonable limits to the hobbies people enjoy. Reasonable people can disagree about where the limits are, but there can be no disagreement that it’s within a society’s rights to regulate the limits. That’s how we get smoking restrictions, speed limits, licenses required for all kinds of activities (hunting!), etc. If I were the country’s benevolent dictator I would take all of your guns, every single one of them, and tell all of you to find new hobbies. Arms should be a state monopoly. To move people towards this position, I think it could be useful to demonize guns and gun ownership, just like racism or homophobia was effectively demonized. That doesn’t mean I think you’re a demon, or that I think homophobia is exactly like gun ownership.

I’m open to arguments. I recognize that shooting can be a non-violent hobby. Generally, it’s much better if a government allows people to buy what they want and do what they want, as long as it doesn’t harm others. That’s why, practically speaking, I don’t advocate confiscation of all guns and instead would like to see guns well-regulated. In addition to outright bans of certain weapons, I’d like to see people have to carry insurance for their guns where the true cost of gun ownership to society is priced into the premiums (like with cars). There are other policies to consider as well.

What do you think?”

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