We’ve heard a great deal on the issue of gun control in the wake of Virginia Tech – not surprisingly – and as is always the case when these debates flare up we see a fairly predictable framing: “conservative” = pro-gun, “liberal” = gun control. If you’re a fairly measured reader, which I think I am, you see comment on both sides that you find reasoned and intelligent and considerably more on both sides that strikes you as dim and prefabricated, at best. We’ve been blessed here at S&R to have some comment from the smart/liberal camp (if I might carve the world up that way for a moment) in the person of Robert Silvey.
However, it’s the way “pro-gun” is automatically associated with “conservative” that bothers me. If we’re forced to label people – and this is America, so I am – I guess you’d have to custom order a “progressive gun owner” tag for me. Which means I’m by myself: I don’t see eye-to-eye with our alleged conservatives these days on most issues, and I feckin’ loathe the NRA. But I’m also a gun owner and have been my whole life. I have at least three or four in the house right now, although I haven’t fired any of them in some time. While I’m not quite a “pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands” fanatic, if I know they’re coming for my weapons they’re going to need to be better at finding things than I am at hiding them. So get me a label that neatly sums all that up and slap that sucker on me.
As I said in a response to Robert, we can argue over whether the 2nd Amendment is a good idea if we want, but for the time being I think it’s semantic shenanigans trying to prove that the Constitution, as written, means something besides what it says.
My reasons for being so adamant on the subject probably aren’t what you’d expect, though. Back in 1998 I blew my knee out playing hoops and had to spend a few miserable weeks before and after reconstructive surgery being able to hobble around and not much more. One day I had gimped down the street to laundromat to wash my clothes. It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, if I recall correctly, and if you look at a map the ‘mat is darned close to the geographic center of Denver in West Washington Park. So as you read the next couple grafs, remember – we’re not exactly out in the sticks.
While I’m waiting for the whites to dry there’s a small crash up the street – a fender-bender a block or two up. A few seconds later a guy, probably in his mid-20s, comes running past the front of the laundromat, looking back up the street at somebody. A few seconds later two more men come down the street after him, moving at a brisk walk. As they pass, we can all see clearly that one of the men is hiding a fairly large knife behind his back. They’re taunting the first man to come back to them.
Somebody in the ‘mat jumps on a phone and puts in an urgent 911 call, making clear that we have two armed thugs chasing an unarmed one. Down the street. In broad daylight. In the middle of a decent little neighborhood. In the middle of Denver. Given our location I expect to hear sirens almost immediately. But nothing. After five minutes of nothing I call back and yell at the dispatcher a little, trying to communicate that we’re trying to prevent a fucking murder. Message communicated, I think. I’m assured that the officers are on the way.
After five more minutes of nothing a cop finally arrives. (If you’re keeping score, that’s ten minutes to central Denver on an urgent armed mayhem call.) I bust out the door, as best I can on my blown knee, and tell the officer exactly what’s happening and where they went.
So he heads off to save the unarmed guy’s life, right? Uhhh, no. He heads the opposite way, up the street, to check out the fender-bender that started it all.
Something went off in my head at that moment. I’d been trapped. I wasn’t the target of the two armed thugs, but violence has been known to spill over and claim innocent victims. I couldn’t even have run. It was about as helpless as I’d ever felt in my life. In that moment I came to understand a fundamental truth:
The police cannot protect me.
Especially the dumbasses on duty that afternoon. I don’t care what any legal document says, I have a right to protect myself, and until such time as the authorities demonstrate that I don’t need to worry about my safety, I’m patently stupid not to do so.
To make matters worse, this was about the same time I managed to pick up a pretty scary little obsessed stalker situation (the woman finally snapped and wound up institutionalized shortly thereafter, but there was a period of several days where I was afraid to step out the front door). During this period I started carrying a gun every time I left the apartment. A lot of times I wonder why I don’t still do so.
I don’t really know what kind of difference it would have made if every Virginia Tech student had been packing heat that day. An armed society is probably a deterrent to a rational, self-interested perp, but I doubt it much matters when you’re talking about somebody like that shooter, whose train has clearly departed the station. Could an armed student have stopped the rampage? Maybe – but that same student could have missed and taken out another innocent bystander, too. Who knows? So I can’t argue that we should be more armed. I can say that until you show me a realistic mechanism for removing guns from society so that criminals can’t get their hands on them all we’re doing is having a friendly philosophical debate, and I’m goddamned if I’m disarming unilaterally.
For better or worse, you can put me down for “rationally self-interested.” If I’m a progressive and this violates the rules, so be it. But I’ve seen police protection at work in a time of close-by crisis. I might or might not be willing to die for a noble principle, but I’m most assuredly not prepared to die because the authorities aren’t able to do their jobs.
Categories: American Culture
My radio silence on this has been information overload, I have so much to say, I find it hard to boil it down to a nice, concise little post. It’s inherent to the topic, I suppose. It’s not as black and white as the extremes would like us to believe: if everyone had a gun VT wouldn’t have happened, if no one had a gun VT wouldn’t have happened. If only it was that simple.
Most of my friends own guns. They think they are all over the political spectrum, but they aren’t. They are progressive gun owners who have bought into the “liberals are anti-gun” meme, and are afraid of our louder anti-gun representatives. They own them for a myriad of reasons, their constitutional rights, and their belief that an armed populace is a safe populace, personal safety, hobbyists, and distrust of the police/government. I own a gun because as a rape survivor, I would rather clean up brains than go through that hell again. Gross, crude, but honest.
While they are not as huge and powerful as the NRA, there are several liberal/progressive gun owners
Strangely enough, there is a fairly large basis in case law that essentially says that it is not the job of Law Enforcement to protect you, either.
Only you can protect yourself.
I’m an unabashed liberal, and a gun owner. One of these days, when I’m near the county courthouse with time to kill, I’ll get around to getting my concealed carry permit. I don’t think I’ll carry often if at all, but I like having options — and if I ever do feel threatened enough that I’d like to walk around packing, I’d rather have the bureaucratic dance done before than after.
I’d kind of like to have a Brady Campaign and an NRA card side by side in my wallet. First, because it’s pleasantly perverse, but also because both organizations do good work and either would be out of control without each other for balance.
I’m fine with the notion that I should have to fill out a form before buying a brick of .50 cal armor-piercing rounds. I’m not fine with the delusion that all the guns will go away if we just pass enough laws. I still have the baseball cap from the reception where I met Jim and Sarah Brady (I met Ted Kennedy at the same event, but that’s a non-sequitur). But I don’t trust their laws to save my life.
I am a good shot. I was taught by my dad, who works in corrections, which is considered law enforcement, so he has to qualify at the range every year. He shoots far better than the average cop. I now shoot slightly better than he does (he’s 60, and my eyesight is sharper).
I won’t pull my gun in stupid anger. I know that even showing it is an escalation, and I won’t use it to settle a stupid argument. I will never point it at anyone or anything i am not prepared to kill. I cannot see how my being armed is a threat. And I cannot see how leaving only morons and criminals armed makes anyone safer.
I agree that pro-gun/anti-gun equated to conservative/liberal is massively over-simplistic. And I think it has connections to regional prejudices — anti-gun = Northeast and West Coast, and pro-gun = fly-over country, It’s that redneck gun culture in the (non-coastal) West and South that can’t see the wisdom of crime-free havens like the District of Columbia.
In the Virginia Tech case, Cho should never have been able to buy a firearm. He was judged in a court of competent jurisdiction to be a danger to himself. That did not go on his record, and did not raise a red flag, It should have. Point for more gun control.
If anyone else in any of those classrooms had been packing, they might — emphasis on might — have been able to stop the rampage and save lives. If they happened to be there, and to keep their wits enough to hit the threat and not a lot of other people. Half-point against more gun control.
Neither side gets a slam-dunk.
Which state? Did you know that the CO CCW carries a rider that anyone who gets their CCW goes on the “persons of interest” list?
That portion of the bill is in review now, no idea how Ritter is going to vote on it.
That’s why I don’t have mine. I laid out the cash, took the course, then learned of the list… no go. I’m trying to stay OFF that list, thankyouverymuch.
Georgia. As far as I know, a concealed carry permit doesn’t land you on a watch list. My dad has had a permit for 30-odd years, and hasn’t endured any undue airport hassles.
Not to mention that if you flagged every gun owner in GA, you’d have about as many folks on the watch list as off it, which kind of defeats the purpose.
I’m not sure what a “persons of interest” list is, or what your source of information is, but if you apply for a CCW your fingerprints will be on file.
Back when I was looking at colleges, my father, brother and I were driving through the mountains of West Virginia. We’d listened to all the CDs and had the radio on. Nothing but static came through – with the exception of an NRA commercial.
The commercial first mentioned that crime in Chicago had risen higher than New York’s with a particular increase in homocides. The commercial then mentioned that a small town in Georgia had passed a law requiring every household to own a firearm. Crime in said town dropped 75%. The commercial then suggested that Chicago pass a similar law for similar results.
I don’t think there’s a universal answer for guns. I don’t want to think what would happen to Chicago if every household had a gun. At the same time, guns ain’t going anywhere – they’re far too ingrained in so many subcultures around the country. We couldn’t get rid of guns if we tried because a few *COUneo-consGH* like you wouldn’t hand them over for a number of reasons. If only the middle path weren’t so dificult to tread.
I certainly understand the impulse to protect oneself
I’ve actually pulled a gun from its hiding spot with the thought that I might have to use it once – many years ago when I thought I was looking at a potential gang-rape situation. Fortunately that’s not what was happening and I was able to slip it back into hiding. But I’m glad I had it that night. I’d have felt morally compelled to act had it been what I feared it was, and unarmed it could have gotten very bad for both me and the girl.
As Sam will attest, I’m about as leftist as they get. When people ask me my political position, my usual waggish reply used to be “somewhere to the left of Abbie Hoffman.” I’m anti-war, anti-military, anti-imperialist. I want peace and love to reign over the earth. I find violence abhorrent, generally.
I’m also a dyed in the wool Southerner, born and brought up in North Carolina, who now lives in Virginia (in the great unwashed section, not in Northern Va). I grew up hunting and began handling firearms (with expert supervision from father and grandfather) when I was 7 years old. My family were/are known county wide as admirable marksmen (my sister can shoot pretty darned well, btw).
And history has shown that members of the Booth family are not averse to shooting prople with whom they strongly disagree. I am distantly related, so there are gene pool issues, too, possibly….
I pack heat. I do so strictly as a personal defense for myself and my family.
I don’t make an issue of it. Nor do I intend to stop doing it.
I don’t believe in much of anything the NRA defends.
I keep my weapon in good working order and I keep it put away – but convenient if I need it.
I don’t know if I might find myself in a situation where I might have to use it – but I know in my heart of hearts, for all my opposition to violence of any kind, that I won’t hesitate if the threat seems the least bit credible. I’ll sort out how it violates my sense of self after I’ve neutralized the clear and present danger.
BTW, Gov. Kaine of VA just closed the loophole that allowed Cho to get guns despite having been legally determined to be a danger to himself. This information was protected under privacy laws.
Handguns (I differentiate between handguns/assault weapons and hunting weapons) are one of those things I simply don’t like, both on a philosophical level and on a practical one.
Philosophically, I don’t feel that anyone without a demonstrated need should be allowed to own any weapon that is specifically designed to kill people. Weapons with large clips, special ammo, fast cycle- rates, concealability, that sort of thing. But my anti-gun philosophy runs smack into the brick wall of reality when considering that I’m not sure anyone can really tell another person when they have a truly demonstrated need. There will always be situations where the person was paranoid and didn’t need a weapon and there will always be other situations where the person was denied a handgun when they really had a need for one.
As a matter of practicality, I don’t believe that guns are really a good solution to self-defense. Any weapon that’s not attached to you can be taken away and used against you, and that is as true of a knife as it is a handgun. I think that having everyone trained in both self-defense and in situational awareness (ie how to avoid getting into situations where self-defense becomes necessary) is a far better solution. However, not everyone is physically capable of defending themselves without a weapon, which brings me back to “demonstrated need” again.
If I could snap my fingers and strip everyone of their handguns and assault weapons, criminals and citizens alike, I’d do it. But since I can’t, I’m a proponent of firearms regulation. None of the Constitutional rights are absolute, and that should be true of the 2nd Amendment too (there are groups out there who disagree, people FAAAAAR right of the NRA). Gun licensing, mandatory safety training, access restrictions to non-hunting weapons and ammunitions, and background checks for all purchases are good starting points, as is providing law enforcement enough budget to actually enforce all the current firearms laws. Some of the regulations already exist in one form or another, but I believe that what we have isn’t enough necessarily enough.
I need to come back to the rest of your argument later, but for the moment I want to address the “statistically safer” point you make, and that I hear every time the subject comes up.
I don’t worry about that in the least, even though it may be true. That “statistical” population includes a lot of people who don’t know what they’re doing with guns and shouldn’t have them for that reason alone (remember, I’m not advocating that we hand out guns indiscriminately – a gun in untrained hands is a danger to everybody in range). It also no doubt includes a lot of people who are also lawbreakers – the kinds who are more prone to wave the thing around for no good reason.
I wonder about the relevance of that statistical argument to the population of safe, trained, responsible gun owners. I guess as a matter of logic your chances of being shot are non-existent if nobody in the house – including the criminal doing the breaking and entering – is armed. But this one seems a little more complex than that….
Dude, great post. As a liberal who is also pro-gun, it’s nice to hear this voice from the left.
I’ve been involved in three situations in my life where I wish I had been carrying a gun. Two of them were when I was robbed at a poker game. The third time was when I witnessed a murder, and could have prevented it if I had a gun handy.
I’m a conservative, member or the NRA, and have been hunting and fishing all of my life. I also know of many of my liberal friends who have guns. My lovely wife, the ex-member of the American Communist Party, has her concealed weapons permit and carries a gun wherever she goes…..she was assulted in 1991, and said “never again.”
In a previous comment, Brian Angliss posted “None of the Constitutional rights are absolute, and that should be true of the 2nd Amendment too .” That’s a scary thought indeed…maybe freedom of speech will be next.
I find that the media spin has turned the gun ownership argument into a liberal/conservative thing, even though almost everyone owns a gun. I’m also sure that if guns are outlawed, the liberals won’t all turn in their guns in lockstep.
This was sure a good post.
Sam, what do you think the chance of actually having a “population of safe, trained, responsible gun owners” actually is? IMO, without laws that don’t currently exist (ie more regulations, something that the NRA and the libertarians among us will fight tooth and nail) and without better enforcement of existing laws, the hypothetical population you describe will forever remain hypothetical.
Jeff, freedom of speech is already regulated. It’s illegal to harass, threaten, or libel someone, each of which could be considered a “free speech” issue. And posession child pornography is illegal, even though pornography in general is protected under free speech.
Freedom of assembly is also regulated. Cities have the authority to require permits for parades and marches due to reasons of public safety.
There must be a balance between the interests of the individual and the interests of the community. This is as true of firearms as it is true of speech and assembly.
Jeff: If I’d been robbed twice and seen a murder I could have stopped I’d probably sleep with an assault rifle under my pillow. I know what those comparatively trifling experiences did to me, and that was plenty.
Brian: At present there are so many guns in circulation that it would be really tough to evolve a more educated and well-trained public. As I think I made clear, I can’t really assert my own experience as a basis for policy. I just think it point up not only the sheer complexity of the issue, but also the fact that if we try and frame this as a conservatives vs. libruls argument we’re dooming the debate from the git-go.
I hate guns. No, let me amend that–I DESPISE them. They are built for one purpose and one purpose only–to inflict grievous bodily harm on living things. In my perfect world, such things would not exist.
Until that day comes, I recommend that everyone who owns a gun be treated the same way you would if you own a car…register it, get tested,have the background check, and lose your rights if you fuck up.
These last few years have opened my eyes in a big way to the need for an armed populace. It isn’t the guy on the street I fear, but the troops in black uniforms carrying assault rifles.
When I was 27, I checked myself into the psychiatric wing of my hometown hospital for three weeks for treatment of severe depression.
During my 30s, still suffering from depression, I made the rounds of several shrinks and took the many little pills they prescribed. I had numerous out-patient therapy sessions for nearly three years.
In my 40s, I saw another shrink for about nine months during the first year of my doctoral program. Again, more out-patient treatment.
Now I’m 61. I may still be clinically depressed. Who knows? I haven’t led a Valium-ized life for 15 years. My university thinks I’m okay; it lets me teach college students and help shape their developing lives.
Question: Should I denied the ability to purchase a firearm should I chose to do so?
My friend was murdered without warning by a mentally ill gunman not three days ago–and possessing her own gun would not have helped her in the least–so I’m not feeling very practical about guns right now. I want them all gone. I’d let well-regulated hunters keep their rifles, but that’s all. No handguns, no assault weapons.
But my more rational side agrees strongly with Brian Angliss in comment #10. More regulation and better enforcement of existing regulations is necessary.
You ask a tough question. Which, of course, was the point. Clearly there’s a line somewhere between mildly depressed and homicidal, and on the one side you’re fine and on the other … not so much. But where do we, as a matter of policy, draw that line?
No feckin’ idea. We have enough cases before us to know that the mental health field can’t be as precise as we’d hope.
And I guess “we should err on the side of caution” is just next to useless, huh?
It is a tough question, Denny. We could really “err on the side of caution” by allowing no one to have a handgun or assault weapon. That’s a clear line, and it would not, I think, be useless, Sam (though politically unlikely in the US). Many lives would be saved, and we could walk more safely on city streets at night.
Let’s just ignore the political process for a moment and say that somehow it was decided that all of the guns (or perhaps just guns of a certain type) were outlawed. To all who say that we should ‘take away all the guns’ (or even just a certain type of gun) I must ask: How exactly do you propose that this be done? Seriously, with calculated forethought, how would it be accomplished in practical reality?
I don’t think it would be that much of a matter to take them away from the legal owners (not saying I necessarily agree, but usually those ones can be found relatively easily). However, how does that begin to address the scores of non-legal owners who have stolen their guns or bought them on the black market? Can anyone explain how exactly that would be done (and don’t say something like ‘passing more laws’, etc., because it should be obvious that criminals do not care about breaking laws – I’m talking about how it would realistically be enforced, and for the point of this argument it is assumed that ‘laws’ are already passed)? Would we conduct house-to-house and acre-by-acre searches of the entire country? Would we ‘lock down’ whole cities for days while it is searched so that no one can move from place to place and hide their guns? If this were the case, how would it be done simultaneously across the country so that no one was able to hide stashes (or perhaps how would it be done in a sweeping line from border to border East-West or North-South with each enforcement person in viewing distance from the next one so no one could slip through)? And, just in case you’re wondering, I’m not trying to be sarcastic, I am really asking for an explanation.
Unless someone can explain to me exactly, and in detail, how all guns (or even guns of one specific type) would be taken away from EVERYONE, not just the people that voluntarily give them up or are easy to track down, I do not see how it would make things ‘safer’ for only criminals to be in possession of firearms. I can see the allure of waving a magic wand to un-invent gunpowder (re:firearms, not sure people would also want to wave away fireworks) and suddenly being in a world where no one has a gun. But, short of that magical solution or perhaps one that no one is piping up and sharing, I do not see the benefit of leaving guns only in the hands of the worst in society. Granted, law enforcement/military would still have them, but you would have to hope that you could be in a position to call 911 or that an officer happened to be around and then further hope that they would actually even attempt to assist you by showing up in a timely manner and/or going after the people who are the threat (instead of something inane like going to look at a fender-bender).
I would really like to see someone even attempt to explain how it would be done and cover all the bases. It is my guess that if there really was a way to do it there would be some people crying out from rooftops “we have a way to do it, let’s do it now”. I am looking forward to the responses on this (but not actually expecting any that would cover what was asked).
Personally, being a female who has attempted to rely upon law enforcement previously, and been repetitively let down, I would not feel ‘safer’ about only criminals being armed (or even armed with machine guns and law-abiding people are only allowed to have a hunting rifle, etc.). Unless there is a way to actually and really do what some people are so idealistic in talking about with this.
Kenza, you have a point – there probably isn’t a way to extract all the firearms from the population at this point, and certainly not all at once, without using the military to enforce a police state.
That said, there would be ways that, following the passage of such laws, the number of firearms could be dramatically cut, and quickly. Start by confiscating every now-illegal firearm from gun retailers, probably via recalls to the manufacturers (this would amount to a government taking of property, so the gun retailers would have to be paid according to the Constitution). This kills off the supply. Then you could systematically destroy every firearm used in a crime, instead of having the police sell them (which is part of how weapons used in a crime are used in new crimes). And then you use law enforcement to clamp down on gun smuggling into the country.
This approach would probably work, bu you’d have to figure out a way of making the sales and purchasing of specific types of weapons illegal but also grandfather in existing legal weapons.
It’s good to hear from other lefty gun ownership supporters. A few comments:
1. I find it hard to believe that Madison or anyone else from that era would have preferred that militia weapons not be privately owned. Militias were by definition drawn from the local community, which wouldn’t likely have had the funds to buy communal weapons and wouldn’t have seen the need; most people back then owned their own long arms for self defense, sport hunting, or food hunting, or as souvenirs. Militia members were ordinarily required to supply their own weapons and ammunition. It’s also worth remembering that in the early 19th century, plenty of people had memories of combat that had taken place in their own areas.
2. Britain’s problems with gun and knife crime are getting worse by the day, and they have some extremely restrictive laws on carrying or owning weapons of any sort. It’s not the weapons, it’s the people.
3. As I understand it, it’s settled law that the police have no legal requirement to protect people or property. I assume at least part of this is to prevent lawsuits, but the implications are vast.
4. Here in NYC, the laws are blatantly unconstitutional. It’s not widely known that carry permits are easily available to people with position or pull (judges, millionaires, mayors, etc.) but next to impossible to get for average joes. Even carrying penknives is discouraged: try getting one through a security screening or past a cop without being harrassed. Long arms and their owners must be registered with the police. Getting a pistol ownership permit requires voluminous official paperwork, background checks, fingerprinting, takes six months and will cost at least $450, not including periodic renewal fees, and illegal possession of a handgun gets a mandatory year in jail, last time I checked. Recently, a U.S. Navy sailor on leave shot a burglar in his mother’s house with an unregistered handgun. The burglar had some kind of stabby thing with him. NYC officials were in a panic, because they knew how bad it would look if they sent a serviceman to jail for a year for defending him mother, so they worked out some kind of backroom deal. They know the law is hypocritical and wrong.
And while NYC has a reputation for being safe, my girlfriend, in her two years here, had dodged three incidents that to her seemed like a guy trying to set up an assault or rape. This city is not safe for women.
5. The right to self-defense is the bedrock of any just system of law.
Let’s get our facts straight. First off, if guns were illegal ONLY the criminals would have guns because law abiding citizens wouldn
I’m a lefty, lefty pseudo-socialist but I find guns to be fascinating and the issues complex.
I can see the argument for guns for self-defense given a lot of experiences related here and elsewhere.
The big issue is, how do you keep guns from getting into criminal hands and yet allow for self defense?
In light of that question, how can any sane person object to
1) Shutting down gun shows w/o background checks
2) registering all firearms and firearms transfers
3) Enforcing limitations on released criminals and nutjobs
4) Heavily penalizing anyone who violates a gun law?
The contentious issue here is probably 2). But, we register all automobiles, which aren’t even designed to kill people efficiently, as guns are. Yes, it’s probably a violation of privacy in a minimal way. But worth it in order to provide the muscle needed to prosecute other firearm violations (like not selling them to criminals or children, etc.)
The other question is. . . what is the most reliable data on gun safety and the effects of gun control laws? To clarify, gun-control and RKBA folks both cite the same figures and studies, but perilously few of the studies themselves are conducted in an objective manner. Most seem to be preordained to lead to a certain conclusion based on who’s writing or funding the study.
All things being equal, am I statistically safer owning a gun or going unarmed?
A personal experience.. . . . I was at one point in my life married to a beautiful, good woman. She was unfortunately extremely psychologically ill – intense delusions were the norm, along with heavy self-medicating alcoholism and suicidal tendencies. Her illness didn;t surface until after we tied the knot, leading to our eventual divorce.
I am VERY, EXTREMELY happy that neither of us owned a gun when her illness manifested, because she probably would have killed herself, or me, or the object of her delusions.
My ex also had a high school friend who had lost both parents because the dad couldn;t handle their divorce and did a murder-suicide thing.
These are the personal stories that inform my views on guns. Not to mention a father who was a Vietnam vet who got rid of his gun collection in disgust after the war.
Every “normal” person who buys a handgun views themself as a responsible, sane adult who will follow the safety rules and never use the gun in a fit of emotional passion. But some of these people *DO* screw up, and use a gun to kill someone out of anger, jealously, or some motive other than self defense. Most people killed in shootings are killed by acquaintances, friends, or family members, not burglars. This is a sobering thought.