The recent shooting in Orlando prompts the following thoughts.
The difficulty with the gun rights debate in America is that when you ask a gun totin’ conservative why he feels it is good to carry a weapon, he says that he is safer when he is armed. He will sometimes take this a step further. He will say, when you are with me and I am packing, you will be safer, because I know how to use a gun correctly.
Let’s just assume this is true. (In fact, it is nowhere near true, but I won’t concern myself with that particular argument right now.) But even if it were true, it raises a second question. Maybe you in particular are safer because you have a Glock in your purse. Maybe, to take the argument further, you are a superhero and all the world is safer because you have your trusty Glock and will only use it for God and country.
But what about the person sitting next to you who is also packing? Is he a superhero? Can we trust him to use his gun as safely as you will? If everyone packs, is everyone safer? Or is it more likely that if everyone is packing, a large number of people who aren't safe to be handling guns will be carrying them?
Note that I am not talking about "bad guys" who are carrying guns. We can address that problem later. For now I am concerned about "good guys" who lack the physical skill, smarts, and judgment to handle a weapon in an emergency.
There are two kinds of safety -- safety for me and safety for everyone. I could be a skilled tightrope walker. For me, walking a tightrope could be perfectly safe. If I live in a 40 story building and want to visit my friend in a neighboring 40 story building, it might be perfectly safe for me to cross over on a tightrope.
But that would be illegal. Not because it isn’t safe for me, but because it isn’t safe for everyone. The government is in no position to decide who is able and who is not able to walk a tightrope. What might be fine for me could be dangerous for someone else, and there is a real danger to the people on the street below if inexperienced tightrope walkers are crossing the street 300 feet above.
The problem is that while tightrope walking may be safe for me, it is not safe for everyone -- and when the wrong people do it, there is danger to everyone.
In the same way, there are some people who are safe to carry guns. Who have good judgment. Who don’t have a tremor or cataracts. Who can handle the recoil of a weapon powerful enough to take a chunk out of a brick wall. Who have the coordination and athletic skill to get a gun out of their pockets, click the safety off (yes, you DO have to have the safety on if you are going to carry a pistol in your pocket or purse), take aim, and pick off a bad guy with one clean shot before the bad guy can turn his AR-15 muzzle back at them.
Maybe. Sounds like a tall order to me, though, and I sincerely doubt 100% of the "good guys" possess that kind of skill. I strongly suspect a substantial number of people who choose to pull a gun in a high-risk situation will in fact make the situation more dangerous.
The fact is, since no U.S. state requires a license to possess a firearm, since no one is asked to pass a competency test before getting one, there are all kinds of people carrying them. There are people who have won shooting competitions. There are people who couldn’t lift a full glass of water to their lips without spilling some of it. Both types can legally carry semiautomatic handguns in the US.
Let us assume you are perfectly competent to shoot a pistol. Is it therefore safe to say that every other person who has one is also perfectly competent to shoot a pistol? That is to say, is what is safe for you safe for everyone?
This is where the problem begins. Laws are for everyone. The government can’t know every single person who is competent to fire a handgun. It is doubtful that the government could identify with even 80 percent accuracy people who are safe to carry one in public. Gun possession on a public street is a matter of safety. Since everyone can’t do it, society might be better off limiting who can do it.
It may be that carrying a gun is safe for you. But if everyone does it, is everyone safer? I don’t think so.
It is extremely difficult for a private individual to successfully challenge an armed killer when a mass murder is happening. As I suggested above, to be successful you would have to get your weapon out, take it off safety, aim, and get off a clean kill shot before you are seen. If you miss your first shot, you have to re-aim, which is very difficult because the recoil of the gun puts you off target, and while you are doing that the killer has turned in your direction. Then it is a fifty-fifty game at best. This probably explains why, with all the mass murders that have occurred in recent years, there has never been a story of an armed hero who was able to stop the murdering in progress, without police help.
The problem with carrying a weapon to prevent events like Orlando is that such events are extremely rare, but handgun deaths are not. It remains a fact that most people who are murdered by handgun are murdered by people they know. And more people use their own guns for suicide attempts than ever use them to stop an attacker.
So when you leave your home with a pistol, you are carrying a deadly weapon with you that has the potential to kill you or one of your family members, all to prevent the extremely unlikely possibility that you end up in a public place with a rampaging member of ISIS with a semiautomatic weapon.
Put another way, you are carrying dynamite around with you just in case you get caught in a mineshaft and need to blast your way out, when the greater risk is that the dynamite will accidentally blow you up. Statistically, carrying a firearm makes no sense.
Finally, to lay to rest the argument that if honest people don’t carry guns, only the bad guys will have them:
As noted above, since a gun poses more of a risk to you than it ever will to a bad guy, you are going against the odds.
Second, even if you have a gun in the right place at the right time, if you don’t use it correctly you could get killed or end up killing an innocent.
Third, you always have your cellphone and can call the police, who are much better equipped to deal with the matter than you are.
Last, if there are reasonable gun laws in this country, the police can do more. Do you know what a cop does when he stops a man who has a semiautomatic weapon in his car? When somebody goes online and buys 10,000 rounds of armor-piercing bullets? Nothing. It is isn’t illegal.
The police can’t stop these crimes because it isn’t illegal to possess weapons of mass murder. Imagine how hard it would be to stop drug dealers if it were legal to possess cocaine, just illegal to use it, and you have grasped the situation exactly.