Surely, you’ve heard that “guns don’t kill people; people do.” And if you live in America you probably own a gun. And you probably haven’t killed anyone recently. So does that mean there’s no danger in the current gun buying surge reported by the media? I don’t think so.
It seems obvious to me that if you own a gun you’re more likely to shoot someone than if you do not own a gun. But at least, you might argue, you could defend yourself against someone else who owns a gun. The problem is that most of us don’t do much shooting and if we are called on to use a gun we’re likely to do a bad job of it. Guns that lie around unused for years are likely to jam or misfire. Ammunition can go bad after a while, too. You might pull the trigger and hear a click instead of a bang. For your gun to be useful you would need to take time for target practice and for cleaning and oiling it. How many of us have time for that?
If someone were to break into your house, you might not even remember where you put the gun, and by the time you found it, the intruder would have time to blow you away – and take your gun.
Then there’s the question of deciding what kind of gun to buy. For all practical purposes, a double-barrel 12 gauge shotgun is the most effective weapon. Close your eyes and pull both triggers. Blam! Anything or anyone a few yards in front of you will be shredded. Those impressive looking pistols are a waste of time unless you know how to use them. As a teenager I tried and tried to hit a rain barrel with my father’s .32-caliber revolver, but the bullets always ended up in the trees somewhere.
Of course you could always buy an AK-47 or an Uzi (pictured at right) – or even a rocket launcher. That’s your constitutional right as an American, by jingo! And they would come in useful if your home is ever attacked by one of those right-wing militias reportedly springing up again all over the country. Or you could dial 9-1-1; that would be a lot less trouble.
According to the media, thousands of Americans are buying up all the firearms and ammunition they can find. The theory is that many otherwise rational Americans believe President Obama is going to ban gun sales and they want to get theirs while the getting is good. But the media have told us about gun buying surges before. A big increase in gun buying was reported after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, for example. And before that, the media identified a spike in gun sales when Bill Clinton became President. The writers quote statistics to support these reports, but most of the information comes from interviews with dealers and shoppers. And I don’t trust that kind of anecdotal reporting. If a reporter asks a gun dealer whether people are buying more guns than usual, do you think the gun dealer would say no? Of course not. That would be bad for business. Media hype helps to sell guns.
I am sure that the gun nuts are out there, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they believe “the government” is coming to take away their weapons and their freedoms. That’s the kind of thing they tend to believe. But I doubt there are as many of them as the media reports suggest. The real danger, as I see it, comes from emotionally unstable individuals who might turn on their families, classmates or coworkers, and from clumsy or befuddled gun owners who might accidentally shoot themselves or their loved ones.
Admittedly, there are laws in place to reduce these dangers – if they were effectively enforced. The trouble is that with the weapons industry relentlessly pressuring law makers and law enforcement officials, loopholes persist (those gun shows, for example).
Banning the sale of some guns – like assault weapons – seems a no-brainer. Why would any sane, law-abiding citizen need an armor-piercing AK-47? But while such a ban might make us feel safer, I doubt it would have much effect as far as criminals are concerned. The old adage is that when guns are outlawed only the outlaws have guns, and there’s some truth to that. Professional baddies have ways to arm themselves. I doubt very much that the Mexican drug cartels buy their weapons at Wal-Mart.
On the other hand, there’s not much sense in allowing everyone to buy whatever guns they fancy, and in passing laws – as they have in Florida – giving homeowners the right to shoot intruders dead with minimal provocation. The result has got to be mayhem. And no one has yet successfully refuted the findings of emergency-room physician Arthur Kellermann, published 16 years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine. Kellermann resoundingly discredits the thesis that private ownership of firearms is a useful means of self-protection.
Believe me: Guns kill people. And sometimes they kill people we don’t mean to kill. That should be enough of an argument to end the absurd debate about those Second Amendment rights.