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Re: My Brother Carries a Gun

By Dr. Tom · February 18th, 1999 · Off the Record
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Well, at least we agree that carrying a concealed handgun is not a sign of strength. Apparently, there is some idea that taking a required course for the concealed weapon permit provides a degree of safety.

As your brother, my first advice would be that if your neighborhood warrants carrying a concealed weapon to feel safe, and moving would make you feel safer, then move and at least keep the weapon at home. Guns in and of themselves, in the most experienced hands, even when limited to the safety of the shooting range, are not safe, just safer or as safe as possible. Carrying any weapon, especially a gun, into diverse situations increases its potential for lethal accident. There are less controls of form and more results from spontaneous human decision, which increases fallibility.

You said that carrying the gun is not about strength, but about not being a victim and using the gun, apparently as a surprise, last resort.

If we see ourselves as potential victims in need of explosive self-defense, then surely we think the gun will make us stronger or more survivable in a crime-ridden world. So the gun is about a certain type of strength. Our debate is about whether carrying one around provides more safety or more survival.

Once again, this view in terms of statistics is highly questionable. Even in one's own home, his/her own system and environment, owning a gun is more likely to get the home owner shot and/or killed. This is in a situation where you have set up your controls and it still doesn't work that well.

Out on the street then, it follows that the situation is less controlled by us. Extrapolating, defense by handgun is that much more precarious. Also, at least in my home, I might have an early warning, say, my dog barks at a potential intruder. The assumption that one can use a concealed handgun in public as a last resort is made illogically in this sense: There is not necessarily any early warning. Those making a living by violent crime are experienced to violent conditions, and won't give the average concealed weapons course graduate the chance that is presumed.

The counter argument is that a gun will better protect you against an unarmed assailant. This may or may not be true, depending on the intensity of the attacker. But, this counter argument does point to a set of weaknesses in society leading to whole "I should carry a gun, too" ideology.

First, as a gun control regulation, the concealed weapon permit is too little, too late.

Licenses, which we have resisted, to buy any gun for any use (as in attaining a driver's license) would distinguish those who lawfully purchase and own guns from those who don't. We could then set age limits, training requirements and in other ways, influence and educate attitudes as a society, rather than leaving such formations to chance. By not discriminating at all, we have allowed the fear that only the criminals will wind up owning guns and concealing weapons. So now, I need to defend myself by owning an unlicensed gun and concealing it, creating the very situation we find abhorrent. Those now willing to submit to the only form of gun control, a permit, in exchange for the power to carry, in essence become vigilantes. The gap between criminal and citizen is now narrowed. The person who keeps a shotgun at home may hunt game or defend a family. The person carrying a concealed, state-of-the- art, 40mm autoloader on the city street is something quite different from the sportsman.

In addition to the legal and regulatory weaknesses, there is a dog-eat-dog mentality behind wanting to carry a concealed weapon. This is inevitable. Each potentially violent conflict begs the need to decide when I fear for my life, but no one is breaking into my house, there is no standard warning, so I must decide for each different situation. I will certainly, in the sole interest of my self-preservation, pull out my gun while my opponent is still weaker than I am. A professional police officer would generally not shoot an unarmed assailant, and there are professional consequences if he does. But, in the first test case of citizens fighting (the armed one killed the unarmed), the jury totally acquitted the killer. Why not? He is not a professional, and an argument led to a situation in which he, apparently, feared for his life enough to shoot an unarmed man. With such vagaries, there is always a tendency to assume that might, in the end, makes right.

If, instead, guns are for the licensed only, for sports only, a gun battle of any sort leaves no question as to who faces additional criminal charges when the dust settles. This would be the unlicensed, untrained owner, and, more importantly, misguided vigilante or criminal out looking for trouble.

We finally must face a more functional weakness, the fact that many of us feel that police protection of us, out there, or even in our homes, does not provide for our safety. You said that crime is on the rise. I thought I heard that violent crime has actually declined. Or is this just a percentage open to manipulation? Here's one take on the numbers. Violent crime probably is still quite high and even increasing slowly but is less of a proportion to crime overall. As a proportion of convictions and jail sentences violent crimes are down. This is simply because we are putting more people who we have classified as criminals into jail. Many did nothing to hurt anyone, and these numbers are in the tens of thousands. These "crimes" become law enforcement's glamour crimes, creating criminals who are not dangerous, easy to arrest, who fulfill statistical needs, who help finance a dysfunctional system, and who make it easier to ignore, and harder to incarcerate, violent offenders. I've heard of special agents in essence telling judges: Either give this guy the maximum on the non-violent charge, or you'll get no more important serious criminal cases. I'll flood your courtroom with those who have done nothing to harm the person or property of another.

Knowing all this, the dangerous criminals out there are quite bold, leaving registered gun carriers most likely to harm the innocent bystander, or be killed themselves.

And the sad thing is that your solution is not irrational. In a system with too many criminals, trying to address violent crime through gun laws is irrational: There are no effective consequences of the current laws protecting us. In a society where too many are criminal, true evil can hide, and punishments become mismatched with crimes.

This system itself will tempt us to carry guns in the face of our helplessness; helpless until we call chickens chickens, and eggs, eggs. Until we are not slaves to systemic misinformation promoting fear against non-criminals who choose to be different. Until those placed in power enable police to focus on protection against harm to person or property instead of distorting their role to enforce morality. Indeed, maybe the "it's all because of this" arguments from the powers that be are correct: Maybe it's the disintegration of the family, maybe it's a lack of values, maybe it's drugs, maybe it's lack of religion or morality, maybe it's something in the water.

Personally, I'd account for ALL of the guns.

 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
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