I have arachnophobia. Spiders scare me to death. They are ugly, creepy, crawly things that can sneak into your bed at night and lay eggs in your ear. GAH! I hate them. Of course, I live with them every day. I live on this planet, and this planet has lots of spiders, and thereís nothing I can do about it. And anyway, they eat a lot of insects that are far more threatening than the spiders themselves. So theyíve got that going for them. I always try to emphasize that point with my daughter when sheís confronted by one of the eight-legged monsters. Sheís inherited my phobia, but I try very hard not to set a bad example for her. If the spiderís inside, I kill it with as calm a demeanor as possible. Outside, I encourage the kids to leave it alone. ďItís not hurting you,Ē I tell them. ďLeave it alone.Ē
I also have a gun phobia. Guns scare me to death. They are ugly, metallic things that can take a life in an instant. GAH! I hate them. Of course, I live with them every day. I live in the United States, and this country has LOTS of guns, and thereís nothing I can do about it. Anyway, they do provide some food for people who actually hunt for food and not just sport. So theyíve got that going for them. I always try to remind myself of that when Iím confronted by one of the killing machines.† My kids have not inherited my phobia, and I try not to let them see the panic I feel when a gun is near me. ďItís not hurting you,Ē I tell myself. ďLeave it alone.Ē
But there are some big differences between spiders and guns that you just canít deny. First, spiders have NEVER hurt me. Iíve lived 40 years without having a dangerous spider bite or eggs in my ear. Guns, on the other hand, have cost me four friends and a great-grandfather. Iíve also seen four students deal with tragic gun violence. Spiders are a natural phenomenon; guns are man-made. Spiders kill about two people per year worldwide. Guns killed over 30,000 people in the United States alone in one year (CDC, 2007). And 2012 looks like itís gearing up to be a red-letter year for gun violence too.
Almost every single day this summer, Iíve opened up my online home page to see at least one shooting in the headlines: Aurora, the Sikh temple in Louisiana, 3 people shot near Texas A&M, a local boy suspected of robbery killed by a felon. Just one day, Iíd like to open up that page without seeing a headline about another American, or group thereof, getting killed by a gun.
This morning, the story was about two police officers killed in Louisiana. No motive yet, but the first officer was shot while he was just directing traffic. The most recent reader comment? †ďFat, stupid cops got what they deserved. Letís see them oppress people now.Ē I felt nauseous. I bet that commenter has a whole arsenal. (The commentís been taken down by Yahoo!.)
Despite my personal experiences and visceral reaction to guns, I know and love many gun owners. One of my husbandís friends has many guns. They go shooting together at various ranges. My best friendís husband is an avid hunter with many guns. Heís a great guy. They are both responsible gun owners, and I donít want to take their guns from them.
Even my two children own guns.
My heart just started pounding in my chest from simply typing that sentence. Yep. BB guns. The children of the woman who wouldnít even allow a toy gun into her house for the first two years of her sonís life: both of these kids have their own BB guns. My son has had his for a couple years. Christmas present from Santa. Canít you just picture it? It was just like ďA Christmas Story,Ē with me playing the part of the very nervous mom, repeating ďYouíll shoot your eye out!Ē
My daughter got hers the other day. Surprise! Evidently, Daddy okayed this purchase without asking me. So I managed to paste a smile on my face and just didnít watch while my 7-year-old (the gun box has a big warning that itís for ď10 years and olderĒ) shot the heck out of a cardboard box with her cute little pink gun. I tried to be a good sport, but by the end of the day, Iíd completely lost it. My husband and I were in a late-night argument that wound up being almost comically nonsensical, with him spouting a bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo about technology and war and me crying and blubbering about my friends whoíd committed suicide or been victims of gun homicide.
And it struck me that our argument was representative of how arguments about guns typically go in this country: both sides screaming logical fallacies at cross purposes. So now that Iím calmer, Iím going to try to look at some of the points I hear a lot.
1.†††††† Guns keep us safer: Anecdotally, I could argue that while Iíve seen LOTS of news stories about people being murdered or accidentally killed by guns, I rarely see any stories in which a victim has successfully defended himself with a gun. You could argue thatís a media bias and that Iím extrapolating; however, several studies by the Brady Center and the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery indicate that people who own guns are MORE likely to be injured or killed by a gun. Iím also offended by the implication that follows this argument: if you get shot and youíre not carrying a gun to defend yourself, youíre partly responsible for your own violent death. I heard this crap a lot after the Aurora shooting: ďWasnít anyone in there carrying concealed? Why didnít they take this guy down?Ē Three of the victims were military or ex-military. They were trained in combat, and in that dark theater, taken by surprise by a gunman in Kevlar who had thrown a tear gas grenade, these military veterans realized the best thing to do was hit the ground and try to get their loved ones out of harmís way. Even if theyíd been carrying weapons, theyíd likely have done the same. It was dark, crowded, confusing, and the gunman had body armor. Idiots who throw out this ďhelpfulĒ argument in discussing Aurora should be handed a paint gun, unsuspectingly thrown in a dark room, tear gassed, and pelted with paint until they hit someone given a Plexiglas shield. Good luck.
2.†††††† Guns are our Constitutional right: Yes. “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.Ē As an English teacher, I LOVE the introductory dependent clause here. The WHY comes before the WHAT. Our forefathers believed their citizens should have the ability to rise up against foreign or domestic enemies and protect themselves. A quaint, 18-century notion nowadays. I suppose guns might be useful if Mexico or Canada launches a ground assault. Other than that, privately owned guns arenít going to protect Americans from ANY kind of organized invasion, nor will they protect us if we elect a totalitarian regime. (Yeah, yeah, insert snide ďWe already have!Ē here. Then go read a history book about REAL dictatorships.) I mentioned the other day that we have over 300 million guns in our country, enough to arm every American man, woman and child. My father-in-law kept insisting ďItís not enough!Ē Enough for what? Enough to protect us from foreign powers with fighter jets and missiles? Enough to protect us from our own government which has more nuclear weapons than every other nation on the planet combined? Did the victims of 9/11 fail to protect themselves from the terrorist-hijacked passenger jets because the people in the Twin Towers weren’t carrying enough guns? Guns donít seem very effective against real enemies. I donít deny itís our Constitutional right to own them, but why in Jesusí name, do we need SO MANY?!
3.†††††† If we make guns illegal, only criminals will have guns: This is a logical fallacy, and not worth my time. Most advocates of gun regulation (including me) do NOT want to make all guns illegal. It might be nice, however, to have some restrictions in place so we donít have schizophrenics purchasing AR-15 rifles with 100-round magazines over the internet. Anyway, itís just, for want of a better term, a pissing contest. I have a 22. Well, you have a 45. Okay, then, Iíll buy a Glock. So you buy an AR-15. And on and on it goes. And in the end, itís just chance anyway. When the time comes, whoís got the bigger gun, the faster gun, the element of surprise, the better reflexes, the Kevlar, the cover, the training, the better “killer instinct?”
4.†††††† Guns are the only thing standing between us and a government dictatorship: Really? Tell that to the Venezuelans. They own plenty of guns, but they still have to put up with Chavez. He has more guns and bigger guns and more troops who know how to handle guns. (See #2.)† Youíve got 25 guns in your house to protect you and yours? Well, the governmentís got a lot more than that, dude. And if you do something stupid or if the government decides to put us under military rule, your little arsenal wonít make an iota of difference.
Iíve already said too much. And none of it matters because this is America Ė land of the free, home of the armed. Itís still just the Wild West with fewer horses and more computers.
But I mean it when I say, ďI donít want to take your guns.Ē Believe me, I donít want them. Itís your right to have them. And itís my right to hate them.
And I will pray for you. Pray that you donít have a nervous breakdown one day and kill yourself like my great-grandfather and my friends, Carl and Jerry. Pray that your ďcollectionĒ never gets stolen and used by a bunch of gang bangers to kill an innocent bystander. Pray that you NEVER go out and party and have one too many and forget to put your gun away so your kid finds it and accidentally kills his little brother with it like my studentís nephew did. Pray that your teenager never sneaks out and then wakes you up sneaking back in so that you think heís a burglar and shoot him like another studentís dad did.
My husband says humanity advances through war and violence; guns are part of our technological ďadvancement.Ē Yes. We have killing each other down to a science. We can kill each other by moving one finger. We can kill each other from yards away. We can kill each other without even touching each other. Without even thinking. Thatís our right.
God help us.