Several years ago I was at another of the boring parties thrown by some boring neighbors in Stamford, Connecticut, amusing myself with the only interesting person there, a genial and funny drunk named Chris. We always gravitated towards one another at these parties, even though Chris and I couldn’t be farther apart on just about any issue you can name: I’m a liberal, he’s a conservative; I’m an atheist, he’s a practicing Catholic; I believe in social programs for those who can’t take care of themselves, he believes everybody’s responsible for their own welfare. But we got on along just fine on one fundamental level: We both know if you don’t laugh about it all, it’ll just drive you crazy.
Hearing him tweak me about my stand on social issues, another guest, I don’t remember his name–let’s call him Herb, a mid-40s suburban hipster doofus with a shaved head, a beret, and facial hair du jour who drove a Range Rover because he lived “out in the woods,” i.e. more than three turns off a main road, all of them paved–let me know that he too was a liberal, but not one that followed the “party line.” He, for instance, was a gun owner. Back before I knew better than to engage such individuals in reasonable dialog, I asked this one what the fuck he needed a gun for.
Because he lived “out in the woods.” Because he had a wife and children and a home to protect. Because it was his right as an American to own a firearm to protect himself. It said so, right there in the Second Amendment: he has the right to bear arms. I asked him to recite the amendment to me. He said, with some satisfaction, “It says ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’”
The Second Amendment reads, in its entirety: “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.” I told him this. Asked if he was a member of a well-regulated militia as, you know, the entirety of the U.S. military probably wasn’t up to the job and could use his assistance.
Herb told me that while he wasn’t part of a militia, he was well-regulated. He, his wife, and his children had all undergone training in handling firearms. He kept his handguns in a lock box, unloaded, and secured with trigger-guards. He was a responsible firearms owner!
So, I said, if someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night, you’ve first got to get your gun out of the lock box, remove the trigger-guard, and load it before you can use it to defend yourself…and, by the way, it’s statistically more likely you’ll have that weapon taken away from and used against you, your wife, or your kids.
Tell me again what good having a weapon in your house is doing you, Herb…?
In reality, the conversation went on for more than half an hour, which was about half an hour longer than I really cared it to. The truth is, Herb just wanted to own a gun, and he wanted to convince me, an old-school lefty, that he was a responsible gun owner. Like millions of other Americans, it made him feel good to have a gun in his house. It made him feel safe. According to the Violence Policy Center, there are an estimated 192,000,000 firearms in the hands of Americans; 25% of adults own a firearm, with three-quarters of that number owning more than one gun each. Of that number, about 65,000,000 are handguns, most of them probably in lock boxes, unloaded, secured with trigger-guards, and doing their owners no good except to make them feel good.
But there are enough guns that aren’t locked up, secured, or safely hidden away with their bullets kept separately in the sock drawer.
In 1997, there were 89 firearm deaths a day in this country, one every 16 minutes.
In 2007, there were an estimated 17,300 suicides and 12,600 homicides by firearm.
This morning, 12 people who wanted nothing more than to enjoy the midnight viewing of The Dark Knight Rises are dead, more than 50 others wounded, and hundreds others traumatized, the latest victims of just one of those 192,000,000 guns.
We’ll learn soon enough what warped rationale the 24-year old shooter had for this act. We’ll hear endless debate apportioning blame. The fact is, we’ve become a violent society with easy access to weapons, an outdated rationale for allowing just about anyone who wants a gun to own a gun, and hamstrung by dueling ideologies into ever solving the problem.
12 dead. 50 wounded.
Sleep tight, Herb.