When we are faced with the horror of a tragedy like the shooting in Newtown, our reaction is to seek protection from similar events in any way possible, whether rational or irrational. One of the common occurrences after these type of attacks is the increase in gun sales which inevitably follow the murder of so many. The recent killing of elementary school children and their teachers has been no exception. Gun sales have spiked and those that have made the purchase believe they have ensured their safety. But have they?
The answer is actually ‘no’ and has been for quite a long time. The first data I can recall seeing confirming this was in Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear published in the late 1990s. More data has been researched and released since then and this article does a nice summation of some more recent research efforts. A few points from it tell much of what needs to be stated:
Having a gun in your home significantly increases your risk of death — and that of your spouse and children.
And it doesn’t matter how the guns are stored or what type or how many guns you own.
If you have a gun, everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide.
Furthermore, there is no credible evidence that having a gun in your house reduces your risk of being a victim of a crime. Nor does it reduce your risk of being injured during a home break-in.
The health risks of owning a gun are so established and scientifically non-controvertible that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2000 recommending that pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from their homes.
Notice that the recommendation doesn’t call for parents to simply lock up their guns. It stresses that the weapons need to be taken out of the house.
These points speak for themselves but another factor concerning gun-owning and the belief of defense should be addressed. The idea of self-defense has been used as a means for selling the more powerful automatic and semi-automatic guns intended for military purposes. This is the true problem with American gun culture and it needs to be changed.
Owning handguns with relatively small clips for home defense or even some larger guns for hunting purposes is not an unreasonable position and one I could find agreement on with most people. But this somehow gets extended to covering more powerful guns that are now typically used in these mass murders.
In terms of the selling of these weapons of mass destruction, there is a simple question that should be asked of all. If you are a parent or are planning on being one and you had a crystal ball that told you an AK-47 being sold this morning was going to be used this afternoon in an attack on your child’s school, what would you do today to stop the sale of that weapon? Let’s take it one step further. Let’s pretend you had the power to ban all automatic and semi-automatic gun sales permanently beginning that morning. What would you do? With the answer to this being obvious, another question must be posed. Just because the next child victim is not likely to be yours, why do you not support the banning of these powerful weapons and their accessories anyway? Is the other child’s life and the impending grief of the parents not worth the effort? Is this only important when the child is yours?
There is another aspect of the faulty belief about guns being great for self-defense that should be noted. We have been led to believe through movies and TV shows that having that gun will mean we’ll react and stop any unnecessary deaths from occurring. In other words, if we just had the gun, a little bit of training and target practice, we would be ready for the crazy shooter. In fact, one could say a shooter would be out of luck if they ever attempted to commit mass murder around armed and trained personnel. Just one problem. It has been done and the shooter was successful.
Focusing on the most recent tragedy sometimes overshadows the ones of the past like the shooting at Fort Hood. A crazed man walked into what should be one of the safest places on Earth when it comes to the idea of self-defense with guns, an Army base. He still killed 13 people and injured more than two dozen more before being subdued. This exemplifies the biggest misconception about having a gun and it being the best line of defense in these situations: the maniac will always get the jump on everyone.
It reminds me of a particular scene in the Vietnam War movie, We Were Soldiers. When training with the new helicopters (at the time) for battle, the soldiers are learning to simply get out of the chopper safely. Mel Gibson’s character decides to surprise one group by standing near the door when it lands. As soon as he gets close enough he grabs the first guy, who was in charge of the rest, and says he’s been hit. Now he asks the next guy, “What do you do?” The second guy hesitates and Gibson informs him he is hit because he waited. In other words, it’s all about reaction time when these situations occur.
Now, pretend you’re armed and walking somewhere with your child next to you. Suddenly, a madman pulls a gun and starts firing. His first bullet hits your child and his next target is you. Assuming it is an automatic, you would be hit before you were even aware of what had happened. Let’s assume it’s not, just for the sake of the self-defense argument. Let’s say the recoil is long and he is slow to aim giving you just enough time to pull your concealed weapon and fire. Just one problem. If you hesitate, even for half a second, the shooter will get you. Which brings us to the misconception here. You are a parent and your child has been shot. Your reflexive reaction of looking at your child in horror and realizing what you just lost has now gotten you killed. Your gun did nothing and your family will now bury two. No one knows how they may react in these situation but it is likely not in the heroic manner we all want to believe.
The idea that owning a gun automatically means you will react in the best possible way during a terrifying situation is lunacy and hubris at work. It is not the best answer for combating violent crime in the United States (declining, by the way) and never has been. What we can do, however, is take reasonable steps to make sure the most powerful weapons capable of such destruction are not so easily available to anyone in the U.S. These weapons and other accessories meant for military purposes, such as the thirty-plus round clips, have no place in a civilized society and deserve a permanent ban. In fact, a reasonable question that should be asked is: if you are involved in such an attack, how well armed do you want the madman to be? (I previously addressed the misconception of everyday criminals being so well armed in the event of this type of ban. Read here.)
We have endured so many tragedies but it seems there may be hope to finally change things for the better. When these debates go on in the coming days and weeks, just remember the earlier scenario about saving your child at their school. If you would do it for your own, why aren’t we doing it for everyone’s kids?