Lemme try to put this in language the gun-totin’ all-American tea-party patriots will understand:
Handguns are made for killin’
They ain’t no good for nothin’ else
And if you like to drink your whiskey
You might even shoot yourself
~ Lynyrd Skynyrd, Saturday Night Special
I’ve always been politically-minded, for as long as I can remember. That means I’ve thought and/or written about most political issues repeatedly over the years, including the second amendment debate. Without opening the whole “well-regulated militia” can of worms, I believe people have the right to own guns. Guns can be legitimately used for hunting, and although the evidence isn’t kind to the notion, if one wants to keep a gun in the house for defense, one has that right, too. According to the Supreme Court and many state legislatures, one also has the right to walk around openly carrying firearms, as well as concealed ones (if one has a permit, in states that require one).
It’s this latter right – the right to walk around armed to the teeth – that is increasingly problematic, by which I mean: dangerous. To prevent a howl of misplaced outrage from the second amendment extremists, I will stipulate that many people who carry weapons in public are perfectly law-abiding citizens who (as one was eager to point out to me recently) have never used their gun in anger or to commit crime or even, in many cases, at all except for target practice. But for years now, as the gun debate has ramped up and become increasingly vitriolic, it’s become harder and harder to tell the “good guys with guns” (to borrow Wayne LaPierre’s phrasing once again) from the “bad guys with guns.” Having argued with many gun partisans on Twitter, my sense of them is that many are deeply paranoid right wing cranks with severe anger issues, much like Jerad and Amanda Miller (the Las Vegas shooters) Richard Poplawski (the Pennsylvania cop-killer) and Byron Williams (the Glenn Beck-inspired would-be destroyer of the Tides Foundation).
Or, if those examples are too old for you, here’s another one from just this week:
On Monday, a 17-year-old neighbor asked Pickering to stop riding his lawn mower through her yard. The girl later told police that in recent weeks Pickering had repeatedly trespassed while riding his lawn mower and carrying a holstered pistol across her property, authorities said.
Later, at about 10 p.m., the teen stepped outside to check on her dog and saw a shadowy figure crouched down by a nearby pine tree. Before she could react, she was shot in her chest, right thigh and left ankle, according to the police report.
Pickering, according to the criminal complaint, told police he was angry that the teen, whom police say he referred to as a “bitch,” confronted him about riding his lawn mower. He said he went over to her house, hid in her yard and waited for her to emerge.
“I waited, and I waited, and I waited,” Pickering told police, according to the criminal complaint.
In other words, this guy was upset at a minor girl (17), so he simply attempted to execute her for having the temerity to tell him to keep his lawnmower off her lawn. He intentionally lay in wait for her, then (when she finally let her dog outside) he shot her from across the yard, not once, but three times – two after she fell. There’s no question whatsoever Pickering intended to murder this girl (since she’s a minor, the name of the victim is not being released, so for all we know, this could actually be her parents’ house/lawn – she’s potentially still in high school!).
Just Another Good Guy With A Gun?
So what, right? Just a random nut, the exact kind of person that the “good guy with a gun” is there to prevent. No. Pickering’s Facebook page was taken down almost immediately, perhaps because whoever took it down didn’t want any of Pickering’s friends or relatives harassed. Or perhaps it was taken down to prevent journalists and the public from noticing images like the one at left, or pro-gun screeds like this one that Pickering approvingly retweeted, which were both caught just before his Facebook profile was removed.
After George Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon Martin, I can remember thinking (and saying on Twitter) that although I doubted I’d ever have to make the choice, I would never, ever allow my young children anywhere near Zimmerman. This earned the predictable push-back from gun-rights supporters: Zimmerman was found not guilty, he’s the guy trying to keep people like you safe, etc. But the reality, as displayed by Zimmerman’s subsequent brushes with the law, is that George Zimmerman is a none-too-stable individual with a vigilante complex and a weapon. It’s this latter point – the gun – that made Zimmerman so dangerous to Trayvon Martin and continues to make him dangerous. There are plenty of dissatisfied, angry people out there with chips on their shoulders about everything from taxes to ex-wives to employers to fractional reserve banking. They may be dangerous or they may not, and it’s certainly true that any person who’s bent on harming another person can always find any number of implements available in the surrounding environment with which to inflict harm. But the simple reality of the power of guns is: put a gun in an angry person’s hands, and he becomes orders of magnitude more dangerous. Guns are simply far more dangerous and lethal than virtually anything else one sees in normal daily life. Toddlers finding daddy’s guns can kill one another with ease by mistake, and frequently do. Frail, 80-year old people can slaughter grizzly bears with the right gun. Guns are meant to kill, as simply and efficiently as possible, period – and they’re very good at that one job.
That’s why seeing someone walking around visibly carrying a gun doesn’t fill me with a sense of safety. It fills me with uncertainty and trepdation: how am I to know whether the person who just walked into the restaurant where my children and I are eating lunch is just going about his lawful business while choosing to carry a firearm for protection, or a dangerous right-wing crank, hopped up on specious fantasies of Obama coming to take his guns away and about to start a massacre? Or merely a garden-variety criminal, no longer bothering to conceal the weapon he’s planning to use in the commission of a felony, because the laws now say open carry is just fine, and he knows that until he begins committing his crime, he looks just like any other “good guy with a gun?” Or perhaps this open-carrier has been a “good guy with a gun” for years…but on this particular night, he’s been drinking, or just had a bad breakup, or any number of other issues that simply push him over the edge?
This week, Wonkette flagged a fascinating piece from a philosophy professor from the University of North Dakota named Jack Russell Weinstein. Weinstein’s piece concerns how to deal with guns in public, and is right up the same alley as my own thinking. It also comes at the perfect time to address these open carry extremists:
It is rational to be afraid of someone with a weapon, especially if you know nothing about them…There really is no legitimate way of determining intent. So, what should we do?
My proposal is as follows: we should all leave. Immediately. Leave the food on the table in the restaurant. Leave the groceries in the cart, in the aisle. Stop talking or engaging in the exchange. Just leave, unceremoniously, and fast.
But here is the key part: don’t pay. Stopping to pay in the presence of a person with a gun means risking your and your loved ones’ lives; money shouldn’t trump this. It doesn’t matter if you ate the meal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just received food from the deli counter that can’t be resold. It doesn’t matter if you just got a haircut. Leave. If the business loses money, so be it. They can make the activists pay.
As Weinstein notes,
Following this procedure has several advantages. First, it protects people. Second, it forces the businesses to really choose where their loyalties are. If the second amendment is as important as people claim, then people should be willing to pay for it.
Of course, Weinstein’s post went viral almost immediately – or at least, as soon as second amendment extremists got wind of it – and Weinstein was deluged in the comments section of his previously-sleepy little philosophy blog with predictable rage from those very same second-amendment extremists. Which only served to reinforce his point: there is absolutely no reliable way to determine the intent of a person who’d walk into a public place – store, park, restaurant – with a loaded gun. At least, there’s no way to determine their intent until it’s much too late, if they turn out to be violent. A gun rights activist would argue that’s all the more reason for me - and everyone else – to carry a weapon at all times…but that only presents more problems in determining who’s the good guy. Me? I agree with Professor Weinstein: guns are dangerous inherently (casual misuse results in plenty of injuries and even deaths), and guns in the hands of persons of unknown mental stability in public places equals me not wanting to be in – or patronize – those places.