My column, in brief, quoted the superintendent of the Chicago police, Garry McCarthy, saying that we don't have to debate the wisdom of concealed carry gun permits. Just sit back and watch the tragedies unfold.
I agreed with him.
The column did not call for gun control, did not suggest action. Just the opposite, I recognized the utter inertia that our nation has fallen into, browbeaten by the NRA, the gun industry, and the slice of America that worships firearms.
A person can own a gun for many reasons: sport, protection, habit, tradition, fear. I didn't enter into any of that. What I said was that the usefulness of a gun increases with its availability to the owner, which also increases the danger it poses to him. Obviously true. And nobody really debated that. Furthermore, since crimes are rare—no gun fan seemed capable of acknowledging this either—compared to gun accidents and suicides, for most people the risk of owning a gun outweighs any real benefit.
Many people wrote in demanding "facts," and I wrote back regarding suicides. Buying a gun increases the odds that you will kill yourself—the Harvard School of Public health found "a powerful link" between gun ownership and suicide. Those gun owners who shoot someone typically shoot themselves.
Faced with this, my correspondents withdrew, hurrying no doubt to gun chat boards to hoot and holler.
My view is at odds with the Clint Eastwood fantasy. And nothing honks a man off like having his fantasy pointed out, never mind questioned, never mind mocked. It's a lot more fun to imagine yourself getting the drop on the bad guy at the next Sandy Hook than realizing that buying a gun increases the odds of a violent death for yourself and your family.
Not being a zealot, I can let this go. It's masochistic of me to bring it up for a second day. But I do find the discussion interesting, reading all these comments -- emails, I ignored the comments after my column. Comments after newspaper stories are generally from trolls who would jeer at an 8-year-old with cancer.
But reading my email, I realized something. Gun supporters aren't interested in debate. They just want to browbeat and hector anyone who raises the issue. Though give them credit. They have fight in them. Those who support gun control sit looking at their hands, timid, silent. And to be honest, I respect, if that is the right word, the gun supporters more. At least they have the courage of their convictions and act on them, speaking in loud, sneering, utterly-confident voices. Those who think otherwise — the majority, if you believe polls — are too abashed, or indifferent, to speak. They've given up.
Not me obviously. I can point out the flaws in the gun argument. I can also easily and sincerely tick off the value of guns—as beautiful, collectible objects, for target practice, hunting, to provide protection for those few who are truly endangered, and to give comfort and a sense of security—false, but security nonetheless—to the many who are not. Plus we're stuck with 'em.
I've had fun shooting guns on a number of occasions—at several ranges around Chicago. I have gone pheasant hunting in Wisconsin and skeet shooting in Colorado. I had an FOID card—it expired, eventually, but I've been meaning to renew it—that I got to take my sons shooting in Des Plaines, and would have bought a gun for that purpose had they showed any interest. (I was a pretty good shot, which I credit to years of video shooter games). I find it sad that those who passionately favor of gun rights, are unable to explore the borders of their belief. They can't look at the other side and find merit. They can't even look at all, and couldn't come up with a positive aspect of gun control, well, if you put a gun to their heads. Not one.
Indeed, they seem almost offended, not by what I said so much but by the idea that someone was talking about their predilection, casting doubts about their fantasies. The gun world is so radicalized that respected sportsmen's columnists have been hounded from their jobs just for straying slightly from an absolute, pry-my-gun-from-my-cold-dead-hands extremism. Good thing I don't work for an outdoors magazine.
As I read over their fuming, nasty, sarcastic, anti-Semitic taunts that made up this Greek chorus of complaint, seeing the view offered by the soda straw they peer at life through, what stood out was their anger and anxiety. To a man. Which made me wonder: why are they so mad? They''ve won. The issue is dead, the day theirs. Guns for everybody, all the time. I never suggested we implement the faintest whisper of gun control, didn't call to ban a single exotic bullet, because that would be completely impossible in our climate of Congressional cowardice. And I make it a rule never to advocate the impossible. I merely pointed out that guns are dangerous and the more guns, the more danger, just like the superintendent said. There is no need to argue. All we have to do is wait.
But that is blasphemy enough. This is, at bottom, a religious issue, if not religious, then certainly a matter of faith. Their faith is not in law, not in God, not in society, but in guns. There is certainly a religious fanaticism to all this. It's a passion, almost sexual in nature. No wonder they don't want anyone drawing attention to it. They are like onanists caught in the act, blustering through their embarrassment, hurt and humiliation, shouting at the intruder. Go away. So faith and a kind of twisted psycho-sexual fixation. Guns give comfort and security to people who obviously sorely lack both. You can't argue that. Guns are owned by people who feel they need guns. I know gun owners on my block. Lots of guns. Yet we live in the same peaceful place. We've talked about it. Nobody is going to yank that blankie from them. One reader wrote to me that Obama was to blame for the sale of 100 million guns, and I wrote back asking why, given that he has done absolutely nothing to restrict gun sales and no rational person believes he ever will.
And the reader said, not realizing how right he is: yes, but they were afraid he might.
Which is what this whole thing is about. Guns are comfort for people who are afraid, frightened of a changing world, of menacing minorities, of dangers real and imagined. And to be honest, I recognize that placebo as having a value. It's bad to be scared. Arm yourselves, by all means. I wouldn't dream of stopping you. Though I don't understand why your fear should be the only consideration on this subject, the beginning, middle and end of the debate, not that we're debating.
If you are terrified, of life, of your neighbors, of vague menaces, get a gun or, rather, lots of guns, since, like any addiction, one stops being effective, and you need more to get the same calming effect. Not for all gun owners, let me state clearly, not that it will help. Maybe you're a security guard, or like to hunt squirrels. There are uses. But for a lot they're totems, comfort objects, like little metal dollies. Certainly the guys I heard from yesterday seemed to have that going on. Though owning lots of guns doesn't seem to make them feel secure either -- they're still afraid, afraid now that someone will take their guns. Afraid of my analyzing this, of asking questions. Pointing out that, rather than making anyone safer in any way other than the psychological, guns imperil their owners, their families and everybody else. It seems unfair that I can understand and accept their reasoning but they can neither grasp nor accept mine. Enough. As I said, let's not argue about it. Because the incident that happened in your youth, the fistfight that wed you to guns for life, is not a compelling argument for an armed society, in my view. And you obviously aren't listening to anything I have to say. But thanks for reading.