From: Antoun Nabhan (email@example.com)
Date: Thu Dec 14 2000 - 18:39:54 PST
At 02:19 PM 12/13/00 -0500, Damien Morton wrote:
>Without bandying around any stats, I think we might be able to agree that
>for every honorable 'gun-owner' there are probably several people we would
>rather didnt have guns in our company. Be it criminals, unstable people, the
>insane, intoxicated, desperate or whatever. I think we also might be able to
This paragraph right here may explain why the debate over guns is not just
about guns, and why both sides are so passionate about it, far beyond even
the threat. (Be truthful, people - how many of you have actually been
threatened with a firearm? How many of you realistically believe you'll be
threatened with a firearm anytime soon?)
Depending on which self-serving survey you read, somewhere between 35% and
55% percent of American households have a gun in them. The notion that, oh,
some multiple of 35% of the people are all untrustworthy - and I think
that's what the word "several" in your paragraph above translates into - is
facially incorrect. Less strawman-ishly, there really is a difference in
outlook here about whether the average person bears violent intent toward
his/her fellow humans.
I'm pretty sure that the number of people who are really dangerous and
violent in this country is pretty damn small. Part of that is experiential
or even dogmatic on my part, but I did used to do some work in criminology,
and you can find study after study that confirms that a wildly
disproportionate number of crimes are committed by a small percentage of
"offenders" who are overacheivers in the activity and who represent an even
smaller percentage of the overall population. The histogram distribution of
"# of crimes committed by each criminal" versus "offenders in jail" is
*not* Gaussian at all. You have a lot of people who get caught after one or
two crimes, and then you have others that are caught after 10 or 20 or 50.
(Maybe 3 and up for murderers.)
So the fact is, the vast majority of people are not just law-abiding, but
really quite benign. (Even compassionate! Even in New York City!) Contrary
to what seems to be the suburban fear, most "criminals" aren't the kind
that jump out of bushes and slit your throat. Most bullets have a name on
them; they aren't marked "to whom it may concern."
So, if you start from the viewpoint that most people don't want to kill you
at all (and if they do, then maybe you need to reexamine your lifestyle,
eh?), then what's wrong with letting them have dangerous things with some
instructions and constraints on how they use them? Dangerous things, and
the people who use them for good purpose, very much undergird our current
society and have historically been responsible for a helluva lot of good.
People routinely get killed/maimed using cars, combines, most power tools,
factory equipment, many household and industrial chemicals (remember Mr
Yuk!), and all sorts of other things that dainty journalists and knowledge
workers tend to shy away from but are nonetheless necessary. Guns actually
look pretty good on that score - if you exercise even a modicum of common
sense about how to store, use, and carry a gun, it will reliably *not* kill
or maim you accidentally.
And I do believe that guns are *necessary* in many wildlife-intensive rural
parts of the country, and not necessarily a bad idea in some more populated
places. This argument tends to get dismissed by most 'thinking' people,
because most people who think of themselves as 'thinking' come from places
that are not rural and not sparsely populated and therefore have simply
never experienced a rabid raccoon in your tent or a wild boar at your door.
So yeah, if you believe that every man is a murderer just looking for a
dark alley, then guns, and everything else in the "Clue" weapon repertoire,
are a bad idea. If you believe that the default setting for humans in
America, ca. 2001, is "pretty decent folk," then guns are just fine.
The anti gun lobby is not just saying that guns are dangerous, they're
saying, pretty explicitly as represented by Damien, that most people aren't
"pretty decent folk," and that gun owners in particular are less decent
than the rest. That's rhetorically insulting, but substantively leads
directly to other arguments that everyone's individual personal empowerment
should be curtailed. (If there were automatic cars, wouldn't the same
political contingent say that us poor stupid citizens had shown ourselves
to be too incompetent and irresponsible to handle the manual ones? The
statistical evidence is even stronger there.)
So yeah, that's why gun owners feel persecuted.
When I procrastinate, I *really* procrastinate!
Antoun Nabhan * You may come out of each grueling bout
Berkman Center for * all broken and beaten and scarred.
Internet & Society * Just have one more try. It's dead easy to
617.901.8871 * It's the keepin-on-living that's hard.
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