Back in the day I was part owner of a bar with a sometimes rough clientele. We had off-duty police officers as patrons and on the busy nights we hired an off-duty officer, in uniform, for security. We had a drunk off-duty cop start to pull a gun on a patron he found annoying; our working cop tackled him before anything bad happened.
Most law abiding people never come face to face with a mugger or murderer. But they come in contact with hundreds of other law-abiding citizens every day. Sometimes two law-abiding citizens get into a dispute, over a parking space, a traffic maneuver, even a misinterpreted stare in a bar late at night. Sane people sometimes do crazy things when they get angry. More guns in circulation means more guns get drawn, more accidents happen and more people get shot. It’s foolish to think that having more guns has made our society safer.
Back in the day I lived in the top floor of a duplex in a rough neighborhood. The owners, an elderly couple, had lived on the first floor for several decades as the neighborhood changed around them. Every night he took the dog for a walk with a gun in his pocket. Every once in a great while he felt the need to display the gun to people that seemed to be walking his way with a purpose. Nothing bad ever happened, and nothing made the news. But having the gun allowed he and his wife to live their lives less in fear and with more freedom.
It would be great if every American felt safe in their neighborhood and trusted the police to protect them. It would be great if people like my landlord didn’t feel the need to keep a handgun to protect he and his wife. When we talk about gun deaths in the United States, these are the guns we are talking about – handguns. When we talk about handgun control, it’s people like my landlord that we are talking about. It’s hard to imagine our country will ever take handguns away from the tens of millions of Americans that feel safer with a handgun in their homes.
It’s the mass killings with assault rifles that usually lead to calls for more gun control. I know some people that have assault rifles, and some of those people keep them in secret gun closets. They don’t have the assault rifles because they are afraid of crime, they have them because they are afraid of the government and the society our government might lead us to.
It would be great if every American trusted our government enough to not feel the need to keep a private arsenal. But that’s not the case. “National Character” is a nebulous term, but if it exists then surely a part of the national character of the U.S. is that we are distrustful of authority. For a portion of our population that means being distrustful of government, our government.
So there you have it. The guns that that are responsible for the vast majority of gun deaths are the guns people use to feel safe in their homes and on their streets, handguns. The guns that are responsible for the mass killings, assault rifles, are the guns that people buy to feel less afraid of our government. It would be great if we had fewer handguns floating around and did a better job of keeping them out of the hands of criminals. And it would be great if we could make assault rifles a little less lethal and did a better job of keeping them out of the hands of the mentally ill. But it’s hard to imagine that the U.S. will ever be a gun-free country. Guns, and gun violence, will continue to be part of what makes the United States different than the rest of the world.