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The New Wild West

And now, back to guns.

Do me a favor and listen to this segment from the April 12, 2016 edition of NPR’s All Things Considered (the first three minutes are what I’ll address below):

Okay, so first let’s just get away for the moment from any argument rooted in sympathy for the guy who ended up dead in Darrell Standberry’s Yukon XL. There’s a valid and important case to be made on that front, but it’s been made before and is unlikely to be persuasive when not preaching directly to a choir of gay liberil fcuktards [sic].

Darrell Stanberry

If I put on my most objective hat, I can get to a place where my reaction to this clip goes something like this: given that concealed carry is legal in Detroit and given that the car thief reached into his pocket and given that it turned out the car thief did, in fact, have a gun in his pocket…I can see why Darrell did what he did. Or at least I can see how a reasonable person on either side of the gun debate might refrain from judging his actions too harshly. (Though I do wonder what a certain type of right wing gun enthusiast might think about this picture of Mr. Standberry.)

So I want to start from there and see where it leads and the first question that comes up is: what would have happened if Darrell Standberry had not had a gun? I think the answer is pretty simple; his SUV “with interior TV’s and custom rims” would have been stolen, just as it could have been stolen off the street while Darrell was at a doctor appointment or in bed at home, just as any number of possessions are stolen from any number of people every day. To be sure, it would have been a bad day for Standberry, but presumably he has insurance, a modern convenience that one could argue makes armed confrontation less desirable and/or necessary.

Still, Darrell was carrying a gun, so I guess the next thing I want to know is: why was Darrell carrying a gun? More specifically, what made Darrell want to carry a gun? The most logical answer, of course, is that he’s afraid of other people with guns. I know, I know…he’s afraid of “bad guys” with guns and he’s a “good guy” with a gun, but still there’s something terribly circular about proliferating guns because of a fear of guns.

Setting aside that vicious circle for a moment, it seems to me that there are really just two categories of people who want to carry a gun around in public. First, there are those people who are genuinely concerned for the safety of themselves and their families and feel compelled to stand ready to defend them with firearms. Even knowing as I do that we life in very safe times and that owning a gun makes a person less not more safe, I can bring myself to understand the underlying fears of a person in this category and sympathize with what is still a very bad decision. The implicit argument of this group is “There are rapists and murderers out there and I refuse to rely on law enforcement alone to protect me and mine.”

I have a harder time with the second group. These are the dudes (because let’s face it, most of them are dudes) who think of themselves as an extension of the police or military, who crave the opportunity to be a hero, who fantasize about mowing down some petty thugs in the midst of a convenience store stickup. I am afraid of these dudes and you should be too. The last thing I want around me in a tense situation is an overgrown lunk with a small dick that hasn’t been fully erect since that time he was left alone with his cousin Marvin. The implicit argument of this group is “There are rapists, murderers, thiefs, vandals and other sketchy characters out there and only me and my gun stand between them and good, upstanding, [usually white] Christians.”

Obviously I find one argument slightly more compelling than the other, but they both sort of boil down to the same thing, namely a rejection of the notion that in a civilized society there is a meaningful distinction between law enforcement and civilians. They amount to a call for a return to the Wild West, with a horse at every hitch and a gun on every hip. I don’t know about anybody else, but I think of it as a convenience that I don’t need to carry a gun everywhere. And I don’t. I rarely feel threatened by anyone, ever. And, importantly, no one ever feels threatened by me.

I mean, look…I know the Old West looks romantic and exciting in movies and TV shows. It’s the same kind of thrill we get from stories of the mafia—that highwire tension of latent violence that exists whenever guns are somewhere in the scene, when a laugh could instantly become a hole in the chest.


But is that really how we want to live? Under the constant threat of explosive mayhem? Because that’s the natural endpoint of both of the above arguments. When everyone is deputized, everyone is a potential villain. In the scene above, the threat is not external; they’re all “Goodfellas” around that table. The threat is a culture in which everyone is armed at all times. Henry comes out of this scene unscathed because Tommy was joking, but the uncertainty is very real for a full, thick-as-mud minute because the alternative outcome is entirely plausible.murder-by-relationship

This plausibility is borne out by data from the real world. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report Expanded Homicide Data drills down into the 11,961 homicides committed in 2014, 68% of which “involved the use of firearms,” finding that 43% of all homicides were committed by family or someone the victims were otherwise familiar with.

According to the same report, “Of the murders for which the circumstances surrounding the crimes were known, 40.4 percent of victims were murdered during arguments (including romantic triangles) in 2014.”

That last stat is the big one. It shows that a huge chunk of all murders are perpetrated in the heat of the moment when someone has access to a gun, not by roving hordes of psychopaths picking off random victims. In fact, of the 7,372 homicides for which the circumstances are known, only 1,789 were associated with felonies.

Just 277 justifiable homicides were committed by civilians “during the commission of crimes.”

Alaina Gonville

“So what about that 11.5% of gun murders that are committed by strangers?” you might ask. Shouldn’t I be able to defend myself against those?” Well, listen…we’re never going to live in a risk-free world. If you listened past the three minute mark on that NPR clip above, you might wonder whether Alaina Gonville was better or worse off as a result of her decision to open carry.

The simple fact is that contributing to the proliferation of guns is always and everywhere going to raise all of the gun homicide numbers, not only because guns will inevitably fall into the wrong hands, but also because people who might previously have thought better of owning or carrying a gun will increasingly feel as though they must.

And we’re all good guys until we’re not.

Published in Guns

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