Some People Love Guns. Why Should the Rest of Us Be Targets?
Knives also cut bread and carve wood and aid surgery, but guns only shoot bullets. That’s what they are designed to do, and that’s what they do. When we talk about protecting our right to have guns, we are talking about protecting our right to shoot bullets. So what is it that’s so important to shoot at?
The principal defense of guns is constitutional. The Second Amendment ensures that “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It’s used as the final authority, to be deferred to even if not agreed with or understood. But the Constitution isn’t the Bible. (The Second Amendment, being an amendment, is a testament to the Constitution’s ability to correct itself.) The Founding Fathers were neither infallible nor divine. And times change.
Does anyone any longer believe that a well-regulated militia is necessary for a free state? Why do those who fall back on the constitutional defense so often avoid the terms “militia” and “state”? And why, after the massacre at Virginia Tech — hours after — did Sen. John McCain proclaim, “I do believe in the constitutional right that everyone has, in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, to carry a weapon”? Just what is it, precisely, that he believes in? Is it the Constitution itself? (But surely he thinks it was wise to change the Constitution to abolish slavery, give women the vote, end Prohibition and so on?) Or is it the guns themselves that he believes in? It would be refreshing to have a politician try to defend guns without any reference to the Second Amendment, but on the merits of guns. What if, hours after the killings, McCain had stood at the podium and said instead, “Guns are good because . . . ” But what would have followed?
Guns are good because they provide the ultimate self-defense? While I’m sure some people believe that having a gun at their bedside will make them safer, they are wrong. This is not my opinion, and it’s not a political or controversial statement. It is a fact. Guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill a family member, friend or acquaintance than to kill an intruder, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Guns on the street make us less safe. For every justifiable handgun homicide, there are more than 50 handgun murders, according to the FBI. The expanding right to carry concealed guns make us even less safe. So what right is being protected if it is not the right to be safe? The right to feel safe, at the expense of actual safety?
Or perhaps guns are good because they facilitate hunting? It’s a constitutional red herring, but no coincidence or surprise, that the National Rifle Association is so closely aligned with hunters — they are the group’s most powerful contingent. Let’s just assume, for a moment, that hunting is good. Really, really good. (It must be, if militias and self-defense don’t explain guns.) How many of the nearly 3,000 children who are killed by firearms in the United States each year does the good of hunting justify? All of them? A handful? How many of the students and faculty at Virginia Tech? And what’s so good about hunting, anyway?
It’s rarely talked about, but hunting for sport is just about as vile as we humans get. In the words of former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, “Most wicked deeds are done because the doer proposes some good to himself . . . [but] the killer for sport has no such comprehensible motive. He prefers death to life, darkness to light. He gets nothing except the satisfaction of saying, ‘Something that wanted to live is dead.’ ” If the thrill of hunting were in the hunt, or even in the marksmanship, a camera would do just as well. (Imagine hunting cameras that looked and felt like guns.) But something else is going on. Something that sounds as bad as it is. Hunters love death. Can someone explain to me why that’s acceptable, or why that love of death should be more important than the safety of the 94 percent of us who don’t have hunting licenses and don’t hunt?
In 2004, more preschoolers than law enforcement officers were killed by firearms, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. The number of children killed by guns in the United States each year is about three times greater than the number of servicemen and women killed annually in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, more children — children– have been killed by guns in the past 25 years than the total number of American fatalities in all wars of the past five decades. It’s possible that the upcoming election will be decided by the war in Iraq. But what about the far deadlier war at home?
Jonathan Safran Foer, a Washington native, is the author of two novels, “Everything Is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
JAMES MADISON UNIVERSITY
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009; Page C05
HARRISONBURG, Va., Feb. 14 — Kyle Smith agreed to play the bad guy.
In a scenario eerily designed to imitate the Virginia Tech massacre, when a lone gunman shot and killed 32 people in the nine minutes it took for campus police to respond, Smith burst into a classroom here Saturday, his right index finger pointed as if it were a gun drawn, and immediately “shot” the teacher between the eyes.
“You people treated me wrong,” the freshman yelled, a little sheepishly. “I just can’t take it anymore.”
As the four students in the room screamed, hit the floor and crouched under desks, he methodically fired five more shots with his finger and “killed” them all. In 23 seconds, it was over.
“You’re all dead,” Shawn Deehan, a gun rights advocate from GunRightsWeek.org, told the jeans-clad James Madison University students crumpled on the floor and waiting for his cue that the reenactment was over. “A great rate of response from law enforcement is six minutes. Six minutes. If you don’t care if you live or die, that’s a suitable response. But if you’re concerned about living another day, another minute, then that’s too long.”
Then Deehan reran the scenario the way he and other gun rights advocates would prefer: with the teacher and two students carrying concealed weapons.
Only Utah allows students and teachers to carry weapons on college campuses. Most other states leave it to the discretion of university administrators. And nearly all — save Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia and Colorado State University — have decreed that weapons on campus are a bad idea.
Both groups agree that the pro-gun group is winning the numbers game. Students for Gun Free Schools has about 12,000 members on Facebook. The Concealed Carry group, with members in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, has more than 36,000.
Efforts by gun rights advocates to allow students and teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus have never gotten out of committee in the gun-friendly Virginia legislature the past four years. And a spate of attempts to introduce similar bills in a number of states since the Virginia Tech shooting have failed. But gun rights advocates say the battle is just beginning. And the battleground now, they say, is the hearts and minds and trigger fingers of students themselves.
What better way to create converts and advocates, they say, than to put them in the shoes of Virginia Tech victims and let them feel the difference between being defenseless and having the power to take action.
For the second scenario, bad guy Smith again barged into the classroom and again whacked the teacher between the eyes. But this time, Kelly Clouston and Leah Sargent, students at James Madison, bounced up out of their seats, assumed a wide-legged stance and pointed their “gun” fingers at Smith, not forgetting to pull their hands back slightly to imitate a pistol’s recoil after they fired. Smith fell to the floor four seconds after he’d entered.
“This is really fun. I loved it,” Sargent said after her target shooting session. “I’m really proud of this.” She unfurled her target, with a cluster of holes directly in the center of the bull’s-eye. “She’s a natural,” one of the instructors said admiringly. She tucked her long blond hair behind one ear and smiled. A spent bullet casing dropped to the floor.