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The Myth of the Reliable Law-Abiding Gun Owner

By       Message Gregory Paul     Permalink
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The NRA and company are trying to sell America one particular line. One that violates human psychology like telepathy violates the laws of physics. It is a story so naïve that it is amazing so many swallow it.

The myth is as follows. Wayne LaPierre famously said that the only person who can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Of course that is a misdirection from the greater truth -- the best way to stop a bad guy from killing from the get go is to keep them from getting a force-multiplying gun in the first place -- but it also is based on a false understanding of how human beings work.

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The firearms promoters are pushing the ideal of the law-abiding gun owner. These are those persons who own one or multiple firearms, and who are good, solid, decent citizens who can always be relied upon to do the right thing when it comes to using their guns. Including being willing and able to take out the dangerous evil-doer with a bullet if and when the need arises, before the ne'er-do-well can wreak more damage to his innocent victims, and without causing collateral damage with errant aim and ricochets. The very possession of guns makes such responsible Americans even more responsible in their actions, lest they cause harm with their lethal machine pistol or rifle -- almost all guns being semi-automatics these days.

In the context of this mythos, responsible gun owners are supposed to be above criticism for owning and publicly carrying guns. In right-wing world, all must presume that the law-abiding firearm aficionado must be accorded respect, and acknowledged as having good intentions regardless of their politics.

Of course this is nonsense. Everyone who possesses firearms is an inherent threat to themselves, their families, and the general community.

There is a core reason for this. This is because every single person who owns a modern repeating firearm suffers from a grave defect. One that makes them a potential time bomb capable of becoming a weapon of mass destruction.

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The defect that afflicts every single gun owner is that -- they are human beings. That is a serious problem because every Homo sapiens is defective. None of us are reliable. Any one of us can lose it and go ballistic as it were.

Say you have two people who are identical in every way, except that one lacks access to firearms, while the other is skilled in their use and has guns in their possession. Assume they are both conscientious citizens who have always obeyed the law, and never caused harm to others.

The problem, of course, is that humans are not always reliably consistent. All people are flawed. You are. I am. We all make mistakes. Sometimes very bad mistakes. On occasion, persons who have for years or decades been safe citizens come under overwhelming pressures and stresses. Say both of our hypothetical persons lose the job they rely upon for the well-being or themselves and their family. Maybe their careers are wrecked. It may be their fault, or they may be the victim of circumstances beyond their control. Does not matter; the persons are under tremendous stress. And perhaps both are experiencing severe family problems, say a divorce is looming for both. More stress and pressure. The kids are out of control. It devolves into anger. It all becomes overwhelming. One day, both persons snap. Not because they are "bad" or "evil;" they both just loose their normal constraints, the ones that have suppressed them from being violent towards others. So they both lash out and attack others with the same degree of sudden unreasoned anger.  

Or both of these persons lose their minds. Literally. It's a brain tumor. Or their neural chemistry goes haywire. The parts of the brain that tamp down violent tendencies is no longer able to tame the parts that turn to extreme force.

Here's where the difference comes in. The person who does not own a gun has limited firepower, a restricted ability to injure and kill. Chances are that that person will fail to liquidate other persons. It is pretty hard to kill someone without using a gun. The unarmed assailant might lash out with their fists, inflicting pain physical and mental but probably not serious injury. Even using a knife out of the kitchen drawer the possibility of killing is reduced compared to blowing them away with the gun out of the bedroom drawer. Folks in the house have a good chance to flee the assailant without a long-reach weapon. No way that the ungunned person will suddenly wade into a workplace, eatery, parking lot, theater, or school mowing down dozens.

The situation with the gun owner is dramatically more dangerous. A person with a ten-round Glock can readily slaughter their family in seconds, before the neokiller even thinks about it. Same person can assault a group of people at a public place, mowing down half a dozen or more. If they have an machine pistol or assault rifle with a magazine containing tens of rounds it is all the better for killing en mass.

Then there are the slipups. Our two hypothetical gun owners wake up in the middle of the night thinking an intruder is a dire threat. One grabs a baseball bat and is about to bash the home invader in the head -- but getting close realizes it's a had-a-few-too-many son unexpectedly home from college. That was close. The other grabs the gun and in their groggy confusion blows away the son.

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A person without a gun is likely to be a killer of none, at worst of killer of a few even if they go wildly violent. The same person with high-capacity semi-automatics is a weapon of mass destruction waiting to happen. It takes no extra preparation for such a person to go from the law abider everyone trusts to a mass killer who shocks all who trusted the person -- all who survived the gun-fueled rampage.

The cold reality is that we cannot trust anyone. Including yourself. Not because we are all evil. But because we are all human. If you think that yourself, your best friends, or your close family members can be trusted to have guns without there ever being a threat to themselves and others including yourself, you are being ridiculously naïve. Really, you should know better. To err is human. It's part of the human condition.

As it happens increasing numbers of Americans are rejecting the idea that guns at home are a good idea. Partly because the population is aging and less rural (= less hunting). Partly because women are increasingly heads of households, and females are less willing to buy into the gun-lovers' mythos that guns are good for families. (The number of guns per capita is rising, but that is because the dwindling number of firearm owners are tending to collect more vanity guns per capita.) The gun rejecters are right. As households with guns have rapidly declined in recent decades, so has the homicide rate.  A series of scientific studies have shown that home guns result in more injury and death -- accident, suicides, domestic shootings, the intruder taking control of the gun and using it -- than they prevent. Women are particularly vulnerable; that guns are "equalizers" is a myth. Using firearms as "protection" is illogical because it involves a safety contradiction. To deter or terminate an intruder requires that the weapon be loaded, unlocked, and easily accessed. That means the gun can be easily used by an out-of-control adult member of the household, or found by a naïve child.   

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Gregory Paul is an independent researcher interested in informing the public about little known yet important aspects of the complex interactions between religion, secularism, culture, economics, politics and societal conditions. His scholarly work (more...)

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