I must give Brady Campaign board member Joan Petersen credit. She's tried to reach out to those of us opposed to the Brady perspective, asking us to respond to twenty questions she posted on her blog. Many pro-gun blogs and bloggers have done so, including Snowflakes In Hell, my buddy Lawdog, The Ultimate Answer To Kings and The View From North Central Idaho. I won't add anything to what they've said; Lawdog's response can speak for me as well.
However, one thing jumped out at me. Responding to comments to her 'twenty questions' post, Ms. Petersen said this:
"There were so many comments to this thread that it's not possible to answer them in the time I have available. From what I can tell, what you are all saying is that guns are not the problem. I see it differently. I have provided facts to show that gun deaths take more lives than any other means in the U.S. I am concentrating on the U.S. and what is going on here. It is still true that gun deaths per 100,000 are higher in the U.S. than other industrialized countries. You have shown me your own graphs and your own facts. We will have to agree to disagree about this. It is futile to keep going with this thread."
That statement illustrates in a nutshell what so many gun bloggers have tried to point out to Ms. Petersen in comments on her thread, and in their own blog posts; and, for that matter, what pro-Second Amendment activists have tried to convey to the Brady Campaign and those of that mindset. So far, all our attempts appear to have been unsuccessful.
The problem is violent crime.
Unless Ms. Petersen, and those who think like her, can grasp this, there's no prospect whatsoever of any meaningful dialog with them.
To speak of 'gun deaths' is meaningless. What is a 'gun death'?
- It might be a murder.
- It might be a wholly legitimate, legal act of self-defense by an armed citizen.
- It might be an action by law enforcement officers attempting to arrest a lawbreaker, or prevent him from harming others.
- It might be a suicide.
- It might be a tragic accident, where (for example) a firearm is left unsupervised where a small child can reach it, with the inevitable consequences. (Some, including myself, would argue that such incidents are not 'accidents' at all, but gross negligence.)
Some of these are lamentable. Some are commendable. Some are legal, some illegal. Some are tragedies, some are triumphs. To say simply that 'gun deaths' are a problem is to ignore the realities and complexities of the situation.
To focus on the instrument - the gun - rather than the person wielding it is to completely misunderstand the situation. I've lived through a great deal of violence; eighteen years, to be precise, in an environment of rolling civil unrest that amounted, at times, to full-blown civil war. I've personally witnessed and/or been a (reluctant) participant in well over a hundred armed encounters. I've seen people killed with guns; knives; spears; clubs; bare hands; and by wild animal attacks. (Yes, some of those deaths were caused by me, to protect myself and/or those entrusted to my care.) In every case, I can assure you that there was clearly a right and a wrong side; a criminal element and a law-abiding element.
If guns, as an instrument, had been banned, there would have been an awful lot more deaths and injuries on the side of the law-abiding, who would have been deprived of an effective means of protecting themselves. If two people are fighting with swords or spears, physical strength and dexterity and skill and agility count for a great deal. If the criminal is better at one or more of those aspects of the encounter, he's likely to triumph. A gun negates such advantages. It allows even a physically challenged or handicapped victim to triumph over his or her assailant. (I've trained handicapped shooters for over two decades, and I'm delighted to report that so far, three of my students have made use of their training to defend themselves against illegal attack. All three are still with us.)
A gun is nothing more or less than a tool, just as a knife, or a hammer, or a calculator, or a frying-pan is a tool. It has no inherent morality. It can be used for good or for evil; but that use is and will forever be determined by its user, not by the gun itself. One might as well argue that in order to eliminate the scourge of drunk driving, we should ban automobiles. That would certainly work; but it would impose such a crippling burden upon modern society that the cure would be worse than the disease. It also ignores the fact that in a case of drunk driving, we don't charge the automobile (the instrument) with an offense: we charge the driver (the criminal who misused the instrument). In the same way, to ban guns would handicap the law-abiding to so great an extent that I believe the cure would be worse than the disease. Certainly, I wouldn't be here today, writing these words, if I hadn't had a firearm available to defend myself on more than one occasion in the past.
Thus, any attempt to eliminate or reduce violence by banning an instrument of violence is doomed to failure. A criminal who can't get a gun will get a knife, or a club, or anything else he can think of that will give him an edge over his prospective victim. Even without an instrument, he'll probably be no less dangerous. As a prison chaplain, I've watched inmates exercising in prison yards, practicing unarmed combat techniques, training each other to take guns away from police officers and armed citizens, learning how to disable and kill with their hands and feet. A surprise attack from such a well-trained assailant has every prospect of success . . . if all one has with which to respond are one's own hands and feet, and no warning at all. A gun can be, and in my own life has been, an immediate 'equalizer', fending off deadly danger when nothing less would have sufficed.
I'm afraid that if Ms. Petersen and those of her persuasion can't grasp this reality, there's no possibility whatsoever of meaningful dialog with them. I'll gladly work with them to diminish the threat of violent crime; but to blame the gun, an instrument, for the actions of the criminal is to completely ignore the realities of the situation.
I'm a man of peace. I've dedicated my life to the service of God and my fellow man as a pastor (and even though I'm now medically retired, that dedication hasn't changed). I believe in mercy, and love, and all those good things: but even so, I actively encourage all those whom I serve to be prepared to defend the life God has given them, and the lives He has given into their care (specifically their spouses and children, plus any wider extended family they may have). I'd hate to have to explain to Him that one or more of those lives had been brutally snuffed out because I was too cowardly, or too complacent, or too faux-compassionate, to defend it when the need arose. Somehow, I don't think He'll look very kindly upon such a response . . . I may fail in my efforts to defend my life, or the lives of others, due to the overwhelming strength of the attack, or some such circumstance; but at least I'll have tried, and done my best. That's all any of us can do.
A gun makes our best a lot more likely to be good enough, when the chips are down.