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Guns and Society

I’ve put off writing about the Arizona shootings because it was just so painful, and so much had already been said about the atmosphere in the country, the fact that our new forms of communication focus on  short and often nasty exchanges, rather than reasoned discourse.  But I heard an amazing interview with one of the men who was present at the shooting, and what nearly happened because he did have a gun.

One of the Arizona representatives said he “wished there had been one more gun” at that rally.  The implication being that if someone else had had a gun the shooter could have been dropped before six people were killed.  Every indication is that he got off these shots in about thirty seconds because he walked up with his gun at the ready.  If there had been a concealed carry person at the rally they would have had to draw their gun, and then fire on this man while in a crowd, and hope  not hit any bystanders while trying to take this guy down.  Most of us who use guns are not trained for the fast draw.  I know I wasn’t when I took a combat pistol course.

Now to an actual report from the event.  There was a man in the market that day who had a concealed carry permit.  He heard the shots, and he raced outside to help.  He said in the interview he had unclipped his holster, and had his hand on the butt of his gun.

When he got outside he saw a man holding a gun.  He saw a clot of people around a man on the ground.  But he saw a man _holding a gun_, and he said he nearly drew and shot that man.  The man holding the gun was one of the heroes who had jumped the shooter and wrestled the gun away from him.  The only thing that stopped another tragedy being added to the tragedy that had already occurred was people yelling that the shooter was the man on the ground.  What if our good Samaritan from the market hadn’t heard them?  An innocent man would have been wounded or killed in a case of mistaken shooting.

How does the law handle that?  Would the justice system just say “whoops”, and let the shooter go with the argument that “well, he meant well.  Too bad he shot and killed an innocent.”  Or would our would be rescuer be charged with involuntary manslaughter?

It’s tempting to think that we’d all react like Dirty Harry or Bruce Willis in Die Hard.  That we’d know exactly how to use our weapon, and end up a hero, but life is messier and more complicated than that.  It’s easy to use the slogans.  Heinlein’s “An armed society is a polite society.”  “God didn’t make men and women equal, Colonel Colt did.”  I’ve used them myself.  But hearing this story made me pause, and consider the full implication of a totally armed society.

I’m a gun owner.  I’ve been trained to use that gun for defense, but I see no reason why there can’t be rational limits on gun ownership.  For christ sake, we license _barbers_ in this country.  We make people take driving courses and driving tests.  A gun, handled badly is dangerous.  Why shouldn’t people have to take a gun safety course before being allowed to purchase a firearm?  Why don’t we have a better system for cross checking people’s mental status before allowing them to buy a gun?  What’s the point of a thirty round clip?  Most exchanges of gunfire with a pistol occur within twenty feet.  My Beretta holds 9 rounds.  I can probably effectively defend myself if someone invades my house with nine bullets — because I’ve been trained.

I don’t have answers to any of this.  I just think we need to step back and at least consider, without shouting at each other, whether having guns in bars, and churches and schools is really a wise idea.

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