11 August 2017

Packing Heat Probably Not a Good Idea for Me, Most People

I like to think of myself as a calm, rational, peaceful, non-violent, non-threatening, non-confrontational kind of guy. I bet most people who know me would agree with that description.

But here’s the thing: I’m not one hundred percent certain that if I’d had a gun in my pocket every day since it was legal for me to own one, something terribly wrong wouldn’t have gone down at some point. At least once. Humans are fragile creatures. I am. The human psyche is precarious. Anyone can snap.

And if I’m not sure that a peace-loving, conflict-avoiding, pacifist, beatnik- wannabe like me wouldn’t have snapped once or twice and pulled the trigger under certain circumstances — changing the course of my life and other lives in one regrettable furious moment — I sure don’t feel safe knowing I’m surrounded by a bunch of civilians packing heat, permit or not, many of whom I’m guessing more inclined to violent ways than I am. What about you? If you happen to live in one of the 33 “right-to-carry” states, which allow everyday citizens to carry concealed handguns, that’s likely to be the case. Makes you think twice about cutting line at the grocery store.

I’m lucky. There hasn’t been a single occasion in my life I can remember when possessing a firearm would have been helpful to me. Knock on wood. Never been mugged, never seen a robbery going down where I could have intervened and saved the day, never been attacked by a bear in the woods.

I can think of a few times when having easy access to one could have caused trouble, though.

There was a very late night in San Francisco when I got a little lost looking for my car. I found myself in a dark and sketchy and unfamiliar part of the Mission District. The streets were mostly empty, except for myself and a man who seemed to be following me, twenty feet or so behind. Every time I turned down a different street, so did he. This went on for several blocks. I felt threatened. I could feel my heart pounding. Now, in my wildest dreams, I can’t imagine myself wheeling around and pulling out the trusty Glock and opening fire. But I’d had a few drinks earlier in the night; maybe my judgement was impaired just enough to do something stupid. I was afraid. Fear distorts. What if I turned around to confront him to find that he was also armed? Whatever the results, it surely wouldn’t have ended as well as it actually did: after a few more blocks, he headed a different direction. I soon found my car and drove home. Chances are, the threat I perceived that night was a product of my overactive imagination. The man was probably just trying to find his car too. The streets of San Francisco can be confusing.

Here’s a little confession: part of being the acquiescing peace-maker/conflict-avoider that I am is that I let things build up sometimes. That’s not always healthy. Sometimes I take in as much as I can and then I lose my cool. Every six or seven years, I have a Mount St. Helens’ moment. I can think of a couple of eruptions when I’m glad I didn’t have quick access to a deadly weapon. To date, worst case scenario has been a slammed door or two and a string of groveling apologies soon thereafter. I’d like to believe that even in the most heated of quarrels, my good morals and proper upbringing and sense of right and wrong and sound judgement and fear of incarceration would prevail. But rage is a powerful thing. Think back to the maddest you’ve ever been. How does it feel with a gun in your hand?

I’m sure many of you reading this know that I’m often critical of law enforcement. Too many cops are racist and too many departments corrupt. I don’t automatically trust the police and don’t always feel safe in their presence. I know my level of distrust pales in comparison to many of my non-White friends, for good reason. I’ll save that conversation for another day. Nevertheless, I do feel safer knowing that it’s trained professionals, most of whom are competent and upstanding and well-vetted, who are the ones carrying weapons in my town. Yes, the bad guys have guns. But a bunch of untrained citizens brandishing weapons, fragile humans like me — each dealing with their own set of demons, some with vigilantism on their minds and grudges in their hearts and “right-to-carry” permits in their back pockets… these good guys prone to road rage and jealousy and subject to accidents and errors in judgment (as we all are)… isn’t helpful to law enforcement and doesn’t make the streets safer; it makes the streets more dangerous.
And that’s exactly what a report released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week indicates; what many of us who promote gun control find unsurprising: allowing citizens to carry handguns doesn’t decrease crime, as the NRA always tried to convince us; it increases it, especially violent crime such as aggravated assault. In fact, after examining decades of crime data, Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue found that states which adopted right-to-carry laws have experienced a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime in the 10 years after enacting those laws.
Simply put, putting guns in the hands of more citizens is no remedy for gun violence. Which seems like a no-brainer to me. You’ll never see one in mine.