I work at an NPR affiliate and as I'm sure you can imagine, the horrific shooting in Arizona has crowded out just about everything else on the air the last couple of days. I have nothing new to say about whether or not Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or anyone else on the Right is at all responsible for the gunman's actions. Really, all I have to add is the product of something that's been gnawing at me ever since one of yesterday's call-in shows.
We have a two-hour call-in show and as predicted the Tucson mass shooting was the topic most callers talked about. Just as inevitably, the subject of gun rights came up frequently and in spite of the belief by many that only liberals listen to public radio, I'd say at least half of the callers (if not more) who referenced gun rights in their calls supported the Second Amendment. And almost all of the calls were refreshingly civil, I might add.
Most of those pro-gun-rights callers made similar arguments, and it's one of these arguments specifically that bother me. Many of them said something along the lines of, "Think about this - if another private citizen had been on the scene with a gun, maybe they could have stopped Loughner before he hurt anyone."
Gun rights is one of the few political issues where I'm not sure where I stand. I'm not comfortable with the idea of people walking around with semi-automatics in their coats, but at the same time I respect the desire for self-protection. I also know there are plenty of people - like my brother, my girlfriend's father and many of the men in her family - who enjoy using guns for sport whether that means hunting or just shooting at targets. Guns are something that, so far, I have been content to keep out of my life, but unwilling to rail against.
I still feel that way, but what seems like a very common argument - the notion that if more people had guns Loughner could have been stopped - is the thing that's been gnawing at me, and if anything sends me permanently in the anti-gun-rights camp, it will be this troubling mentality.
It is true that if more private citizens at the scene of the shooting had guns, Loughner wouldn't have been able to hurt anybody...if we all lived in a fucking action movie. If, like in The Matrix, the hypothetical Second-Amendment-loyal citizen hero were able to slow time to a crawl so he could put a round in Loughner's head before the sick bastard were able to squeeze off a round, then yes. Gun rights would save the day. Or if the patriotic, gun-toting American were the Robin Hood of guns and could guarantee his gun-slinging would write a check that only Loughner's psychotic ass would cash, then yes. Gun rights would save the day.
What seems more likely is that either through ricochet, bad aim, panic, or pure not-being-a-fucking-robot imperfection, the well-meaning citizen would end up bloodying - if not killing - more citizens in his attempt to take out Loughner. Or maybe he'd just miss, Loughner would turn on him, and then there'd be two guys with guns blasting away at each other in a crowd. And in spite of how well a scene like that might turn out in Bad Boys, in real life I'm guessing that would only lead to more wounded and/or dead.
What's even more troubling is the implication in the "someone could've shot Loughner" argument that it is actually irresponsible for citizens to not carry guns. I mean, whether or not people should be allowed to own guns is one argument, whether or not they should be able to carry concealed weapons is another, but arguing that citizens should carry concealed weapons and that they are irresponsible if they don't is absolutely bugfuck crazy. The idea of all, most, or even just a healthy chunk of men and women walking around with hidden guns is nightmarish.
Life is not an action movie. I don't think people who make the "someone could've shot Loughner" argument disagree. I suspect, however, that they fantasize about life becoming an action movie, with themselves as a Rambo or a Neo. I can't imagine what else would be behind such a foolish, absurd notion that more often than not comes from people who seem otherwise intelligent.
And I guess that's fine. I'm not the thought police. That people fantasize is fine; that the fantasies inform their opinion on whether or not they should be carrying weapons that can kill with the twitch of a finger is disturbing.
I am still not sure about where I fall in the Gun Rights debate. Recently I talked with my girlfriend about possibly going shooting at a target range with some of the men in her family, just to get to know them better and try out something new. I'd be lying if I said I've never considered buying a gun for protection, or that I never will.
However, my perception of Gun Rights advocates who make these kinds of arguments is of men and women who don't see guns as just necessary tools, but rather fantasize catastrophes that offer them the opportunity to be their own Charles Bronsons. I think they dream of themselves stalking the hallways of Columbine High, hunting Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. I think they probably watched Red Dawn and prayed to God for a Russian invasion.
I freely admit that might be an unfair characterization, but as long as Guns Rights advocates make arguments like this, I don't think I'm going to be able to take them seriously. To argue guns should be allowed is reasonable. To argue guns are the solution is not.