Why own a gun?

There has been a lot of discussion in the past 24 hours. About gun control, about mental health care, about security measures, about whether we should be discussing any of this so soon after a horrific incident. I have been yelled at by friends and chastised by complete strangers. My Facebook feed has been filled with a steady stream of thoughts and links to articles. I can only imagine others have had similar experiences.

I vehemently disagree with those who insist it's disrespectful or "too soon" to start discussing any of these topics the day of or the day after an incident like yesterday's school shooting. After all, the Oregon mall shooting only happened 3 days before that, so if there is some kind of "waiting period" before it's appropriate to discuss policy responses to mass shootings, then how are we ever going to have a discussion if the next shooting happens just a few days later? I think the only way to respect the loss of life is to figure out ways we can protect against future loss of life.

It seems there are a lot of topics that can be discussed today. But the only question I really want to talk about right now is this: why do people want to have guns? I'm not talking shotguns for hunting (though I'm not a fan of hunting and would never do it and don't really understand why people enjoy it, I do get that people do like to kill their own food). I'm talking handguns. In their homes. On their persons. Why do people want them? I truly do not understand.

This question has absolutely nothing to do with the Second Amendment, so don't dare answer with, "We have a right to have them." This isn't about whether we have the right to own handguns. If you think that is an appropriate answer to the question of why you want to own a gun, I suggest to you you have no business owning a gun. Maybe you don't have to justify your desire to own and carry a gun to me, but you need to be able to justify it to yourself. It's too big a thing to own without having thoroughly considered the whys, the pros, and the cons.

A handgun has one function and one function only: to cause harm. You may argue a handgun serves other purposes, but the mechanism itself has only that one function. The release of a trigger starts a reaction that releases a projectile at high velocity. Upon impact with a target, that projectile will cause damage. That is it. We know, too, that if the target is a human being, the damage will be considerable and will often be fatal. Having a gun and expecting to someday use it means that lives will be at risk. So why do people want to have these things around?

I have a cousin whose life maybe wouldn't be such a train wreck if his friend's parents hadn't kept a loaded gun in their home. A little girl would be an adult now and a young boy would have been able to grow up without the crushing weight of guilt over her death. My cousin's story is sadly not unique. Just this past week, I have seen no fewer than 3 stories about children being shot or shooting someone with a parent's gun. Yesterday's school shooter apparently shot his mother at her home first. All of the guns he used appear to have been legally purchased by her. Then there are the stories of people who shoot a son or a spouse thinking that person is an intruder. The stories go on and on of families who are shattered by the presence of a handgun in the home.

Why do people continue to want these implements of death in their home? Do they truly make you feel safer? Because from my perspective, I would never, ever allow a gun in my home. I was on edge when police were in my home after my house had been burglarized because I was uncomfortable having so many guns in my presence. If I thought they would have respected my wish not to have guns in my home, I would have asked them to lock the guns away in their patrol cars. I always cringe when one of the state troopers whose offices are in my building steps onto the elevator with me because I do not want to be that close to a gun. I do not want to be that close to an object whose sole function is to cause harm.

It is a cop-out to respond that people keep other possible implements of death in their homes, like knives or saws or hammers or baseball bats. All of those items have functions other than causing harm. All of those items have legitimate uses. And none of those items can be used to accomplish the kind of mass murder we all saw unfold yesterday, certainly not with the same efficiency. It's a lot easier to tackle a guy wielding a knife or a baseball bat than a guy armed with multiple guns. The reality is that a person determined to do harm to another person can use any number of standard household items to accomplish that goal or can use nothing but his or her hands. But a gun is faster, deadlier, harder to defend against, and has no function other than to harm.

It's also a cop-out to respond that if ordinary people didn't have guns, only the bad guys would have guns and we'd all be less safe. Because the cold, hard truth is that an awful lot of those "ordinary people's" guns wind up being used on other ordinary, innocent people. As happened yesterday. If you keep a gun in your home or on your person, you're inviting the possibility that the gun will be used on you or by you or around you. If you don't have a gun around you, there is inherently less of a chance that a gun will be used around you. Yes, there will always be bad guys and random crimes and lone crazies. But you necessarily increase the risk that you will be involved in a gun incident if you have a gun. It's just basic math.

To those people who do own handguns, who do carry handguns with them, what do they envision ever happening with that gun? Do they truly expect to use it someday? And do they truly understand what that means? Having a gun and being prepared to use it means being prepared to endanger human lives. I do not understand how so many people willingly bring that risk of danger into their homes.

Preaching to the Choir

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