The ballad of a progressive gun owner
We’ve heard a great deal on the issue of gun control in the wake of Virginia Tech – not surprisingly – and as is always the case when these debates flare up we see a fairly predictable framing: “conservative” = pro-gun, “liberal” = gun control. If you’re a fairly measured reader, which I think I am, you see comment on both sides that you find reasoned and intelligent and considerably more on both sides that strikes you as dim and prefabricated, at best. We’ve been blessed here at S&R to have some comment from the smart/liberal camp (if I might carve the world up that way for a moment) in the person of Robert Silvey.
However, it’s the way “pro-gun” is automatically associated with “conservative” that bothers me. If we’re forced to label people – and this is America, so I am – I guess you’d have to custom order a “progressive gun owner” tag for me. Which means I’m by myself: I don’t see eye-to-eye with our alleged conservatives these days on most issues, and I feckin’ loathe the NRA. But I’m also a gun owner and have been my whole life. I have at least three or four in the house right now, although I haven’t fired any of them in some time. While I’m not quite a “pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands” fanatic, if I know they’re coming for my weapons they’re going to need to be better at finding things than I am at hiding them. So get me a label that neatly sums all that up and slap that sucker on me.
As I said in a response to Robert, we can argue over whether the 2nd Amendment is a good idea if we want, but for the time being I think it’s semantic shenanigans trying to prove that the Constitution, as written, means something besides what it says.
My reasons for being so adamant on the subject probably aren’t what you’d expect, though. Back in 1998 I blew my knee out playing hoops and had to spend a few miserable weeks before and after reconstructive surgery being able to hobble around and not much more. One day I had gimped down the street to laundromat to wash my clothes. It was a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, if I recall correctly, and if you look at a map the ‘mat is darned close to the geographic center of Denver in West Washington Park. So as you read the next couple grafs, remember – we’re not exactly out in the sticks.
While I’m waiting for the whites to dry there’s a small crash up the street – a fender-bender a block or two up. A few seconds later a guy, probably in his mid-20s, comes running past the front of the laundromat, looking back up the street at somebody. A few seconds later two more men come down the street after him, moving at a brisk walk. As they pass, we can all see clearly that one of the men is hiding a fairly large knife behind his back. They’re taunting the first man to come back to them.
Somebody in the ‘mat jumps on a phone and puts in an urgent 911 call, making clear that we have two armed thugs chasing an unarmed one. Down the street. In broad daylight. In the middle of a decent little neighborhood. In the middle of Denver. Given our location I expect to hear sirens almost immediately. But nothing. After five minutes of nothing I call back and yell at the dispatcher a little, trying to communicate that we’re trying to prevent a fucking murder. Message communicated, I think. I’m assured that the officers are on the way.
After five more minutes of nothing a cop finally arrives. (If you’re keeping score, that’s ten minutes to central Denver on an urgent armed mayhem call.) I bust out the door, as best I can on my blown knee, and tell the officer exactly what’s happening and where they went.
So he heads off to save the unarmed guy’s life, right? Uhhh, no. He heads the opposite way, up the street, to check out the fender-bender that started it all.
Something went off in my head at that moment. I’d been trapped. I wasn’t the target of the two armed thugs, but violence has been known to spill over and claim innocent victims. I couldn’t even have run. It was about as helpless as I’d ever felt in my life. In that moment I came to understand a fundamental truth:
The police cannot protect me.
Especially the dumbasses on duty that afternoon. I don’t care what any legal document says, I have a right to protect myself, and until such time as the authorities demonstrate that I don’t need to worry about my safety, I’m patently stupid not to do so.
To make matters worse, this was about the same time I managed to pick up a pretty scary little obsessed stalker situation (the woman finally snapped and wound up institutionalized shortly thereafter, but there was a period of several days where I was afraid to step out the front door). During this period I started carrying a gun every time I left the apartment. A lot of times I wonder why I don’t still do so.
I don’t really know what kind of difference it would have made if every Virginia Tech student had been packing heat that day. An armed society is probably a deterrent to a rational, self-interested perp, but I doubt it much matters when you’re talking about somebody like that shooter, whose train has clearly departed the station. Could an armed student have stopped the rampage? Maybe – but that same student could have missed and taken out another innocent bystander, too. Who knows? So I can’t argue that we should be more armed. I can say that until you show me a realistic mechanism for removing guns from society so that criminals can’t get their hands on them all we’re doing is having a friendly philosophical debate, and I’m goddamned if I’m disarming unilaterally.
For better or worse, you can put me down for “rationally self-interested.” If I’m a progressive and this violates the rules, so be it. But I’ve seen police protection at work in a time of close-by crisis. I might or might not be willing to die for a noble principle, but I’m most assuredly not prepared to die because the authorities aren’t able to do their jobs.