Where Guns and I Part Ways

Firearm deaths, US population and gun policy events.

Firearm deaths, US population and gun policy events.

I will admit, I don’t get guns at all.

As readers of this blog know, I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where owning a gun is seemingly mandatory (for white people, at least). It would seem that guns are as important to life as Jesus, fried food and philandering.

Some white metro-Jacksonians are so afraid of black people, that they won’t enter the city limits without carrying one. I always thought this was rather odd way to stave off muggers, particularly if one were attacked from behind. Better to provide some poor kid looking for drug money with $10 than a loaded gun. (To be fair, Jackson is one of the most crime ridden cities in the US.)

I’ve seen three people shot in my life-time. Once, I was behind a line of cars in Brooklyn, NY coming back from a show. A man on the street fired 12 shots into the car in front of me, possibly killing both of the people inside. I can’t verify whether the victims survived, but it didn’t look good as I passed.

Another time, I saw a man shot in the head on the street in New Orleans. I learned that all of the arguments over concealed carry are bunk. Shootings happen really, really fast. So fast, that if you blink, you’ll miss it. More disturbing is that manner in which people fall when they’re shot. It’s nothing like the movies and something one doesn’t ever forget.

I am convinced that the many gun rightists have never seen someone shot.

Much of what I know of guns, comes from my drug-addled, socio-pathic step-father. Most Mississippi households have at least one firearm, and mine was no exception. In the darkest days of my childhood, they would be placed haphazardly around the house, in plain reach of anyone who wanted to grab one. Every once in a while, he would pick one up and wave it around for dramatic effect, to punctuate whatever insanity he was spewing at the time. My step father loved guns, presumably because they made up for his own figurative, and possibly literal, impotence.

My father would tell tales of having killed a cocaine dealer in downtown Jackson by shooting him in the chest. The man was so full of lies, that it was difficult to know whether to believe him or not, but for me it was unsettling to know that I might be sharing a home with a murderer.

Which is where guns and I part. That my step-father was able to easily obtain guns is a travesty of public policy. That gun retailers and manufacturers seemingly actively target mentally unstable, paranoid and psychologically weak people like my step-father is unforgivable. That profits are made off the sale of guns to people like him is patently disgusting.

I advocate that America needs to reign in the gun industry, who have distorted the conversation from a discussion of public safety, to one that borders on the religious, uses fantasy, anecdotal evidence and misinterpreted realities to further justify the addition of more weapons to our already massive personal armory. Moreover, in the name of a poorly reasoned political ideology, large amounts of industrial money from non-transparent entities is sloshed at Congress to support a thankfully dwindling minority.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on gun policy. While I would love to live in a gun-free world, it would be wholly impractical to round up all existing weapons in the United States. Moreover, the presence of law-abiding and harmless gun owners make this radical step unnecessary.

If we are going to continue to allow personal stockpiles of weapons, we should follow the model of Switzerland, where, lacking a formal army, citizen gun ownership is almost universal. Intensive training, yearly re-certifications and household inspections, such as that of Switzerland, should be the norm. For well meaning and honest gun owners (which I maintain to be the majority), this will not be a problem.

The American government, as a representative of its people, needs to pull the conversation of guns away from the paranoid nonsense so often peddled by gun profiteers. We need to, as Switzerland does, hold all gun owners to this standard to promote responsible use and attitudes toward gun ownership. Gun ownership should be promoted as a hobby and as a means of reasonable self-defense.

There were 31,347 firearm related deaths in 2011. That’s almost the same as all deaths due to automobile accidents (34,485). Yet, owning a gun is easier than owning a car and requires less training in most states. We would also note that cars are used more frequently than guns. Any regulation that drops that number by even a quarter would be welcome. There would be at least 7,500 more people alive today than otherwise.

John Stuart Mill spoke of the tyranny of the majority, but here, a vocal and well funded minority has dangerously forced the conversation on guns into the world of delusion.

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About Pete Larson

Researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. Lecturer in the University of Michigan School of Public Health and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I do epidemiology, public health, GIS, health disparities and environmental justice. I also do music and weird stuff.

4 responses to “Where Guns and I Part Ways”

  1. mikey2ct says :

    Pete…I was going to Navy schools at NATTC, Memphis, TN in 1962-1963. Some buddies and I stayed at one of those one-star motels on Sardis Lake. I think most rentals were short-term trysting ‘couples’. I bought a qt. of scotch in a dry county for $10. The same bottle legally would have been much less. The most amazing thing about checking in, was I could have bought a nickel plated .22 pistol for $45 !

  2. Joe Geronimo Martinez says :

    In Switzerland you can’t buy guns—-if the state considers you a fit person you are issued with a gun—you can’t buy ammo either—-the state issues you with a minimal number of bullets—people do have guns but they must be kept safe—routinely with the firing pin removed. Only rifles are issued and none are automatic.

  3. Pete Larson says :

    Actually, that is not the case:

    “To purchase a firearm in a commercial shop, one needs to have a Waffenerwerbsschein (weapon acquisition permit). A permit allows the purchase of three firearms. Everyone over the age of 18 who is not psychiatrically disabled (such as having had a history of endangering his own life or the lives of others) or identified as posing security problems, and who has a clean criminal record (requires a Criminal Records Bureau check) can request such a permit.[citation needed]

    To buy a gun from an individual, no permit is needed, but the seller is expected to establish a reasonable certainty that the purchaser will fulfill the above-mentioned conditions (usually done through a Criminal Records Bureau check). The participants in such a transaction are required to prepare a written contract detailing the identities of both vendor and purchaser, the weapon’s type, manufacturer, and serial number. The law requires the written contract to be kept for ten years by the buyer and seller. The seller is also required to see some official ID from the purchaser, for such sales are only allowed to Swiss nationals and foreigners with a valid residence “

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