A good friend of mine can’t needle me enough about my outspoken support of gun control. He’s a criminal defense lawyer, so he likes to stand tall for the defense of the rights of ordinary people. The very idea that someone could take his guns enrages him. He marshals all sorts of arguments in support of the right to bear arms. All are foolish.
Does the press report a bus accident in which children are killed? He sends a note: When will I call for the banning of school buses? The reasoning is so stupid, I am dumbstruck. Just what do you say to a person who can’t distinguish between a bus and gun? I fully expect him to taunt with a call to ban steak knives and forks, too: after all, these things can be used as weapons.
Let me break it down for the gun lobby: Anything can be used for good or ill. But some items serve uses independent of their destructive capacity. Indeed, most things are created not for the purpose of killing, but to serve the mundane, non-lethal purpose: you can, I suppose, kill someone with a toothbrush, but you can’t brush your teeth with a gun.
Objects have intended and unintended uses. So much for the argument that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Guns are designed to kill.
So when the press reports that a person uses a gun in self-defense, my friend is quick to point out that a gun saved a life. It’s best if the story highlights a single mother home alone with her children killing an intruder. See, my friend all but screams, this is good.
I can’t dispute the narrow point, but it’s really not an argument; it’s a sleight of hand. We are awash in guns. There are 80 guns for every 100 people in the nation -- that’s some 300 million firearms in this the land of the free. We’re are the best armed nation on earth. Gun violence exacts an enormous social and economic cost on the country.
Query: How many young black men are gun downed in inner cities for every isolated act of heroism? I’m not prepared to accept anecdotal evidence as a justification for transforming the nation into a shooting range.
But guns serve other, symbolic, purposes. The Second Amendment guarantees we the people the right to possess them, my friend insists. How can I pick and choose which amendments to defend and which to scorn? Am I prepared to abandon the First Amendment and freedom of expression? Am I ready to repeal the Fourth Amendment?
How dare I walk away from any part of the Constitution.
That is necromantic nonsense, mere worship of the past for the past’s sake. The Constitution is not a contract binding the living and the dead. I care not a whit for the framers’ intent. We once enshrined slavery; now it is prohibited. Women could not vote; now the right is guaranteed. We’ve banned alcohol, and now permit it. The Constitution is the terrain on which we fight for fundamental values. My friend thinks the document must be swallowed whole.; That is his right, but love of the dead isn’t argument; its hagiography.
What about protecting us from tyranny? Isn’t that important? He moves in for the kill now. I am no friend of government.
But gun owners do nothing for liberty. They transform civil society into the state of nature, placing us all in fear of one another. No one turns their guns on government. Indeed, corporations make a bundle selling guns to government and individuals. We’ve a full-time army, and a nation of gun owners, and still no one feels safe. What have you done to stand up to the tyrant? I ask. Patsy-cake patriotism is silly, I tell him. Your gun is a lollipop.
He thinks he has me now: Why I got my office manager a gun and took her to a shooting range, he says. He is in triumph. But I can’t tell why. What political statement does teaching another person to shoot to kill make?
The bonds of friendship strain. There’s a desperate need to own a lethal weapon that I cannot fathom. I ask smokers no to smoke in my home -- the smell nauseates me. So, frankly, do the gun lobby’s arguments. Fire away, if you must. But, friend or not, I’ll fight to limit your right to kill with a gun.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune.