The Mahablog

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The Mahablog

Beware “Law-Abiding Citizens” With Guns

One of the long-standing tactics of unfettered gun rights activists is to turn all debate about guns into a dichotomy between “criminals” and “law-abiding citizens.” It’s only “criminals” who misuse guns, we are told. That shouldn’t stop “law-abiding citizens” from carrying them.

Finally, this nonsense is being called out. About time.

Paul Waldman writes in Our new terror: The ‘law-abiding’ gun owner who is ready to kill that NRA and gun manufacturer marketing has created a nation in which “law-abiding citizens” are stoked with fear and ready to start shooting at the nearest provocation.

That so many gun owners are consumed with fear is not an accident. It is a central part of the ideology propagated by conservative media outlets and gun advocacy groups such as the National Rifle Association.

The message is hammered home again and again: The world is full of homicidal maniacs coming to kill you and your family. In the words of NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, “every day of every year, innocent, good, defenseless people are beaten, bloodied, robbed, raped and murdered.” Criminals, gangs, home invaders, terrorists, antifa — they’re all coming for you. So if your doorbell rings, you’d better have a gun in your hand when you answer.

See Francis Wilkinson at Bloomberg:

Upstate New York resident Kevin Monahan has been charged with murdering 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis. The young woman was in a car whose driver, looking for a friend’s house without the benefit of cellular service to guide the journey, mistakenly pulled into Monahan’s driveway.

The local sheriff said Monahan shot at a distant car filled with young people as it was leaving his property. “There was clearly no threat from anyone,” he said.

part of American society, vigorously contested by another part, has concluded that Monahan possessed the mental and emotional balance and moral discernment to be entrusted with firearms. Why, just last week Monahan was the very definition of a good guy with a gun. No one asked whether Monahan was a moral degenerate, a rage-addled misanthrope, a paranoid fool or all that and more. It wouldn’t have mattered if they did. Because all such people are permitted — indeed encouraged by powerful American institutions — to buy firearms like candy and stockpile them like gold.

But of course, as soon as the “law-abiding citizen” has killed someone, then he becomes a “criminal,” or else he is “mentally ill,” so the arguments don’t change.

At Slate, see American Gun Owners Are Bad at Owning Guns by Tyler Austin Harper.

The trouble is, the good guy with a gun is a myth—not simply because gun owners rarely have the chance to intervene in violent crimes, and those who do can be mistakenly killed by the cops. No, the good guy with a gun is a myth because the average gun owner is not Rambo. They are not James Bond or Joe Cool—they are Joe Schmoe. That is, gun owners are frequently incompetent—bad shots with bad nerves who are more likely to shit their pants and spray bullets than they are to swoop in and save the day. And why would we expect otherwise? The majority of states require no formal safety or marksman training to purchase a gun or even carry it concealed. The average gun owner is scarcely more prepared to engage in an impromptu firefight than any randomly selected dude from the phone book. I say this not as some anti-gun crusader, but as a gun owner.

Nicholas Kristoff has returned to the New York Times:

As I write this, I happen to be in Mississippi, which has a much more rigorous process to adopt a dog than to acquire a gun. Should it really be easier to buy an AR-15-style rifle than to adopt a Chihuahua?

Mark Sumner at Daily Kos describes the origin of the phrase “an armed society is a polite society.”

The origin of the phrase, usually described as “a Robert Heinlein quote,” is actually the dystopian novel “Beyond This Horizon.” The antihero of his novel is a privileged product of eugenics who happily shoots people for the slightest infraction, real or perceived.

The context of the quote—which ends with the character saying, “We do not have enough things to kill off the weak and the stupid these days, but to stay alive as an armed citizen a man has to be either quick with his wits or with his hands, preferably both”—rarely makes a T-shirt or bumper sticker. Neither does the novel’s lavish praise of eugenics, telepathic powers, and general weirdness.

But even if it were a fictional quote taken completely out of context, the saying turns out to be true, in a way. In a sufficiently armed society, any small transgression is met with bullets. America is sufficiently armed.

The shooting of Kinsley White and her family—that’s the 6-year-old who tried to chase down a basketball—illustrates this perfectly.

Andrew Lester, the Kansas City man who shot Ralph Yarl, might very well be acquitted given Missouri’s wackadoo “stand your ground” law.  Opinions I have read say the law won’t necessarily help Lester, but I wouldn’t place any bets either way.

The Tyler Austin Harper article at Slate, linked above, argues that most Americans who buy guns for self-protection get no training or even spend time at shooting ranges learning to use their weapon.

Contrary to media narratives, many gun owners are not gun-obsessed, but gun-casual. As someone who was raised to take guns seriously—deadly seriously, as they should be—I was shocked by how cavalier (and, again, incompetent) a lot of gun owners I encountered were. Some were the kind of guys who concealed-carried every day but only made it to the range once or twice a year. They couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from 10 paces—the idea that they were capable of defending their “castle” from anything was laughable. Others were well-meaning new gun owners who had zero clue how to transport, load, discharge, or unload a firearm. They simply bought a gun and ammunition and showed up at the range or clay pigeon course to figure it out. I watched one of these bumbling neophytes nearly Dick Cheney his buddy one sweaty summer afternoon, sending a spray of birdshot into a birch tree 10 feet above his head. 

So, one might argue, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to require training and licensing for legal purchase of a firearm. But in NRA World that’s too much of an infringement on Muh Rahts, meaning that it would probably depress the sale of firearms and cut into industry profits.

So, whatever you do, don’t make any sudden moves. The way things are going, we’re all going to have to wear body armor whenever we leave home. This is freedom?