by Mitch Perry
There was certainly no discussion in Washington D.C. Some legislators discussed measures such as limiting the number of high-capacity gun magazines after their colleague, Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, was shot and nearly killed at a supermarket where she was meeting with constituents a year and a half earlier. Six people were killed and 13 others wounded in that incident near Tucson.
That lack of substantial talk, much less any legislative remedies, has put gun-control advocates in a serious funk, wondering how the issue has lost so much salience with the powers that be, as well as the majority of the public. The issue was never discussed during this year's presidential campaign, and really never has been since 2000, when it was considered to be one of many factors that led Al Gore to lose his home state of Tennessee.
But what to do when the next Aurora, or Columbine or Virginia Tech occurs? After Aurora happened, just like after Virginia Tech, some gun-rights supporters were quoted as saying that if somebody in that crowd had a gun in their possession, there could have been a lot less bloodshed. They argue that laws should be liberalized so more people could have the capacity to carry firearms.
That idea gets perhaps its most serious advocacy in the pages of the December issue of The Atlantic, with national corresponded Jeffrey Goldberg's piece, "The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control)."
Goldberg begins his piece by traveling to Colorado, the home of two of the most notorious sun massacres in our time — last summer's attack in the movie theater showing The Dark Knight Rises, and the 1999 incident at Columbine High School. In Columbine, Goldberg interviews Tom Mauser, who lost his 15-year-old son, Daniel, in that tragic incident. Mauser tells Goldberg that he knew the fight to do anything about the proliferation of guns in our culture was over when he heard John Hickenlooper, the Democratic governor of Colorado, say that stricter guns would not have stopped the "Batman" shooter.
According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 47 percent of American adults keep at least one gun at home or on their property, and many of these gun owners are absolutists opposed to any government regulation of firearms. According to the same poll, only 26 percent of Americans support a ban on handguns.
To that 26 percent, American gun culture can seem utterly inexplicable, its very existence dispiriting. Guns are responsible for roughly 30,000 deaths a year in America; more than half of those deaths are suicides. In 2010, 606 people, 62 of them children younger than 15, died in accidental shootings.
Mauser expresses disbelief that the number of gun deaths fails to shock. He blames the American attachment to guns on ignorance, and on immaturity. “We’re a pretty new nation,” he told me. “We’re still at the stage of rebellious teenager, and we don’t like it when the government tells us what to do. People don’t trust government to do what’s right. They are very attracted to the idea of a nation of individuals, so they don’t think about what’s good for the collective.”
Mauser said that if the United States were as mature as the countries of Europe, where strict gun control is the norm, the federal government would have a much easier time curtailing the average citizen’s access to weapons. “The people themselves would understand that having guns around puts them in more danger.”
Goldberg later writes that the thought of "law-abiding citizens" carrying firearms and possibly preventing massive gun shootings came to him after the Dec. 7, 1993, incident on the Long Island Rail Road, when Colin Ferguson killed six people and wounded 19 others.
I had been an LIRR commuter not long before this happened, and I remember clearly my reaction to the slaughter, and I remember as well the reaction of many New York politicians. Much of the political class, and many editorialists, were of the view that the LIRR massacre proved the need for stricter gun control, and even for the banning of handguns. I shared—and continue to share—the view that muscular gun-control regulations, ones that put stumbling blocks in front of criminals seeking firearms, are necessary. But I was also seized by the thought that, had I been on the train, I would much rather have been armed than unarmed. I was not, and am not, under the illusion that a handgun would have necessarily provided a definitive solution to the problem posed by Colin Ferguson. But my instinct was that if someone is shooting at you, it is generally better to shoot back than to cower and pray.
Would a civilian firing back at Ferguson have wounded or killed innocent people? Quite possibly yes. Is that a risk potential victims quaking under train seats or classroom desks might accept? Quite possibly yes. Especially when you consider the massacres that have been prevented or interrupted by armed civilians before the police arrived.
Ultimately, Goldberg concludes that he supports a "balanced approach to gun-control", but advises anti-gun advocates that gun-control legislation is not the only answer to gun violence.
"Responsible gun ownership is also an answer," he writes.
What about incidents like the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case? That's a situation of an "occasional cowboy" getting through the system, Goldberg writes. But is it so occasional here in Florida, where there has now been another case of an unarmed black teen being shot by an older man who felt threatened? That's the situation in 17-year-old Jacksonville student Jordan Davis's death. There's also the Tampa case of Trevor Dooley and David James, where an argument on a Sunday afternoon led to James death, mainly it seems because the sight of Dooley's gun enraged James, leading to the fight that had Dooley then pull his piece to kill James.
In any event, Goldberg and The Atlantic are as respected as it gets in the U.S. media hierarchy. I'm curious to see if his advancement of this controversial idea picks up steam in the general public. What do you think?