A Gun In Hand Is Not Worth Two In The Bush When Two In The Bush Aren't Worth Anything
This article was written but not published shortly after the shooting in Las Vegas. Remarkably, it took only a month for this piece to become instantly relevant and worth publishing.
Owning a gun is a tradition as old as the United States itself. Back in the 1790’s, just after the American War of Independence, it was almost a necessity for a citizen to own a gun. For one, most people lived so far from their closest neighbours (a population density of 4.9 persons/sq. mile that year compared to a staggering 79.6 in 2000), a citizen had to have the means to protect oneself because help was rarely nearby. You had to feed your family by hunting for yourself. In addition, in times of conflict, owning a gun meant being able to join your local militia and protect your country.
Most of those things, though, have changed. If you are in danger, you can run to a neighbour for shelter. You don’t have to hunt for food, you can take a drive and buy some. If you want to protect your country, you join the military. Most importantly, if you feel your life is in danger, you call the police.
Sure, that’s a controversial concept in some parts of the United States (and Canada) right now. But people have been calling 911 for decades. People in communities where owning a gun isn’t the norm and communities where it is commonplace. People still call the police for protection.
The central argument of a gun owner is the ability to protect themselves. But ask yourself, gun owner or non-gun owner alike, when was the last time you had to physically defend yourself from harm - let alone for your life? If you go by the statistics (in Canada), roughly one in every 1000 people were the victim of a violent crime (a broad definition that does not specify that the victim is even killed) in 2016 - 1,052 per 100,000 population. Ignoring for a moment how we could jump on the circumstance of that point-one per cent and find, say, that tenth of a person likely lives in a poorer neighbourhood with a higher rate of crime than the other 99; still, one in 1000 is not too many.
In Las Vegas, it wasn’t one in 1000. 59 people were the victim of the most terrible crime possible, the kind where they end up dead. Over 400 more were injured. 500 times the violent crime in a year occurred in eight minutes.
In Sutherland Springs, it was 29 people. Some of them children.
In both cases, this all happened under the watchful eye of a populace that has a higher rate of gun ownership compared to the rest of the United States. The argument has long been that places with guns are a deterrent to those who would commit violent crime. But a deterrent stops things from happening. The shooters in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs certainly didn't seem deterred by an environment in which they were far more likely to be confronted by a gun owner. How can that argument be made without evidence to suggest its veracity? But of course, it may not be possible for us to poll all mass shooters who opted out of their plan because of a presence of guns.
This isn't to argue that a gun has no value to preventing further death. Reports from Sutherland Springs are a local grabbed his own gun and engaged with the shooter long enough to force the man to flee. But not before he had left those 29 people for dead.
An anti-gun advocate would argue that having no guns in circulation is safer because it gives no one the opportunity to use them to harm others. What need would we have for armed citizens to protect themselves when there are no armed psychopaths able to wield them? A pro-gun advocate would argue that allowing the concealment of guns everywhere is safer because it dissuades armed psychopaths from trying to use theirs.
The argument that owning a gun allows one to protect themselves is sound enough. But it’s entirely misplaced.
The fact is, for ordinary, law abiding citizens, owning a gun does not make you a walking deterrent. Gun sales don't spike after a mass shooting because all those people are thinking, 'I need to prevent the next shooting from happening.' Ordinary citizens don't think like that. It's a reaction out of self-preservation, not to be a hero.
It's very rarely one of these ordinary folks that saves the day. While this most recent incident in Sutherland Springs can speak to the contrary, most reports say the gentlemen was a trained shot - not some schmoe who bought a gun for the sake of owning a gun. Overwhelmingly, the gun owners who do end up using their weapons are not just anybody.
The Las Vegas shooter was not killed by a citizen who lawfully owned a gun. Well, actually, he was – because he shot himself (making him part of the largest gun-violence stat: suicides by white males 45-years or older - but that’s another argument). No, he was not killed by a group of well-meaning, gun-owning poker-playing cowboys who’d picked up their rifles when they heard there was an active shooter on the 32nd floor of their hotel.
When Nathan Frank Cirillo was shot and killed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, his killer proceeded into Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Hiding behind a pillar, Cirillo’s murderer was not confronted by one of the 294,838 Ontarians who owns a gun. He was shot by Sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, a distinguished policeman, commander and administrator with the RCMP, as well as RCMP Constable Curtis Barrett. He was killed by a trained professional who did not buy his weapon at a gun show, a gun shop, or online.
Go down the list of mass shooters (and any gun violence perpetrators on a lesser scale), and they are overwhelming put down not by your average citizen defending themselves and their community, but by a trained professional entrusted by society to carry a firearm and uphold the peace (or themselves). Hell, for fun, imagine the most common incident in which a person with a gun defended themselves from another person with a gun - it's called gang warfare. Surely the rate at which those criminals put each other six feet under can't be a standard to measure against.
The Sandy Hook Elementary shooter shot himself. Police killed the Orlando, Florida shooter. Police killed the San Bernadino shooters. Soldiers shot the Fort Hood killer. Virginia Tech (suicide), Columbine (killed by police), Killeen, Texas (suicide).
What good did the noble, gun-owners of those places do? They did no good. Because owning a gun doesn’t literally translate to being a hero capable of defending the peace. Mass shooters own guns, too. For someone with no plans to commit such atrocities, owning a gun makes you, in literal terms, just another person with a weapon. The capability of a gun has and will always come down to the person holding it.
Rhys Dowbiggin @Rdowb
Rhys is the host of The Hurt Take on Not The Public Broadcaster