The sad truth is that we’re not really going to be able to reduce the number of handguns, because of the mindset of all those law-abiding citizens who have convinced themselves that packing a gun makes them safer. I had dinner with one of them just the other day, a diminutive lawyer who carries a piece in her purse. She claims that she has become so proficient in its use that she could defend herself from a mugger. I think it’s more likely that in the heat of the moment, she would panic and shoot herself in the foot.
Ironically, the lawyer and I were part of a group on our way to hear a presentation by former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (who was severely wounded in a 2011 shooting incident that left six others dead) and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.
Kelly — a gun owner who recently bought an assault rifle and a Sig Sauer pistol — and Giffords have become proponents of universal background checks. Kelly says that he “certainly would have wanted” to be there with a gun when Giffords was shot outside a grocery store in Tucson during a meeting with constituents. But he concedes that even if he had been, he would not have been able to stop the massacre because it happened so quickly. The idea of putting more guns in the hands of good guys to stop crimes, he says, “just doesn’t work.”
This is another case where, for many, irrational faith trumps evidence and common sense. But even more than the false idea that packing a gun makes us safer, our devotion to the right to bear arms is bound up with deeply embedded notions about freedom, our definition of what it means to be an American. I would say that we are gun-crazy. How else to explain why, for example, it is legal in my town of Richmond, Va., to carry a pistol to a meeting of the City Council, but not a bag of popcorn or a soda?
Unlike Australia, where the government bought back and destroyed hundreds of thousands of guns in the wake of a 1996 mass shooting, neither President Barack Obama nor any leader in Congress is contemplating a plan for taking massive numbers of handguns out of circulation.
Pardon the pun, but until we’re ready to take that step, we’re just firing blanks.
Jack White, a former columnist for Time magazine, is a freelance writer in Richmond, Va., and a contributing editor for The Root.