It's been a while since I've written a blog post on a silly gun meme. The internet has been filled with weightier matters of late, generating a lot of interesting and new conversations. But sooner or later, the same old stuff comes back around. Thus it was that I found this in my FB feed yesterday:
This is a classic of the genre: pithy use of parallelism, powerful black-and-white image of a gun, not-so-subtle use of hot pink to suggest that one's opponents are pansies and wimps. It's just the kind of internet chum designed to fire up the gun-rights tribe.
Like most pro-gun memes, this one trades on a fundamental fallacy: that you either have a gun or you're defenseless. This is the fundamental mythology of much of the "gun rights" movement: that the only way to defend yourself is by possessing a gun. Unfortunately this is not only not true, it's dangerous. Consider:
• If I am attacked by anyone within arm's (or leg's) length, I am not defenseless. I may win, I may lose, but I have spent some years developing skills useful for self-defense. This doesn't make me special; it makes me quite ordinary. Anybody can develop the skills I have, given time, effort, and motivation. Bonus feature: my means of self-defense don't kill.
• If I am threatened by someone with a hand weapon (knife, stick, etc.) farther than 8-10 feet away I have two options: run, or let that person close to within striking range. Since they can't hurt me from that far out with a striking weapon, I'm still not defenseless. Running (another skill almost anyone can acquire with practice) is a highly effective defense.
• If I am threatened by someone with a gun from farther than 8-10 feet away, my possession of a concealed weapon (in a holster, purse, etc.) does me very little good until I draw it. If a gun is already pointed at me, it may very well go off the moment I produce my weapon. Unless the gun is already in my hand and I am prepared to fire it preemptively, a gun does not defend. It will not prevent me from being shot/stabbed/struck.
• If I carry my gun openly in order to deter attacks against me, I may very well invite preemptive aggression. I wrote a while ago about a story in which a fellow was attacked with a baseball bat, apparently because the attacker wanted to get his gun which he happened to be openly carrying at the time. Rather than providing a deterrent, carrying the gun made the man a target. And though he defended himself successfully, the critical skills he used to do so had nothing to do with the gun at his waist.
Folks who want to engage further in this debate will start playing the "what if" game. What if I'm a short woman? (One of my martial arts masters is a 5'3" woman who is ten years my senior, and she can wipe the floor with me any day of the week.) What if I'm alone and outnumbered? What if I'm in a dark alley away from help?
If you have enough time and are creative enough, you can always come up with scenarios in which having and wielding a gun would be a helpful thing. I've written about stories in the past in which having a gun did in fact make a difference. This isn't about whether guns are never useful for self-defense, although I believe based on the evidence I have that they are not helpful more often than not.
But the meme above, and most of the pro-gun argument behind it, aren't based on the argument that guns are sometimes useful for self-defense. The assertion is that guns are always the only option for self-defense. You either have a gun or you're defenseless.
This is not an argument promoted by people who are concerned about my welfare or yours. It's an argument spread around by a tribe built on fear, trading in quasi-religious doctrines that separate "us" (the righteous) from "them" (the heretics). My biggest objection (and the reason I keep coming back to this topic again and again) isn't that they're wrong, though that much is obvious. It's that the fear and division they spread are anti-human. I object to any sort of tribalism based on fear, anger, and hatred.
It's quite possible to be a gun owner and not belong to this tribe - I know folks who do. I hope they can help police the haters in their midst. And I hope that over time, the philosophy of fear and hate will wane. Until then, I'll keep picking on their silly memes.