14 August 2015
I was recently stuck in a 30 minute traffic jam behind a large white pickup sporting the bumper sticker featured in my adjacent thumbnail. “You’ve got your family…I’ve got mine.” Above that, instead of a stick figure family, it showed an array of firearms, from automatic weapons to hand guns.
For 30 long minutes, I puzzled over this sticker. What kind of message was the driver conveying? Was he a gun enthusiast? Many car owners advertise their personal enthusiasms. They HEART cocker spaniels, Hilton Head, or even the Great Lakes.
This guy HEARTs objects designed solely for the purpose of taking a life.
Hmm, that’s a bit macabre. Perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he stuck it there to frighten off criminals. Maybe he really does love his precious collection of death-wands more than his kids. MAYBE I’m taking the sticker too seriously, and the guy in the pickup only put it there to be cheeky. Whichever the case, I saw in his sticker a reflection on the current mood of our country.
Many people own guns because they’re afraid, yet statistics show their fears are largely unfounded. They fear criminals, though strangers are far less likely to cause bodily injury while committing a crime (~20%) than one’s own friends and relatives (~30%). They fear burglaries, but 72% of all break-ins occur when no one is home, and only 7% result in violence. Indeed, most break-ins (65%) are committed by someone the property owner already knows. Some gun owners harbor fears of a more far-fetched variety. They fear the possibility that the government will suddenly—after 239 years of peaceful democratic process (discounting one failed attempt at rebellion)—become a dictatorship, requiring a citizen coup. Some fear terrorists and foreign invasions, though both instances stand a better chance of repulsion by our trained military than citizens with handguns.
Above all else, gun owners fear losing their constitutional right to bear arms. They believe any shred of regulation jeopardizes this right and threatens the slippery slope of an absolute ban. This fear so blinds them to rational discourse, they will not consider the statistics borne out in states with basic regulations, not to mention all other nations, where legislation has led to notable declines in the rates of violent deaths. This fear so blinds them that they presume some cabal wants to pry all 350 million American guns from their cold dead hands.
This is simply not true. I am personally not a big fan of guns. I have fired them a few times and appreciate the fun of target shooting. I don’t care much for hunting, but I also don’t care if other people hunt, with the exception of killing rare species (see Amanda’s story on Cecil the Lion). I respect that one’s place of residence or personal situation might warrant a gun for protection. However, most Americans’ realities do not bear out that fear. In my state, I have a .00025% chance of being raped and a .0073% chance of being robbed. These risks hardly seem worth the 22-fold increased likelihood that an accidental shooting or suicide will occur if I keep a gun in my house.
Indeed, what frightens me more is the growing movement of fringe gun owners who enjoy making public statements about the right to bear arms. In July, just after the Emmanuel AME shooting in Charleston, a man wearing cammo with a pistol strapped to his hip entered a Georgia mom-and-pop bookstore and frightened a black female customer, as well as the other customers and staff. His behavior and speech indicated he had come there not to make a purchase but to make an impression. This week, in Michigan, a father of an elementary school child took his kid’s district to court over its policy banning him from open-carrying a pistol on school property while picking up his daughter. The father prevailed and subsequently gloated about his victory.
These men knew full well they did not need personal protection in those particular venues. They chose to flaunt their rights and to celebrate with smugness the terrifying effect they had on others. They chose to make a case where a case did not need making, and in that action they showed themselves to be no better than schoolyard bullies, hiding their fear behind fisticuffs. Likewise, the guy with the bumper sticker family of guns showed the same paradoxical mentality: brandish your weapons so everyone knows you are not afraid.
Only, the fact is, you are.
I’m a single woman of medium build and I’m not afraid. Maybe I should be, maybe I’m naïve, but I refuse to live my life in a state of constant fear. I believe in treating people kindly and with a modicum of trust, unless they subsequently prove themselves unworthy. I believe the world would be a better place without violence and without the symbols of such thrust non-stop in our faces. I believe we perpetuate violence and hate when we teach our children to fear others and to covet deadly weapons. Yes, I know I’m only tilting at windmills.
I am not, as conservatives like to presume, a fringe lefty hater of guns. If only they could see that moderate Americans on both sides of the aisle respect Second Amendment rights in tandem with reasonable regulation. It’s the bullies who scare me, and it’s the bullies about whom I think we ought to be speaking. It’s time we stopped viewing America’s love affair with guns as so black and white. It’s time the middle ground thrust aside the bullies’ loud voices, along with their ridiculous pie-in-the-sky fears.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” I fear the fear mongers infinitely more than I fear any other potential threats to my life.
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