Pistol Whipped

I come from Scotland, a country where no one has guns. The cops don't have them. Most criminals don't have them. And the cops don't want them. If cops had guns, then the few criminals who are armed would have a reason to shoot at the cops, fearing that otherwise the cops will shoot them. In Britain, most people go through their lives without ever seeing a gun anywhere other than on a TV screen.

When I relocated to Phoenix, it was a shock. I couldn't believe it when I saw people in cafes or malls with holstered guns hanging from their belts. My first apartment here was near 19th Avenue and Camelback. I would hear gunfire nearby just about every night.

My feeling about guns at that time was unambivalent; I hated them. I believed guns to be intrinsically evil. Yes, you can kill a person with a knife, a baseball bat or a bottle, but these things have other uses. The only purpose of a gun is to kill. I wanted to see all guns banned.

But I also wanted a gun. While any thug in town could be armed, I wanted to be armed, too, so that I could protect myself from them. I resented the necessity. I used to say that I would vote tomorrow for the confiscation of all guns, and happily hand over any that I might have. But, until then, I wanted to be armed, too.

I no longer feel this way.
In a world in which guns exist, I now believe every citizen should own one and know how to use it. In particular, I believe it is the height of stupidity for women not to be armed.

My reason for this belief is not the same as that of the gun nuts who quote the Constitution, and whose arguments are so illogical that they give ammunition to the gun-eradication nuts. The constitutional right to bear arms is an anachronism; the right is supposed to ensure democracy by enabling the citizens to rise up against the government if necessary. This might have made sense 200 years ago. But in this technological age, the military would crush an armed insurrection more quickly than it could start.

There is only one relevant argument for the right to be armed, and it's the only argument necessary: the right of every citizen to defend himself.

Gun control--background checks, child-safety locks, etc.--makes sense. But the liberal arguments in favor of gun eradication are naive in the extreme. Gun eradication is an ideal, and an impossible one. Any move in that direction results in a vulnerable citizenship. The people who shouldn't have guns will still have them. How can we implement an across-the-board banning of guns? Stop manufacturing them? All that will do is raise the price of guns, so that only the wealthy and the lawless have access to them. Just confiscate 192 million privately owned firearms? If we do, only law-abiding citizens will hand over their weapons. People who are prepared to commit murder are probably not going to worry that the murder weapon is illegal, too.

Take New York City, one of the most violent places in the country. New York ignores the constitutional right to bear arms; you need a permit to own a gun, and these are extremely hard to obtain. But that doesn't mean that people there don't have guns. What it means is that it's hard for law-abiding people to get them. The fact that many people there have guns is evidenced by the numbers of citizens who are shot or robbed at gunpoint day after day. And they have nothing to fight back with.

New Yorkers are famously rude. Arizonans are not. An armed society is a polite society.

As an example of the evils of firearms, people have pointed to the recent road-rage shooting in Phoenix. A man flashed his brights at a driver who had just cut him off. The other driver responded by shooting the man and his passenger. Wouldn't have happened if we didn't have guns, people tell me. But every state does have guns, whatever the law says. And if someone is enough of a jerk to shoot a person for flashing his brights, he's going to be enough of a jerk to ignore the gun laws, too.

In 1996, two people in New Zealand were killed by handguns. In Japan, the number was 15. In Britain, 30. In Canada, 106. In Germany, 211.

And, in America, 9,390.
In America, the presence of a gun in the home triples the risk of homicide, and increases the risk of suicide fivefold.

So, in the light of these statistics, shouldn't we want to get rid of all guns?

Yes.
Wouldn't the world be a better place if guns didn't exist?
Yes.

But they do exist. And we can't get rid of them. Many people are going to get shot. The best we can hope for is that the people who get shot really deserve it.

It's a sad commentary that owning a gun makes it three times more likely that a family member or a friend will be killed. The problem there is not that we own guns. It's who we are, our brutality and destructiveness, and our lack of civilization. At the end of this vicious century, we're still not civilized, and there's nothing to suggest that we're going to become civilized.

In a barbarous society, we have the right to protect ourselves against the barbarians.

But, when warding off barbarians, we have to be careful not to become barbarians. The pacifist view deserves respect. If a person would rather be killed, or raped, or beaten, than use a gun to harm another person, that person deserves respect.

But so do those who assert their right to resist such treatment. Your freedom stops short of freedom to hurt me. Because that is where my freedom to hurt you begins.

Another argument for banning guns is that if people didn't have guns, then the cops wouldn't be so prepared to shoot people out of fear that they've got guns. This is patently ridiculous. The problem is trigger-happy cops, not armed suspects. You don't need to have a gun--or seem like you have a gun--to get the Phoenix cops to shoot you. You can be 16 years old and waving a knife, and still get gunned down in a crossfire by half a dozen cops. You can be drunk and waving a bottle, and get shot by a cop who feels threatened by you, even though you're so wasted you can hardly stand.

Even if we had responsible cops who only shot people out of fear for their own lives, how would gun eradication make any difference? The bad guys would still have guns, and the cops would still be afraid that the people they were arresting might be packing.

Gun-eradication nuts love to cite the number of children who shoot themselves or each other when playing with their parents' guns. We can shake our heads at the grieving parents and say, "If they hadn't had a gun in the house, this wouldn't have happened."

These parents don't deserve sympathy. They deserve jail time. They should be held criminally responsible for allowing their kids access to the gun. You don't give children weapons to play with, any more than you let a 10-year-old drive your car. Guns didn't kill these kids. Parental negligence did.

In a world that's nice, we can all be nice. In an ideal world, we can leave our doors unlocked and go about our business unarmed, without fear of violence.

But in a world as brutal as this one, every peaceful person ought to acquire the capacity to be as brutal as his environment, when necessary.

In 1996, Phoenix had 186 violent deaths, classified by the FBI as "murder or non-negligent manslaughter." There were 460 rapes, 3,757 robberies and 6,126 aggravated assaults. How many of these could have been prevented if the victims had been armed?

Guns are here to stay. Or, if they're not, we're still light-years from finding a way to get rid of them. Rather than daydream about abolition, we should focus on control. The Brady law is a good thing. Any kind of check into a potential gun owner's background is. But the bottom line is this: In a society that can't guarantee us protection from violence, every law-abiding citizen should be able to protect himself.

In Arizona, you don't need any kind of permit to carry a gun, as long as the gun is in plain view. If you want to carry a concealed gun, you need a permit.

I haven't bothered to obtain such a permit, because I haven't felt the necessity. I don't want to conceal my gun. I want thugs to know I'm armed. When they know you've got a gun, people don't try to bully you casually or for fun. Only the seriously crazy are going to want to start anything with you.

Guns are very democratic. Size doesn't matter. Nor does gender. The bullet will hit you with the same force no matter who fires it. When you consider the 460 women who reported being raped in Phoenix in 1996, one thing becomes clear: We don't need gun laws to be tighter. We need to loosen them.

If you point a gun at someone, you are committing aggravated assault, according to the law. If you're convicted of pointing a gun at another person, the mandatory minimum prison sentence you receive is five years. You may only legally point a gun at someone if he is attacking you with deadly force, in which case you'll be doing more than pointing the gun--you'll be firing it.

This law is outrageous.
People are not equal in terms of size and strength. Unless she's had special training, the biggest, strongest woman is probably not going to be a match for most men. The kind of self-defense training necessary for women and small men to deal with bigger assailants requires years of dedicated practice. And, even with that, a bigger opponent with equal skill is going to beat you.

It ought to be legal to pull a gun on a person who is approaching you and threatening to assault you. In particular, a woman shouldn't have to wait until a man is using deadly force against her before she can point a gun at him.

It would be a far safer society for women if the anti-date-rape slogan "Which part of no don't you understand?" was replaced with "Which part of a Smith and Wesson don't you understand?"

Contact Barry Graham at his online address: bgraham@newtimes.com

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