Retorts: Cruel dilemma of guns in the U.S.

THERE ARE millions of handguns owned by private citizens in the U.S. (Flickr/Don Waddington).

Editor’s note: Jim Tortolano wrote this column in October 2017 after the Las Vegas killings. He thinks it’s still appropriate in the wake of today’s mass shooting at a school in Florida.

Everyone is still a bit shook by Sunday night’s horrific events in Las Vegas. The worst mass shooting in American history was made even more painful by the fate of at least two locals, one killed and one seriously wounded.

As unpredictable as such an event was, the aftermath which came as regular as clockwork. Liberals called for more gun control; conservatives said, “don’t politicize the tragedy.”

The value of stock related to gun manufacturing spiked, in anticipation of a run on the purchase of firearms and ammunition that often follows such an event. Not for self-defense, so much, as out of fear that somehow getting guns and bullets will somehow be made more difficult.

Let’s take a look at some of hard truths – as I see them – about guns in America. There are more of them in this country then there are adults. When you factor in the guns we don’t know about, there may be more firearms than people.

We will never see any significant reduction in that number, at least not in my lifetime, and probably not in the next generation. America is steeped in the tradition of self-defense, of the Wild West, of guns as a part of the concept of standing up and settling your own scores.

The best we can hope for – and it’s a slim one – is to nibble away at the margins. Waiting periods. Some small degree of gun instruction. Curbs on silencers and large capacity magazines. Of course, the NRA and gun absolutists will oppose most of those measures, invoking the “slippery slope” concept that any restriction could eventually lead to a total ban.

If you don’t own or have a gun, you may wonder why they are so popular and so fiercely defended. There are several reasons, both rational and irrational. Firstly, there is not a police officer on every corner. If your life is in danger, there’s no guarantee that a black-and-white will arrive before you are good-and-dead.

As the saying goes, “When seconds count, the police are minutes away.”

But let’s look at that a little more closely. A responsible gun owner – especially when there are kids or grandchildren about – locks his or her gun up. I do, and keep the ammunition in a separate location as a double precaution.

Imagine me in a scary situation. “Excuse me, Mister Intruder, but could you give me a minute to unlock my 9mm from its case, get my cartridges, load up and come back?” Silly, but what’s the alternative? Keep a loaded pistol on the nightstand? I don’t even have a nightstand.

And let’s take it another step. It’s dark and I’m still a bit fuzzy. If I start blasting away, it’s entirely possible one or more of my shots will go through the window or the plasterboard and visit the house of the nice elderly couple that lives next door. That would be a fine wake-up for them.

Of course, there are instances in which a gun may be useful or even necessary. But if trained law enforcement officers have problems, what are my chances? And if that’s reasonable, why do so many people want and keep guns?

The number of firearms – especially handguns, which have only one purpose: the killing of another human being – far exceeds the demand for hunting or sport shooting. The demand, in fact, in not based in reality but in our imaginations.

Possessing a firearm – and certainly carrying one – gives a sense of power. It is literally the power of life and death. We are drenched not only in a heritage of Wyatt Earp and John Wayne but also in a present of Bruce Willis and “Death Wish.” TV and movies and video games extol the merits of shooting bad guys full of holes. I’m not blaming gun violence on the media; that stuff merely feeds an appetite, which has been around for centuries.

It won’t be possible to stop the killing by guns until we understand just why we feel we need them. Culturally, we are still a young nation. We imagine ourselves just one step removed from the frontier, with threats around every corner. And it seems we are, especially after Las Vegas.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears on Wednesdays.





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