See “the availability heuristic”: You are overestimating the likelihood that such a shooting will recur. In the past several decades, the number of deaths in shooting sprees has stayed the same — see statistics by the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern. And this is not the greatest number of children killed by a madmen in the U.S.: that infamous distinction belongs to William Kehoe, who, in 1927, killed 38 children in a school in Michigan.
I am a very liberal Democrat, a vegan, well-educated and not prone to “archaic” thinking. I find [last week’s Op-ed on the necessity of new regulations for gun ownership] offensive to those of us who have experienced violence: my sisters, my mother, friends, myself. Hopefully it will avoid my daughter. But when violence comes, it comes unbidden, it comes suddenly, and it will not allow itself to be ignored. In my view, people who wish for a world without guns do not understand the nature of violence.
Fifteen years ago I was the victim of a home invasion. I own a semi-automatic rifle. The kind of semi-automatic rifle that civilians can buy is not military grade; military grade rifles are automatics. Such semi-automatic rifles make excellent home defense weapons. As do Glock semi-automatic pistols with high capacity magazines. Those of you who don’t know about firearms might not understand that seven rounds are very unlikely to stop even a single threat — not to mention a team of people intent on a home invasion. Believe me, I know: when adrenalized and fighting for your life and for the lives of those in your family, all you have is gross motor function — your body is in stress response. In such a state you can expend many rounds, and few of them are likely to connect — and those that do will not necessarily stop the threat. People can be shot a dozen or more times and still do harm. It’s not like in the movies.
Yes, it’s strange to even think about this, let alone write about it. It sounds paranoid, I know. But it’s not. I can attest to that. It happens. We love to think that disease and misfortune don’t happen to us. They do. By our best estimates there are anywhere from 150,000 to 2.5 million instances of successful Defensive Gun Use, or DGU, in the U.S. each year. We don’t really know how many. All we know is, it’s a lot — at least several hundred a day. Without them the rate of homicide would be much higher. But such instances rarely make news, because the gun stops the threat before news can be made. The police know about it, often, but the news doesn’t.
May none of you ever know violence. I did. Many have. Two of my sisters were raped. One of my dearest friends was sexually assaulted only four months ago. A gun is a force equalizer. My friend weighs 110 pounds, is pretty, is shy and is quiet — exactly the kind of person a predator looks for. She now trains with me in pistol shooting. Since she started, she can sleep again.
A gun’s purpose is to diminish disparate force, not to augment it, like the Adam Lanzas of the world.
Beyond self-defense — bodily sovereignty — defense of our civic and collective sovereignty may seem like an outdated and quaint idea. As William Butler Yeats and Chinua Achebe once wrote, “Things fall apart.” Los Angeles riots? New Orleans and Katrina? New Jersey and Hurricane Sandy? Did you see the news reports of neighbors in the towns and cities of New Jersey standing guard in front of stores and shops with rifles and pistols in order to protect their neighbors’ livelihoods from looting? There was looting. These are some of the reasons why we have the Second Amendment. Have you considered that the Second Amendment is very likely one of the reasons we have the oldest extant democracy the planet has ever known? The “right of revolution” and the right to defend ourselves against injustice are very likely one of the key features of our founding principles that help make this nation the vibrant and viable democracy it is.
Finally, as for the idea that all we need to do is remove all the guns from the equation: several studies have repeatedly concluded that no definitive evidence can be found to support any correlation, and not just a causal correlation, between gun control — gun bans, concealed carry bans, magazine bans — and crime rates.
The need to diminish disparate force is not “archaic.” Ask any police officer.
Gabriel Gudding is professor of poetics, ethics, lit- erature and poetry writing at Il- linois State University.