On the “If everyone had a gun, we’d all be safer” claim

Near the Empire State Building yesterday, NYPD officers shot and killed a recently fired man who had just executed his ex-boss by putting five rounds in his head. In the process, they wounded nine bystanders on the crowded Midtown sidewalk.

For whatever reason (I can think of better examples), this has catalyzed a lot of Internet discussion concerning the claim in the title of this post. I want to use what I believe is a credible, almost assured scenario to explain why this idea is as ridiculous as any other cast forth by the rabid faction of the pro-gun crowd. (I am not against private gun ownership, within limits.)

The first time I heard this assertion I briefly assumed it was a joke, but then I remembered the source of the claim — the sizable arm of largely paranoid, Constitution-bending, right-wing Yosemite Sam types. The sorts of folks who stockpiled weapons when Obama was elected out of fear they’d no longer be able to purchase them. The kind of people who were, for whatever inexplicable reason, upset when New Hampshire passed a law making it illegal to pack heat in the legislative chambers of the State House. The mouth-breathing specimens who are certain that the government will one day roll tanks into their front yards to Take Their Shit by dint of force (I’m not sure what a 30/30 or even an assault rifle would do to prevent this, but roll with me).

This is admittedly something of a parody, but not as much of one as it may appear at a glance. And even if it is, the fact remains that a lot of people believe that a fully armed citizenry is a safer citizenry, and I’ll use the commentary of one presumably sincere Internet voice to explain the reasoning: “If everyone in NYC had a gun this never would have happened because of mutually assured destruction. Better to be constantly on edge but safe than to be relaxed and comfortable but at risk of potentially not being able to defend yourself.”

I don’t think it takes any special genius to explode this myth, which, it should be said, was conceived in the same minds of the people who honestly put faith in the infamous “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” mantra. Let me offer you a scenario.

Say everyone, or practically everyone, has a gun. Hell, assume the government issues everyone over the age of 18 a handgun and offsets the cost by increasing federal income taxes. (People do have to buy their own bullets, however.) Someone who wants to kill you is tracking your movements and is closing in, unbeknownst to you. What do you think his likely course of action is?

1) Say, “Hey, you sunofabitch!” to catch your attention and challenge you to a duel, thereby giving you the chance to either run or shoot back (i.e., to defend yourself).

2) Shoot you dead before you even know he’s there.

I have a good idea of which option best fits reality.

Now, if everyone in the area (assuming there are even any witnesses) has a gun as well, someone is likely to shoot this guy and possibly kill him. OK, you’ve been avenged, but you are still dead. And as the New York City events illustrate, when people are shooting willy-nilly, innocent people are shot. You have to figure that NYPD officers have more firearms training than the average citizen, including crossfire management and avoiding collateral damage. Imagine how many more people would be injured or killed if a firefight broke out as the result of a private lethal grudge taken to consummation in a public setting.

Is this how folks want society to operate?

5 thoughts on “On the “If everyone had a gun, we’d all be safer” claim”

  1. ‘[S]omeone is likely to shoot this guy and possibly kill him. OK, you’ve been avenged, but you are still dead.’

    …but the point, I believe, is that the possibility he’d be shot by the bystanders in the crowd will act as a deterrent, keeping him from shooting you in the first place.

  2. That might be the argument, but if a person is going to gun down someone in broad daylight on a city street, I would expect that they have realized they’ve just purchased a one-way ticket, so to speak. I would think they pretty much expect to be apprehended and possibly killed in the process, so armed bystanders aren’t going to act as a deterrent. It’s the revenge that matters. And if they’re cautious and calculating enough to wait until the target is isolated and alone, then an armed citizenry wouldn’t help either.

    All I can say is that I have no desire to live in a 21st century version of Dodge City.

  3. Yes, yes it was. Definitely classier than Plymouth City and AMC City.

    Speaking of classy, when I was a kid there was a car dealership around here that sold Dodges. It was a cheesy building with a sort of mock stucco facade built in a squared off fashion. It was, of course, called Dodge City.

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