Casaubon's Book

My Gun Rant

After recent events, I received a request to repost my security, safety and weapons. I won’t post the whole thing, but I wanted to include the rant that I ALWAYS preface any discussion of guns with in my classes, my book and on my blogs.

I am not anti-gun.  They are a useful tool in my trade, mostly used to put down dying and suffering animals.  I approve of hunting of overpopulated animals, although  I don’t hunt myself (grew up around it, though, and ate my share of Brunswick stew with squirrel in it).  I think in some hands, particularly those of older women in dangerous urban areas, guns can make you safer.  In a society with fewer guns, I’d probably prefer no one own them privately, but that genie is long since out of the bottle, whether I like it or not.  They are a tool, and in and of themselves, not good or bad.

That said, our society has a troubled relationship with its tools – and a troubled relationship not limited to guns.  We have a really tough time recognizing and putting into place appropriate technologies – technologies that fit the scale of the responses we want and with unintended consequences we can live with (because nothing is without unintended consequences.)  In that respect, our inability to use guns wisely and well is of a piece with our inability to manage our other technologies gracefully.  Home scale ownership of assault weapons, besides its dangers, is just a ridiculous use of inappropriate technology.

When I teach adapting in place classes we talk about safety a lot, because everyone has that concern.  We emphasize several things.  First, safety is not “get a weapon.”  There are many, many things to keep you safe that long precede defensive weaponry of all kinds.  They start with where you are and what you are doing and how alert you are, your behaviors, your attitude, your relationships, your community.  If you are going to put your resources into something for your safety start there, and when you’ve got that covered, then you can think about other things.

Gun ownership is only one of many options – it is unfortunate that in American society we think “safety” and mean “guns.”  For some people in some ways of life, it is an appropriate option. However, there should NEVER be a gun in your house if:

1. Any person in your household suffers from Depression or any other Mental illness.  It is simply too likely they may use a gun on themselves.

2. You or anyone in your household has ever experienced domestic violence, even once, and the perpetrator still lives with you.  If they will hit you, they will kill you, and if you or someone in your household has already declined to use the best tool for victims of domestic violence – GETTING OUT there is no likelihood that the victim will defend themselves with a gun in their house and every likelihood that they will be killed by it.

3. If you have children or adults who for reasons of age, disability or other factors CANNOT fully understand the dangers of guns and their safe and appropriate use.

If you do have guns, make sure you and those you utterly trust are the only ones who can get ahold of them.  No one wants their child or their friend to kill themselves or someone else with their own gun.  Lock ‘em – and  well, in a way that makes it impossible for someone you don’t want to to harm themselves with it.  Be especially careful with young men in your life, since they are the most likely to use a gun inappropriately.  The simple truth is that stastically speaking, the odds of you being hurt in a home invasion because you can’t get your gun and ammunition fast enough are microscopic, so recognize that and play the odds correctly.  Keep safe.

Whatever you choose in this discussion, remember this – that appropriate technology is about weighing costs and options, and choosing wisely with consequences you can deal with – that applies in home appliances and it applies just as much to safety technologies.  Not everyone will choose the same, but there are always some good and basic guidelines that apply – the biggest one being a real and honest assessment of your costs and benefits – and one that goes beyond the smallest circles, and thinks about your larger community.  I talk about this in much more length in _Making Home_.

 

Comments

  1. #1 Roy
    Olympia WA
    December 21, 2012

    I would like to pass on a newspaper article that provides a rational description of the problem for further discussion.
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/charles-krauthammer-the-roots-of-mass-murder/2012/12/20/e4d99594-4ae3-11e2-b709-667035ff9029_story.html

  2. #2 emmer
    portland, or
    December 21, 2012

    we recently had a gun trajedy here, and very nearly a second. the first was young man who shot 3 strangers in a shopping mall and then killed himself.
    apparently in response to that, another man took his legal gun for which he had a concealed carry permit, to a movie theater with his wife. the movie was long and he didn’t care much for it. he squirmed in his seat alot, trying to get comfortable. amazingly, his holstered gun worked itself loose and ended up in the seat. he didn’t realize it was missing until he got home, by which time, the theater was closed. he arrived at the theater at its regular opening time the next day to search for the gun. he was told it had been found by two young boys who were there with their school class for a special showing. the safety, which the man is certain was on, was not on when the boys picked up the gun, which had a bullet in the chamber.
    while this one had a happy ending, it certainly could have been otherwise. the man was charged with a misdemeanor and will have a fine and the loss of his carry permit….

  3. #3 Stephen B.
    December 22, 2012

    What’s eating me up about Newtown is how uneasy I feel about mourning these kids…guilty even. How is that you say?
    Simple… for years we’ve been very loose with our national guns….that is, our armed forces. We’ve killed tens, if not over a hundred thousand innocent civilians in Iraq as well as some in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with probably at least a quarter of those being children.
    I wonder what the survivors of our attacks, as we drop bombs from remote controlled aircraft, through grass-roofed huts, not even completely making sure who really is inside….I wonder what the orphans and/or parents who lost kids to our weapons have thought of the huge national mourning we’ve given our kids, all while we continue to bomb them?
    I’ve asked this question of many people over the past week, and nobody really seems to care much about it, but the hypocrisy irritates the hell out of me. Monbiot wrote about it too, if anybody cares. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/17/us-killings-tragedies-pakistan-bug-splats

  4. #4 Stephen B.
    December 22, 2012

    That’s a good read Roy.

    Thanks!

  5. #5 Irv Mills
    Kincardine, Ontario, Canada
    December 22, 2012

    Sharon, I have been an admirer of your writing for many years, and I can’t believe you just wrote, in reference to guns, “They are a tool, and in and of themselves, not good or bad.”
    I am currently part way through reading Techno-Fix by Michael and Joyce Huesemann, so that statement really stuck out like a sore thumb for me. Unlike you, I am not a self described luddite. I am a tradesman and rather like the technology that has been my life’s work. Techno-Fix has been tough reading for me, but it makes some very good points. Technology is designed by people, deliberately, with an aim in mind. It is NOT neutral. In the case of guns, that aim is to kill. This is not an unintended consequence — it is the very heart of their being. It is fairly hard to imagine what else one might do with a gun (use it as a club, perhaps?), and most shots fired during history have been fired at other people.
    We use a lot of euphemisms in connection with guns. We say “put” down suffering animals, or “control” pests, but we mean kill them. We talk about “hunting”, but we mean killing wildlife, perhaps for food that we need to live, but more likely for sport, trophies and some very high priced luxury meat. We say we need a gun for safety, but what we mean is to kill anyone who we perceive to be threatening us. It’s all killing , all death. Some of these deaths can be justified, others not so much… But I think you know this.
    Looking into the US from outside (from Canada in my case), it seems clear to me that what you need is fewer guns and less access to them for most people. If you manage to achieve that, you will find that you need them even less.

  6. #6 Stephen B.
    December 22, 2012

    Irv, you wrote: “We say we need a gun for safety, but what we mean is to kill anyone who we perceive to be threatening us.”

    You speak of euphemisms, but with all due respect, your statement is a kind of whitewashing in and of itself.

    If somebody is intent on attacking and killing you, say, a violent intruder in your house, it will be a stronger case than simply a “perception” of threat.

    I myself don’t own any guns, but I’ve studied the subject enough to know that it’s not so cut and dried. There’s plenty of violence around the world. It may not all be civilian guns, but there’s plenty of bombings and whatnot. Violent crime is more than gun violence. I’ve read, for example, in several places, that, broadening the picture to all violent crimes, beyond gun violence, the UK for example, is actually more violent than the US. This despite people constantly holding the UK and Europe up as some kind of non-gun-violence model.
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1196941/The-violent-country-Europe-Britain-worse-South-Africa-U-S.html

    Nevertheless, the US is more violent in terms of crime than most of the rest of Europe and Canada, but it’s also important to note that the majority of violent crime happens in urban neighborhoods, and mainly between young men of color, this despite African Americans only making up about 12.5 percent of the US population.

    Outside of those communities, the US is no more violent than most any other country of the world, and if, some of those UK crime stories such as the one I linked to are to be believed, the US is less violent in its non poor, urban areas.

    But why the horrible violence in the US urban areas? Quite simply, this country has never really gotten over and equitably settled the slavery issue. There is still a huge divergence of economic and social opportunity between white people and those of color, and I say that as a person that works with unsettled, so-called “at-risk” kids, and mainly African American boys at that. I don’t relish these statistics in any way. But I acknowledge them for what they are. This country still has a lot of work to do. Be glad that Canada doesn’t. (The French/English thing in Quebec isn’t even remotely the same thing because there simply isn’t the huge disparity of privilege between those groups that exists in the US between people of color and not.)

    Canada and most of Europe do not have such populations still dealing with the residual of slavery, the privileged and the non-privileged, and it shows in the crime statistics.

    That all said, violent crime here in the US has been dropping steadily for decades, gun crime as well, this, despite record numbers of guns and gun laws, that in general, are more lenient than at anytime since 1968, what with all the relaxed permitting and concealed carry lawmaking of the past decade or so.

    Now I won’t go so far as to credit the guns, though some pro 2nd Amendment people will do so. What I think is going on is a mix of few phenomenon. The first is that we are simply a more interconnected, supervised society. Despite what apprehensions I have about the para-militarization of our police departments, we do have more surveillance than ever and I think that counts for something. I’ve also seen it argued that the heavy regulation of lead in paint, gasoline, and other products has steadily decreased people’s blood lead levels, leading to lower tendencies to violent behavior, not just in the US, but worldwide. I also think that a more interconnected world, one in which people mix better and better understand each others differences, generally over time, results in a bit less violence. Looking at the US for example, though the race-violence issue I pointed to is still far from settled, progress is nevertheless being made. There is much, much more to this point, that’s well beyond space limitations here.

    As I say, I don’t own any guns, but I do see their usefulness. I’ve found quite a bit of bear poo around my house in Maine, and sometimes have run into large wildlife in my woods, when out by myself. Now a black bear is not as aggressive as a grizzly bear, and I wouldn’t bother to carry around a clunky piece of metal on my waist all day (and especially in the evening outside), but I can see why some people would. There have been unprovoked bear attacks, even among black bears. It’s very rare, but does happen.

    You write off all killing as bad, even wildlife, but I get the idea you aren’t really around much wildlife, especially the kind that can kill you in a moment if it so chooses.

    Again, as I say, I own no guns, nor do I hunt, but I see other peoples’ take on this.

  7. #7 Irv Mills
    Kincardine, Ontario, Canada
    December 22, 2012

    Stephen, my comment was written late on a sleepless night and now seems a little more strident than intended. My main intent was to express surprise at Sharon making the “it’s not the guns, it’s the people” argument. Or at least it seems to me she had done so, and it seems to me that this argument is bogus. Guns are just such highly effective killing machines, so much more so than anything else that is available, that they enable a level of violence not otherwise accessible to those with violence in mind.
    You probably already know this, but from where I live, the American attitude toward guns seems more than a little bizarre. Of course, lumping all Americans together is just silly, but I think you know what I mean.
    To put my comments in perspective, I grew up on a farm and still live in a rural area. As a teenager on the farm, I was responsible for pest control, groundhogs and coons mainly, using a .22 rifle. I have used that rifle to put down cats that got injured in machinery and my own pet dog when she got too old and sick. A mercy in both cases. I have friends who hunt deer and moose and I would defend them against those think all hunting is wrong. And definitely, while bear and cougars are rare hereabouts, I agree there are areas where you would want a gun to protect yourself against these threats.
    What I don’t understand, and perhaps you can clue me in, is wanting to have a gun in your home to keep you safe from intruders. From what I know of gun safety, your gun should be stored unloaded in a locked cabinet, and the ammunition in another locked cabinet. If someone has broken in and is brandishing a gun at you, it doesn’t seem that your gun, if safely stored, is going to be of much use. And storing a loaded gun in your bedside stand just seems foolish to me, an open invitation to all sorts of deadly misadventures.

  8. #8 AngieC
    UK
    December 22, 2012

    StephenB & Irv – please don’t think that anything the Daily Mail says (or said, back in 2009) bears any resemblance to the truth! They seem to have their own special way of finding & interpreting statistics, usually to confirm their own right-wing, Britain’s-not-what-it-used-to-be bias. I live in small town, semi-rural UK and crimes of violence are so rare here I can’t tell you when the last one occurred; there certainly are problems in some of our inner cities, but no worse than anywhere else.

  9. #9 Stephen B.
    December 22, 2012

    Irv, just to repeat to be clear to all, I don’t own any guns, so I am not speaking from first hand experience. That said, and to answer your question, there are a few options for storage from what I understand. Here in Massachusetts, there is a locked storage requirement, but a small gun safe or strong box with a speed unlock is sufficient for legal purposes and the gun can be and often is stored loaded inside the locked box. If not in a locked strong box, there must be a trigger lock when the gun isn’t in control of the owner, though what “control” means to people differs. To some, it might simply mean being in the same room as the gun.
    Most states don’t have a locked storage requirement and some people I know, keep guns in other kinds of hidden areas that may or may not be locked.
    From the stories I’ve read, and I have read quite a few, when people have become aware of an intrusion attempt, there often has been enough advance noise or whatever, to provide enough time to quickly grab the gun. I’ve seen various gun safes while walking around the likes of Bass Pro Shops and so on that supposedly can be opened by the owner in less than 5 or 10 seconds, though I forget the details.
    What I would never do is keep a loaded, unlocked gun within reach of my semi-sleepy self while I’m lying in bed.
    That all said, many households simply don’t have any kids, or any visiting kids, or any mentally ill or otherwise incapacitated people in them. In those cases, I wouldn’t worry so much about a gun being a hazard, though I’d lock it up when leaving the house because of theft concerns. It’s not like the gun is going to animate itself and attack me, or I’m going to lose my mind and shoot myself or somebody else with it. I’ve lived with things like knives, gasoline, and chainsaws at my beckon call all my adult life and never felt the slightest urge to get crazy with any of those items. Why would a gun be any different? We sometimes read of somebody going nuts in a house and grabbing a gun, but what we never hear about are the 10000, 100,000, or whatever other households where firearms just sit there, never causing a problem.
    Lastly, stories of people thwarting intrusion attempts by drawing guns are out there, but seldom get much notice. I just happened to see this one yesterday: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/home-invasion-suspect-killed-in-gunfight-at-dekalb/nTZnJ/ The article says the couple had 2 small kids in the house, but the details of what kind of firearm was used and how it was stored weren’t mentioned.
    I myself don’t have much fear at all of armed, home invasions, either here in Massachusetts or when I am up in rural Maine. I do know some seriously mentally ill kids prone to violence at the school I work at which is located a scant, 1.5 miles away and they sometimes ask and/or find out where I live. They also sometimes say they’re going to come over to my house if they “go AWOL” and we are an unlocked program in that they are free to physically leave. (The doors are locked on the outside, but not inside.) In theory I am in a bit of heightened danger from them, but honestly, if one of those kids pops in, I’d rather just talk to them or get beaten up rather than cause a firestorm in this town by pulling a gun on a work client of mine and, it’s really a remote beyond remote possibility anyway that any of them would ever do that, especially since they really like the guy that does the farming and makes the maple syrup :-)
    As for pest control, scent-baited electric fences and “gopher” smoke bombs and a shovel work pretty well for me, so I doubt I’d ever get a gun unless I start keeping livestock in which case, the uses Sharon detailed above might compel me to finally get one, maybe.

  10. #10 Stephen B.
    December 22, 2012

    What’s funny is my use of “lastly” leading off the third to last paragraph in my post above. It really was the *last* paragraph at one point, until I sat down and wrote more onto the end. ‘Sorry to be a bore.

  11. #11 Sharon Astyk
    United States
    December 24, 2012

    Irv, that wasn’t quite my argument, but you seem to have come to that conclusion more or less by yourself, so I won’t belabor it. My primary use of guns has been to put dying animals out of their misery – in which case a gun is a tool, but not a tool for killing humans. Same with hunting – which I do favor in many areas where deer and other proliferating species starve in the winter.

    At the same time, the stats are pretty clear – older single women in dangerous urban areas almost never use their guns to hurt anyone else, and they may reduce their risk of harm. The stats are available publically on this – or Joe Bageant has a fairly good (although I have some disagreements with other portions of the analysis) in _Deerhunting with Jesus_.

    The truth is that I don’t buy either the argument that it is the guns or that it isn’t the guns – it is absolutely true that Chinese mass murderers with kitchen knives can terrify a school. It is absolutely true that Canadians have as many guns as we do but lack our tendency towards mass murder. It is also true that as Molly Ivins points out if you are not pro-gun, but pro-knife, at least you get more exercise in committing murder.

    The main issue is this – the genie is out of the bottle on guns. I don’t think it is politically or socially feasible in the US to contain gun ownership in really profound ways – you can ban new sales of some kinds of guns, but plastic downloadable guns will be available shortly. You won’t get back all of the assault rifles you’ve sold over the last two and half decades, and the ones that were here illegally to begin with.

    That’s not an argument against regulation (I can think of few politically feasible gun regulations we are likely to see that I wouldn’t totally support), but if we don’t deal with the cultural and moral issues, if we say it is mostly just the guns, we’ll still have plenty of mass murders.

    Sharon

  12. #12 Stephen B.
    December 25, 2012

    Plastic…….downloadable……..guns………. ??

    Never would I have imagined that plastic, “printers” cheap enough for the home market would be coming along….or that they could stamp or “print” out gun parts……or that I would have learned of this development from Casaubon’s Book.

    ‘Just when I thought I was done with the Internet for the night…now I have another thing to research.

    I wonder what else these home plastic stamping devices could turn out and/or what happens in the rest of the world…the part of the world with gun bans, when a person can “print” out guns? Yes, they’ll continue to ban ammo…but ammo is much easier to smuggle and hide….a cartridge here, a cartridge there… ‘not that I’d have any experience…’don’t own any guns, as I said above, but still…

    (Stephen B makes a puzzled, quiz-able, almost pained face here.)

  13. #13 Erin
    December 25, 2012

    As one that’s been on the uncomfortable end of the increasingly paramilitarized police force for no reason but being young,poor, and vulnerable, I’m all for any type of weaponry that will defend me from my government. Not that I own,or care to own, any guns. They just seem like a bigger threat than some random whack job.

  14. #14 Marsha
    central Texas
    December 26, 2012

    Sharon,
    Please consider this. Farmers and ranchers that are fighting a feral hog problem need a rifle that will hold as many rounds as possible. In Texas there are an estimated 2.6 million hogs that annually do approximately 56 million dollars damage to fences, crops, and waterways. When a herd hits, there may be a sow with a litter of up to 15 piglets as well as assorted juveniles and boars. A few extra rounds in your pocket are useless when the whole bunch can disappear in seconds.
    We have a semiautomatic rifle with a 15 round clip. It is on the suggested UN small gun ban list. That is disappointing!

  15. #15 Wow
    December 27, 2012

    The NRA seem to me to be the islamic fundamentalist of the USA.

    BOTH go apeshit when they’re told they are violent arseholes and insist on going on rampages to prove they are just that.

  16. #16 Wow
    December 27, 2012

    “They just seem like a bigger threat than some random whack job.”

    I’m afraid that makes you the whack job Erin.

  17. #17 Denise
    January 2, 2013

    Sharon; Your comment regarding guns as tools reminds me very much of a quotation from one of my family’s old western favorites “Shane”. Shane, a former bounty hunter, who is trying to leave behind the legacy of his past, explains the use of a gun to a small boy who idolizes him. “A gun is only a tool Joey…a tool that is as good or as bad as the man behind it. How you use the tool is what matters…” something like that. P.S. If you have not watched “Shane”, it is truly outstanding.

  18. #18 Wow
    January 3, 2013

    Well, nuclear weapons are the same thing. Tools. No better or wose than the man with the trigger.

    Bad laws? No better or worse than the government behind them.

    If you have a rifle, it doesn’t need to be any more than bolt action single loading. If you need to reload quickly, you shouldn’t have been using a rifle, use a shotgun.