Monday, 6 January 2020

Some Thoughts on Guns

I grew up around guns.  My dad was very, *very* into hunting, and I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten every animal that it’s legal to shoot in the state of Pennsylvania.  (Favorites are grouse and venison.)

In the rural PA county where I grew up, everybody was very into hunting.  The neighbor who babysat my brother and me had a living room decorated with buck heads.  We got not one but *two* school holidays for deer season, and hunter safety was a required part of the sixth grade curriculum. (I passed with flying colors, and I can still tell you the *one* question I got wrong and why I feel it was worded confusingly, not that I was obsessive about grades, tests, or *being right.* No, not at all.)

Had I been interested in hunting, my dad would have happily taken me, but I didn’t have it in me to shoot an animal, so I left that to him and my brother.

Dad took us shooting a few times, mostly plinking pop cans with 22s.  I fired his 12-gauge exactly once. It was loud, and it kicked a lot, and I wasn’t a fan.  But I fondly remember shooting in the woods, and I still have that 22.  I shot it yesterday, for the first time in over a decade.

I’ve gotten together with a group of left-leaning folks who put together a shooting club.  Partly to have people to shoot with for fun and community building and partly for self-defense in case the shit hits the fan more than it has already.

I get a reputation on Facebook as being “anti-gun,” but that’s not true.  I try to be *realistic* about guns.  For the vast majority of people, carrying in the grocery store or on the way to work doesn’t make them or the people around them safer.  But it does give them the ability to make irrevocable decisions if they’re angry, scared, or frustrated. It also gives them *countless* opportunities to accidentally injure or kill themselves or someone else.

“Responsible gun owners” who are fans of the second amendment are quick to tell me that it’s super easy and simple to carry safely, and only really stupid or careless people ever shoot themselves while carrying or get shot by their toddlers who had access to their guns.

That may well be the case, but people are making those stupid mistakes *pretty much constantly.* (Well Regulated Militia on Twitter has piles of examples.) And people, in general, wildly overestimate their own competence. If you’re not great at something, you lack the very skills needed to *recognize* that you’re bad at it. This is called the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In terms of gun safety, this means that the person who touts themselves as a responsible gun owner might be someone who’s meticulously careful and who could teach (or has taught) gun safety courses.  Or they could be the dude who shot himself at a Bojangles while tying his shoes.

The Dunning-Kruger effect makes personal self-defense decisions complicated, because whether a gun makes you safer or less safe depends *a lot* on your ability to store and handle that gun in a safe manner.  Statistically, you’re more likely to have your own gun used against you or someone in your family than to successfully defend yourself against an intruder. Particularly when you add in *all* the ways that can happen: domestic violence, improper storage or handling, and suicide, in addition to the possibility of an intruder getting your gun away from you.

Obviously, individual factors come into play.  If you shoot competitively and are being stalked by your violent ex, your calculations are going to be very different than if you’ve never shot a gun, live in a safe neighborhood, and have a toddler.

But I’ve seen plenty of gun owners argue as if the competitive shooter with a violent stalker is the *norm* and folks like the drunk cop who shot himself at a country club are outliers who shouldn’t even be considered in studies.  And yet, up until the flagrantly stupid thing happened, those people would have considered themselves responsible gun owners too.

Well-Regulated Militia features stories of people *who should really know better* doing dumb things with guns.  All the time.  Cops. Gun dealers. If it’s “so simple and easy” to be safe with a gun, an awful lot of these people shouldn’t have them.

Not to mention just flat out committing murder. Shooting someone because they thought they looked suspicious. Shooting someone in an argument.

And between the Dunning-Kruger effect and wanting to think of ourselves as good people, nobody thinks they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot until they’ve done it.  No one thinks they’re going to murder someone in anger until they’ve been that angry, with a weapon close at hand, and it turns out that they have.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m convinced that the people arguing for more guns aren’t taking the responsibility of gun ownership nearly seriously enough.



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