Tuesday, April 30, 2013

David Frum vs. Gun-Toting "Sheep Dogs"

Brian Castner spent time in Iraq defusing bombs, and he came home full of irrational fears for the safety of his children. He used to sit outside his infant daughter's room with a loaded gun in his hand, and for a while he carried one in the console of his minivan. David Frum takes on the craziness:
Human beings are notoriously poor estimators of risk. We are phobic about flying, but not about driving - although driving is vastly more dangerous. We buy shares when the market has crested, and sell when the market has hit bottom. And we hope to protect our children by laying a loaded gun in a bedside table - where it is hugely more likely to cause a tragic accident than ever to stop an intruder.

Castner acknowledges that, in the end, he reasoned his way to the right answer: no gun in the minivan. Yet it's plain that he thinks a little worse of himself for allowing his judgment to overmaster his unreasoning dread. He introduces to a concept from the concealed-carry world that divides Americans into three classes: "wolves" (criminals and other predators); "sheep" (those who don't keep guns in the home); and heroic "sheepdogs": those who, by carrying guns, protect all the rest of us. Well, thanks. But you know, there are a lot of happy little Pomeranians out there who may believe themselves sheepdogs, but who would prove worse than useless in any serious trouble. What procedures should we put in place to train and identify these noble protectors of us weak sheep? Answer: zero. "Sheepdogs by definition choose themselves."

Ah. But the trouble is that for every valiant grandmother who protects home and hearth with her trusty shotgun, there is at least one trigger-happy George Zimmerman cruising the streets looking for a fight. For every properly trained veteran diligently securing his weapon, there seem to be dozens of people who are leaving loaded firearms out for children to find and fire.

If there's one key concept that inspires the champions of the gun status quo, it is this claim that gun owners can be neatly divided into two classes: bad and good. The good owners are not only well-intentioned, but are also presumed to be competent, responsible, sober.

But in the real world, human beings spread themselves along much longer gradients of behavior. Some are well-intentioned but careless. Some are admirably well-tempered, except when they have had too much to drink. Some would never hurt anybody except their ex-girlfriend. Some are skittish and trigger-happy. Some are just plain bad shots, who would with 7 bullets hit every person at the crime scene except the criminal. And all of them, in Castner's telling, are entitled to nominate themselves as protectors of society.

Of course, the vast majority of people who carry legal weapons will never draw them in a situation of danger. If their guns are ever used, it is because they have been stolen by a burglar who targeted their home precisely in order to get hold of their guns - or in the suicide of a depressed relative - or in some stupid dispute that they themselves start because emboldened by a gun - or in some heart-rending accident. It is only after the fact, and tragically often, that we discover that the greatest threat to our family came from our own poorly conceived yearning to protect them.
Amen, David.

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