I have tried to elaborate on what I perceive to be the inadequacies of the gun control debate, and left off the third post with a rather bleak view of the situation. Unfortunately I do not feel qualified to propose a legislative solution to the problem, mostly because I do not think such a solution exists. I cannot think of an example in history in which a government has ever been able to prevent violence by legislation (I am not a historian, though. If you can think of such an example, let me know and I will add it to my list of things to research). I can think of any number of examples of cases in which such attempts have had the opposite effect.
This may seem pessimistic, but I do not think there is a solution to the problem of mass murder. There are only responses, which can decrease or increase the likelihood of such an event occurring, or increase or decrease the average person’s chances of surviving such an event if it occurs. A solution is not within the realm of human possibility.
A response, however, is possible and necessary, but a response is first and foremost, personal. Individuals respond by changing their behavior as a result of new knowledge, new outlooks, or a renewed determination to act upon old knowledge and outlooks. I will not say what anyone else’s response should be, but I will share my response with you.
To start with, I have a concealed carry permit, and I very often carry a pistol. I do this because I consider myself responsible to intervene to stop acts of violence that occur in front of me. Armed or unarmed, not acting is not an option for me. I am too strong, too well trained, I have too much experience, all of this specifically designed to make me able to deal with violence. I have the power, and therefore I have the responsibility, to act. I have seen situations in which I was powerless to act because of realities beyond my control, and I know from experience how they have eaten at me. Some of them still do. I cannot imagine living through the knowledge that I could have acted, and chose not to. It would be better to take a bullet.
This is a moral responsibility, not a legal responsibility. I take it on myself personally, unlike policemen who have an oath to act. Physically and mentally I am a Special Operations soldier, but legally I am a private citizen. This shapes how I respond and seriously limits the amount of force I may use, and the legal system’s tolerance of my use of force.
I am also a husband and father, and that, more than any other single factor, determines that I carry a pistol. My reasoning goes like this:
If I find myself in the middle of a lethal force encounter, I must act to save innocent lives.
Ideally I would like to save the perpetrator’s life as well, but that places me at a significantly higher risk of dying. If I die I can’t protect my family anymore, my wife is a widow and my daughter grows up without her father. I cannot, in good faith, take the same risks for the sake of a violent criminal as I could if I were single. Having a pistol means that I don’t have to get as close, I can act faster and from a greater distance to end the situation and save lives. So I carry one.
However, carrying a pistol entails a responsibility to be safe, fast and accurate with it, so that I do not add to the danger for everyone else. This means I have to spend time training in handling it, drawing, aiming at small targets, shooting under stress. Safe handling, and proper storage and transportation must be second nature, and I must never allow myself any shortcuts on them. I have seen two very experience shooters shoot themselves in the leg because they took shortcuts. All the nuts and bolts of concealed carry are way beyond the scope of this blog, but they absolutely are incumbent upon anyone who makes the decision to own a gun, much less carry one. The government cannot legislate this, or enforce it if they did legislate it. That is my personal moral responsibility, and I pass it to no one.
Carrying a gun also has a tendency to psychologically limit the person carrying it. I call this the “Hammer problem.” If you only have a hammer in your hand, every problem starts to look like a nail. Under stress, perfectly ordinary people can make surprisingly stupid decisions if they get tunneled in on the idea, “If anything happens I’ll just shoot him.” This leads to people getting shot who don’t need to get shot. If you have not practiced thinking clearly under stress, defusing situations and de-escalating potential violence, you should not be carrying a gun.
Carrying a gun has legal ramifications. If you choose to draw and fire a weapon in any situation, you will answer to the police and the legal system for it. Even if it was the most justified use of force since David and Goliath, you will have to explain yourself, and odds are good that you will be dragged across the coals by the DA’s office. You need to be ready for that, know a good lawyer or know how to find one, or at the least, know how to prep a lawyer to defend you. You need to know what does and does not constitute self-defense, and how to stay within that legal definition. You need to know how to make sure that everyone around you sees you doing just that, so that when they are called as witnesses (and they will be) their testimony will match yours.
Finally, do not fall for the temptation to dwell on the possibility of violent crime. Your odds of being in a mass shooting incident are very low, about on the level of your odds of getting struck by lightning. Dwelling on them and spending all your time planning and prepping for disaster is a short route to paranoia and making yourself and everyone around you miserable. My technique for that is, every time I do a scan for threats, I also do a scan for beautiful, funny or interesting things. This keeps me from getting fixated on violence, and keeps my expectations realistic, since I hardly ever find a real threat, and always find something beautiful, funny or interesting.
Mass shootings catch our attention because they are visible and frightening and highly reported by the media, but they are not the real problem. The real problem is much worse, and much more common.
That is Monday’s topic, and the last post in this series.