One of the true champions in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community is my friend Donna-Dees Thomases, whose Million Moms March in Washington on Mother’s Day, 2000, was a signal event in the growth and significance of GVP. Donna wrote a book about her experience which is certainly worth a read, and she remains a committed and energetic persona (God – where does she get that energy?) to this day. She and I were recently going back and forth because I was telling her that I was unlikely to show up at a public event where I had been asked to debate someone from the ‘other side.’ And she quickly replied, and then gave me permission to quote: “I refuse to debate the other side.”
And the more I think about her comment, the better I feel about not getting involved in a ‘guns are good, guns are bad’ discussion with anyone from Gun-nut Nation, because the moment that you let someone tell an audience why they believe that everyone should carry a gun, or why the 2nd Amendment is a fundamental civil right, or why gun ownership is part and parcel of the American dream, you are basically admitting that such arguments deserve to be heard.
Many years ago I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by the brilliant economist Paul Baran, shortly before his death in 1964. He told us about a time in Germany in 1934 when he refused to debate a student who would later become a high-level functionary for the SS. The way Baran put it, “a meaningful discussion of human affairs can only be conducted with humans; one wastes one’s time talking to beasts about matters related to people.” Which is how I feel when Gun-nut Nation trots out one of it noted authorities to argue in favor of gun violence because guns are what protect us and keep us free.
The reason that such arguments in fact promote gun violence is because guns were designed and manufactured to be instruments of violence, no matter how justified you want that violence to be. And the fact that our society has decided that these weapons of war can be kept in every household, whether or not any member of that household is being called up to fight in a war doesn’t change the essential nature of these weapons at all. Sure, guns can be used for hunting, sport or just for plain old fun. That’s why I keep 50 or 60 of them around and fool around with a couple of them every day. But investing gun ownership in some of cultural charisma based on a pack of lies about how we need them for self-defense is to allow a discussion about human affairs to be shared with beasts. Sorry, it doesn’t work for me.
If you think I’m being harsh and unyielding in my comments about people who promote gun violence, you might want to read a new book, Rampage Nation, whose author, Louis Klarevas, spent a year collecting and studying data about mass shootings that have occurred in the United States over the past 50 years. I have some quibbles with Professor Klarevas about some of the methodology he employs as well as his views on what he believes might reduce gun violence, particularly mass shooting violence, in the years ahead. But notwithstanding my slight hesitations about accepting everything he says, the bottom line is that when you finish reading this book, the most sacred arguments used by Gun -nut Nation to promote gun violence vanish into thin air.
Gun-free zones do not attract shooters. Gun-toting civilians do not prevent crime. The data is solid, the analysis is convincing, the only problem is that this book won’t change the minds of Gun-nut Nation advocates, because to quote Paul Baran, such people aren’t interested in human affairs. But the good news is that people like Donna Dees-Thomases will use what Louis Klarevas says to recruit more people to GVP. And that’s a good thing, it really is.