The madness of gun culture

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer.

I like guns. I like both using them (shooting recreationally is a lot of fun, you should try it sometime) and considering them as artifacts of craftsmanship — like any well-crafted tool, a well-crafted firearm can be a fascinating thing to examine. I support the principle of a right to private ownership of firearms, and while I don’t own any myself at the moment, that’s more an artifact of my not having an urgent need for one; I only shoot for fun, so the only money I could justify spending on a gun would be money I didn’t need for something more important, and right now there are lots of things in my life demanding money that are more important. I imagine I’ll own at least one at some point in the future, though, if only to save on having to pay rental fees at the shooting range.

So why do I bother saying all that? Because I don’t want you to write off the thing I’m about to say next as just the raving of another liberal who doesn’t understand or appreciate guns. And that thing is:

I don’t really get “gun culture.” In fact, not only do I not get it, I find it baffling.

See, I don’t have a problem with guns themselves, but the way we talk about them as a society is just deeply, deeply weird. It literally makes no sense.

All you have to do to see what I’m talking about is attend a gun show. (Here in DC, they hold a huge one six times a year.) It’s like stepping into another dimension. Outside the convention hall, you are in the real world, where your risk of getting killed by an assailant is half of what it was twenty years ago; but walk into the show and you enter a strange Bizarro World, where the rule of law has completely broken down and desperate citizens must fend for themselves. The rhetoric you’ll hear at such gatherings, both from people selling guns and those buying them, will make you question whether those people walked in from the same dimension you did. Nowhere is safe! Nobody can help you! Only your gun stands between you and the hordes at the gates!

Don’t think this rhetoric is only found at gun shows, though. The people and institutions that revolve around the gun industry are saturated with it. The NRA’s literature is saturated with it. In many ways it’s the same model as FOX News; it provides a little bubble reality that, if you are so inclined, you can crawl into and live in and never come out of. Outside the bubble, things are mostly safer than they have been in a long time; but inside the bubble, it’s Mad Max time.

Which leads people inside the bubble to believe some pretty crazy things. Like a post I saw yesterday at hard-core pro-gun site The Truth About Guns, for instance, which argues with a straight face that you should carry a gun with you into the shower:

Aside from sleeping, showering is the most vulnerable time for home dwellers. When you’re in the shower the sound of the water will drown out almost any noise (including your barking dog). Your eyesight will not be the same as it normally is and your time in the rain locker can be timed by a surreptitious home invader.

It’s no secret that rapists have been known to stalk their female targets by observing the light in the window of their bathrooms at night. Rapists will note the length of time and how long the water stays running, giving them a perfect opportunity to enter the dwelling and lie in wait for the unsuspecting woman to exit the bathroom. Like rapists, burglars have also caught on to this technique, too. Bringing your gun into the shower isn’t crazy by any means. It just makes sense.

Putting aside the fact that the post’s author can’t even scrounge up an anecdote to support his contention that getting attacked in the shower is a thing that actually happens, much less any data, there’s a deeper flaw in his reasoning.

Think about it for a second. You’re in the shower, shampoo and water in your eyes, unaware of the assailant’s presence. In other words, he has the drop on you. If he has a gun, he can just shoot you through the shower door or curtain and kill you before you even realize he is there, and it’s Game Over.

But let’s say, for purposes of argument, that the assailant did you a favor and left home without a gun, so he’s coming at you with a knife or lead pipe or something. Now you know you’re in trouble, so you reach for your gun. But by the time you realize he’s there, he’s already practically on top of you — there’s not a lot of distance between a shower curtain and the person showering, typically — so he can get between you and the gun, or wrestle your arm away from it, or otherwise prevent you from getting your hands on it. And if it’s in a container, like the one shown above, you have to first get the container open before you can even try to pick it up. Opening a container while someone is beating you with a lead pipe could be difficult, not to mention unpleasant.

But let’s go a step further, and wave away all those difficulties as well. The gun magically appears in your hand the moment you realize you are being attacked. Hooray! Except that just having a gun in your hand, all by itself, doesn’t do anything to protect you. It only protects you if you use the gun to shoot the bad guy. Which means that you — naked, surprised, shampoo in your eyes, receiving blows to the head with a lead pipe — have to aim the gun, and pull the trigger, before the assailant can knock you down or get the gun out of your hand.

Do you seriously believe the odds of that happening are any good?

The deep flaw in this suggestion is that it treats the gun as if it were a magic self-defense totem; as if just having it there will somehow protect you. Obviously, it would not. A gun can only protect you to the degree that you are capable of using it to protect you. And this scenario — a fight at close quarters, with you caught by surprise — is one where a gun, even in the hands of a trained shooter, would be of about as little use as it possibly could be. The ideal scenario for defending yourself with a gun is one where your assailant is some distance away, out of arm’s reach. Once he gets that close, you’d be better off with almost any other self-defense weapon; a knife, a hammer, anything.

(And then there’s the other question — what happens if the person outside the shower isn’t an assailant? In this scenario, things are moving fast; you don’t have a lot of time to think. You see a shadow coming at you, you have time to grab your gun and — mirabile dictu! — despite the surprise and the shampoo in your eyes you manage to put two rounds into its center of mass. Then you step out of the shower and discover that the “assailant” was actually your wife, coming to surprise you with a little shower-time marital amusement. Oops.)

But to the person in the gun culture bubble, none of this matters. None of this matters because to them, the gun is magic. The gun protects you from evil in the same way garlic protects you from vampires. It’s a totem, a fetish; a magic wand that wards off the creatures that lurk in the night.

None of which corresponds to how guns behave in the real world, of course. In the real world, a gun is a thing that is hard to use right and easy to use wrong; and if you use it wrong, your mistake can have disastrous consequences. But viewing it as a totem lets you ignore all that. You can ignore the need for training, the need to maintain the weapon and store it in a secure place, the need really for any kind of respect for the deadly potential of the thing. You can just scatter guns all around your house, in the same way you might scatter air fresheners. Never mind that an assailant might pick up one of those weapons and use it against you — or an unattended child might pick it up and accidentally use it against herself.

And this is what gets me the most about this culture, I suppose. The lack of respect. A deadly weapon demands respect. You have a right to pick one up, sure — but by exercising that right, you are taking on some pretty serious responsibilities too. You are literally taking the power of life and death into your hands. You don’t get to skip out on that just by deciding to believe that a gun is something which in reality it is not.

If you’re not comfortable with that, maybe you should do us all a favor and just switch to taking baths.


Ron Sims

May 20, 2014
9:03 am

I’d be interested to know the author’s background in self-defense and personal security.