Friday, June 3, 2011

The Gun-Owners' Fantasy

If you ever saw the old play "Charley's Aunt, " you may recall the title character's line, "I'm from Brazil, where the nuts come from." It doesn't sound as good with "Arizona",  but it applies to me.

Yes, another nut has gone into the wholesale murder business in Arizona. This time, a man shot and killed five people and then himself in Yuma. The victims included his ex-wife and her lawyer.

I'm not going to go on and on about how violent America is. Indeed the mass-shooting meme (that's the first time I've ever used that word-- I hope it was correct) has now reached northern Europe as well.

No, what always strikes me in these cases is what they reveal about gun owners' fantasy. I'm not talking about a fantasy of killing people, but about a fantasy of security.  Gun owners believe that lax gun-ownership laws will allow them to protect themselves. Yet these massacres keep taking places in states with lax gun-ownership laws. Two years ago a man in Alabama killed ten people with an assault rifle before killing himself. Despite Alabama's permissive gun laws, not one of his victims was able to put up any resistance.

After the Gabby Giffords shootings, I suggested to some gun nuts at the Volokh Conspiracy blog  that a ban on sale of ammo clips that let you shoot twenty people without reloading would easily pass Supreme Court scrutiny. Predictably, they were outraged. What if, one of them asked, he had to protect his family against a home invasion by several armed people? You or I might think that a Glock with a standard 15-round magazine would offer adequate protection for the run-of-the-mill home invasion, but hey, you never know.

And once you start down the road of being Constitutionally entitled to protection from every conceivable threat, there's no logical stopping place. What if you're being attacked by criminals in an armored car? You clearly need an RPG for self-defense. What about strafing from a Beechcraft? The Colt shoulder-launched missile, the SAM that won the West (I'm making that up). I will survive!

To some extent, of course, this whole fantasy is just the public rationalization  of the real fantasy, which is single-handedly defending yourself against the entire U.S. government. But have you ever noticed, when you read about some man-made or natural tragedy, a tendency to find reasons why it would never have happened to you? I think guns serve that role for gun owners. I would never have been killed if I'd  been at Virginia Tech, because I would've been armed.

The gun-owners' fantasy looks like another facet of the American belief in the possibility of complete security, the same belief that leads us to buy cars that can survive collisions rather than cars that can avoid collisions, and to ban shampoo from airplanes. Maybe Americans need just a dash of fatalism.

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