riddle me this

This morning I was encouraged to read this, “The Riddle of the Gun” by Sam Harris, perhaps because some of my latest facebook posts on (1) gun control efforts, (2) my disgust with the NRA and Louie Gohmert, and (3) keeping firearms away from children, have portrayed me as, at best, a bit skittish and irritated.

The blog post is worth your time–it’s interesting and informative, and presents a much needed reminder of the utility of risk analysis when it comes to policymaking. It is, however, mildly off-putting that Harris tends to lump “liberals” in favor of gun control into a sort of foolish mass of fearful folk.

I’m no fool. And I don’t fear guns.

Granted, I do not understand the need to own a firearm that is capable of firing 11 or so bullets into each of 20 children inside of five minutes. I do not understand it. There is a difference, a core difference that I can’t readily identify, between me and anybody who loves and needs a gun with that kind of power, who insists on the right to own a gun with that kind of power. The only thing I can guess is that such a person fears more than I could ever fear.

But, as Harris points out, handguns are responsible for most gun violence in America. And I still don’t want to take anybody’s handgun away. As I said, I’m not scared of guns.

I don’t believe gun owners or gun enthusiasts are monsters, or even bad guys. But they could end up looking like they are, because bad things happen to good guys all the damned time. And when there are children around, the risks of bad things happening to good guys increase.

Children, like the six-year-old boy I babysat as a teenager, who, while his little sister was napping, took me into his parents’ room, opened the nightstand drawer, pulled out a big wooden box, opened it, and showed me the handgun inside of it. He whispered, as he touched its barrel, even though nobody else was there but me, “This is my Dad’s. I’m not supposed to to touch it.” (I responded, “Let’s do what your Dad says.” And we put the gun away.)

Children, who grow to the age of majority while still living with their mother, a mother who legally owns very powerful weapons, a mother who tried, in vain, to manage her son’s deteriorating mental health, a mother, who ended up dying by her son’s hand before he went on to kill 26 others. With her weapons.

My husband and I were talking recently about whether it would it be helpful to know, as Holly Korbey suggests, whether a parent of your child’s friend has guns in the home before your child visits. My husband rightly noted that we already keep our children home and invite other children here, just to minimize risk of all kinds, notwithstanding gun ownership. True enough.

After all, I know our house is as safe as we can make it. It’s immaculate, with cleaning products stored up high, away from children’s reach. Our electrical outlets are covered. We have a pool safety fence at the ready, and locks on our screen enclosure and backyard fence’s gates. There are open areas in which children can chase and play, we have sturdy (but still stylish!) furniture. Our shed, containing landscaping equipment and fuel, is secured. There are no guns in our home. (And our knives, Mr. Harris? They are in a butcher block on a kitchen counter, beyond the reach of our older and taller child.)

I know we live as safely as we can. We have immaculate driving records, our cars are in good condition–inspected every year even though our state does not require it. We wear seat belts, our children use car booster seats. We see our doctors regularly, we vaccinate ourselves and our children. We get our vision checked. We don’t smoke. We eat healthfully. If we offer food to a child, we check with their parents first, to confirm the children are allergy-free.

We do the best we can to ensure the safety of those who cannot ensure their own: our children and their friends. I want every parent to do their best. In fact, I’d love every parent–gun owner or not–to be just like me. But they’re not. So our kids invite kids here.

I do have this fantasy, though. It reflects a desire for increased effort, increased information and transparency on the part of parents who are gun owners. That desire stems only from the fact that a gun can kill quickly and accidentally, or quickly and on purpose, and the fact that owning a gun legally requires skill and training and a license. Maintaining a safe home does not (though I would be the first in line to prove how awesome I am at home safety… I’d like to think responsible gun owning parents would be the first in line to prove how awesome they are at gun safety.)

So my fantasy is inspired by this, and perhaps honors Sam Harris’ call for everybody to take some responsibility for preventing violence, accidental or otherwise. He might disagree. It goes something like this (and no, I haven’t thought this through completely. Did I mention this is a fantasy?):

  • Parents who are gun owners, and their children, and anybody living in the home with guns, schedule and attend mental health well-visits, annually, as part of their annual well-visits to pediatricians or primary care physicians. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.
  • Parents who are gun owners invite, happily and proudly, firearm safety authorities into their homes annually, to review how guns and ammunition are stored and secured. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.
  • Parents who are gun owners complete extra safety training sessions annually or semi-annually–whatever is deemed necessary by training authorities–with their children, as soon as their children can walk and pick up an object at the same time. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.
  • Parents who are gun owners let their children’s schools know that there are guns in their home. If they choose not to, they pay a tax.

Perhaps the taxes collected by some parents who are gun owners would fund the mental health well visits, home inspections and extra training for those parents who choose to play along in my fantasy. Or perhaps, if gun owners were all as lovely, responsible and healthy as Sam Harris, no taxes would end up being collected. (That would be one deficit I’d be happy to pay for with my taxes.) Of course, since this is a fantasy, maybe the gun manufacturers would pay for all these efforts and no individual would be taxed. They want their customers safe, right?

Well. Fantasies are often silly. And far from perfect.

Just as no policy is perfect, and no conversation about policy is perfect. Conversations about policy are filled with poor information, volatile exchanges of opposing views, loud screeching from special interests, painful silence from apathetic bystanders, reasonable concerns about money, the law, fairness, ethics… Conversations are messy. But they reflect curiosity. And effort.

I always appreciate them… as long as nobody assumes the other is a fool.

What do you think?

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