A few words from a gun owner

NOTE: This story has been updated with new statistics.

I’m a gun owner. I like shooting targets, and I like knowing I can protect my home in the event of, say, a zombie apocalypse.

It’s also a social thing. I go shooting with my brother. I talk guns with my dad. I have other buddies who collect guns and who go shooting in the desert. More than anything, gun ownership is a hobby, and it’s an enjoyable one for me and millions of other law-abiding Americans.

You can probably see where I am going with this.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours reading Tweets and Facebook updates that call for increased restrictions on gun owners or the outright abolishing of the Second Amendment. The underlying assumption is that somehow a tragedy such as what happened in the Aurora movie theater can somehow be prevented through legislation.

The end, reduced violence, is noble.

The means, unfortunately, are misguided.

Let’s set aside for now the horror of living in a country where only the police, military and criminals have guns.

Making it more difficult or even impossible for law-abiding individuals to own a gun will not prevent the next James Holmes from killing people. Murderers ignore the law. It’s what makes them murderers. Case in point: Washington, DC. The district makes it virtually impossible to legally own or transport a firearm within city limits, yet gun crime is rampant. Gun laws don’t stop bad guys from committing crimes.

I’d like to point out a few more facts most people are not aware of:

If you don’t own a gun, you might find the following informative.

I purchased my gun in California, a state that has many laws concerning gun ownership.

All firearms purchases and transfers, including private party transactions and sales at gun shows, must be made through a licensed dealer under the Dealer Record of Sale (DROS) process.

California imposes a 10-day waiting period, during which a background check is performed, before a firearm can be released to a buyer or transferee.

A person must be at least 18 years of age to purchase a rifle or shotgun.

To buy a handgun, a person must be at least 21 years of age, and either 1) possess a Handgun Safety Certificate plus successfully complete a safety demonstration with the handgun being purchased or 2) qualify for an HSC exemption.

As part of the DROS process, the buyer must present “clear evidence of identity and age,” which is defined as a valid, non-expired California Driver’s License or Identification Card issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles. A military identification accompanied by permanent duty station orders indicating a posting in California is also acceptable.

If the buyer is not a U.S. Citizen, then he or she is required to demonstrate that he or she is legally within the United States by providing to the firearms dealer with documentation that contains his/her Alien Registration Number or I-94 Number.

Purchasers of handguns are also required to provide proof of California residency, such as a utility bill, residential lease, property deed, or government-issued identification other than a driver’s license or other DMV-issued identification.

To recap, I can only buy a handgun through a licensed seller, I must give the state my personal information to keep on file, I must prove that I am a state citizen, I must be 21, I must pay a series of fees to the state, I must wait 10 days, I must consent to a background check and I must pass both a written test and physical safety test with the gun being purchased. Also, I can only buy one handgun every 30 days and I cannot carry a concealed firearm.

With all these rules and regulations in place, California ranks 13th-highest in the country for firearm murders. The national average is 2.84 per 100,000 people. In California it’s 3.37. (In California you are three times more likely to die in a car accident as you are by being shot by a firearm. Shall we ban cars next?)

There is a very human tendency to take any tragedy and try to make it fit within some type of pattern. It’s comforting: If something fits within a pattern, the pattern can be broken, and we can prevent that bad thing from ever happening again. Guns can be purchased, and they can be used to murder people. That’s a pattern. We can break the pattern if we can stop people from buying guns. Right?

No. Some acts are so random, so evil, so far beyond the norm, they defy pattern. They are black swans, and they are sad, tragic and horrible and overreaction to them leads to farce. (Example: 9/11 and the TSA.) That’s not to say tragedies can’t be prevented. I believe our nation’s police, soldiers, intelligence services, firemen, teachers, counselors, doctors and citizens do prevent much tragedy every day, but it’s beyond the scope of human capability to prevent all tragedy.

When I hear someone say we need to do away with the Second Amendment, as one woman on Facebook said yesterday, I can’t help but think: That solves nothing, and it punishes the wrong people.

My prayers go out to the families of those who were shot and killed as well as to the survivors in that Aurora movie theater. You have my most heartfelt condolences.

UPDATE: I was accused, on Facebook, of making a specious argument, because “serious” people don’t want to ban guns, I was told, they just want to ban assault rifles and the like. In addition to the multiple friends of mine on Facebook who called for the banning of guns, here is intellectual Noam Scheiber, in The New Republic, calling for the banning of all guns.

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Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles
  • Also a gun owner, but I differ with a couple of your points. A reasonable society can allow gun ownership, and still place restrictions on what types of weapons it deems appropriate outside of the militia: cop killer bullets and assault rifles with magazines capable of firing 100 bullets in under two minutes, for example.  Nobody protecting his home, hunting, or sport shooting requires either of those – ever. For anything. All laws are not intended to deter crime. Pedophilia comes to mind – so the argument that “it’s still going to happen,” is irrelevant. Some laws define the quality of society we aspire to, realistic or not, and also allow us to punish someone caught in the act or on the way to the act. The US has 15X’s the gun homicide rate of other industrialized nations. Australia is a good case in point of a country that witnessed the atrocity of a mass shooting in the 90’s and took action. Sure, someone can find another means – to either get a gun or to kill, but barrier to entry is a just that – not really a barrier, just an obstacle to circumnavigate. If it slows one or two criminals or suicides down, is it worth it? I say it is. I think the NRA (and we are lifetime members) has controlled this narrative for far too long. It’s not an either/or for gun owners. Let’s work to find that middle ground. 
    Nice piece – I enjoyed it. 

  • Thank you for the thoughtful reply, Goldie. I disagree with some of your points, and would enjoy arguing about them over a beer sometime, but I understand where you’re coming from and am always heartened when I meet other gun owners (or, not in your case, but other people who don’t own or like guns) who are willing to consider more than one point of view.

  • Onerapunzel

    I wish there was some way to encourage, enforce or something, proper storage.   It seems unintended injury by gun happens frequently enough by others in the family who do not have the permit.

    Also, more evaluation should be done via psychiatric evaluation… ie people prone to anger.  Concealed carry allows for that guy who road raged behind me the other week and followed me to have a gun to take that irrational anger one step further.

  • In California you have to lock your gun away if you have a child in your home. Even if it happens once, it happens far too often.

  • Crime rates don’t increase under conceal and carry. Some research shows they decrease. Also, consider the motivation of someone who conceals and carries, which requires paperwork, permits, going to the sheriff’s dept, etc.. (I know guys who do this.) They’re not packing heat in hopes that they get cut off in traffic so they can follow you home. They’re motivation is not crime.

  • HogsAteMySister

    Thanks for your well-reasoned column.  Having lived in New Zealand for 20 years, I maybe have different eyes about this issue and tragedy.   If I moved back to the States, would I again own and carry guns?  Yes, I sure would.  Will I ever forgive the NRA for preventing semi-automatic rifles  that are made to kill people, lots of people, and “cop killer bullets” (they went through a police officer’s bullet “proof” vest” like butter?  No, no I won’t.  The polemics in this debate ensure nothing will ever be done to reduce the chances that another Batman Slaughter will happen, which is what the NRA wants.  And so the U.S. has become the land of stalemate and decline, or at least that’s how much of the world now sees America.  It seems that Americans are so divided on so many key issues, and they have to little respect for people with other opinions, that they will never right the ship again.  And, as an Okie Down Under, that makes me so very, very sad.  Lord have mercy on the victims of this latest murderous rampage. 

  •  Nice piece, Joe. I am not a gun owner, but grew up in Michigan hunting, learning to shoot in Boy Scouts and was always around guns. I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. But I agree regarding the NRA controlling the narrative of guns in this country. The concept that any type of control on guns is a restriction of the 2nd amendment is silly. Let’s take an automobile as an example. Like guns, cars are a useful tool that can also kill. At 16, you take driver training to learn responsible driving skills. If you drive drunk, you get your license revoked. Infractions lead to restrictions. And you cannot drive your car everywhere.

    When the 2nd amendment was passed, there was no such thing as a handgun or assault weapon, so we have had to pass laws to deal with these innovations in gun technology. Any piece of dangerous equipment or chemical has to have sensible restrictions in place to prevent abuse. As human beings, we always find ways around restrictions, but that in no way means we should not have them. Sure its a pain in the butt to deal with waiting periods, background checks and so on, but it just makes sense.

    I also do not understand why assault weapons with large magazine capability are so needed. How much more fun is it to shoot a weapon like this than other weapons? Is that fun worth the possibility that someone could use that weapon to mow down a large number of people? What reason is there for such a weapon to be legal? Restrictions on this type of weapon would not prevent somebody from committing a criminal act, but instead of killing 20 people in a minute, without worrying about reloading, a psycho would kill 1 or 2, then reload. Still a tragedy, but  a better shot of survival for anyone in the line of fire.

  • Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response, AJ. I wonder, if we still had a citizen militia instead of a professional army, if we would see this issue in a different light. I bet this debate would be completely different.

  • Always appreciate the comments, Hogs. You wrote: “The polemics in this debate ensure nothing will ever be done to reduce the chances that another Batman Slaughter will happen, which is what the NRA wants.” The NRA is many things — a special interest group and narrow in its views, most notably–but I can assure you the last thing any of its members or leadership wants is another tragedy. It doesn’t serve the NRA’s cause at all when people are killed by the guns it says are for hunting. 

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