The sum of our fears
“God made men but Sam Colt made them equal.”
The apocryphal quote at right is thought to have originated in a late 19th century advertisement for Colt revolvers. I can’t verify the attribution but I can tell you the saying is popular at shooting ranges, gun shops and other locales that attract firearm enthusiasts.
The expressed sentiment rather succinctly summarizes, I think, the enduring national fascination with guns. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’re as American as apple pie. The gun, you see, respects neither noble birth nor exalted achievement. It is the great equalizer that levels the playing field, allowing an octogenarian grandmother to defend herself against a young brute or a non-descript loser to bring down the leader of the Free World.
The gun bequeaths its holder with a sense of empowerment. He wields deadly force and thus feels capable of taking care of business when hazard looms. The appeal of this comforting — if often delusional — notion helps to explain a phenomenon that I have described in previous writings as the “gun paradox”: an outbreak of gun violence tends to increase the demand for even more guns.
Indeed, in the wake of the Aurora theater massacre, firearm sales rose 41 percent in the immediate vicinity of the carnage. This up-tick in the market was fueled by the sum of two fears — anxiety spawned by the prospect of armed strangers roaming the streets with evil intent and the kindred fear that the government would restrict gun purchases in response to the tragedy, thereby leaving unarmed innocents impotent and vulnerable before these monsters.
Neither of these fears is unreasonable. Guns are very effective mechanisms for self-defense and the urge to arm oneself in the face of perceived danger is understandable.
Nor is it clear that a gun-free society would necessarily be a tranquil paradise. Should the strong be allowed to prey on the frail, or the young to terrorize the elderly? The world has always been a dangerous place with or without ballistics. After all, Cain slew Abel long before Sam Colt came on the scene.
But gun advocates often overstate their case. As soon as the smoke clears after a mass shooting, NRA types are on the airwaves contending that if the victims had been armed, the killer would not have been able to inflict so much harm. Well, maybe…
People who carry guns soon learn that any psychological comfort they may realize from having a weapon handy is offset by the physical discomfort of lugging the damned thing around. Guns are heavy and hard. The more accurate and powerful the firearm, the bigger and heavier it tends to be.
These implements don’t lend themselves to convenient concealment in civilian attire. They tug on waistbands and dig into flesh when the wearer attempts to perform complicated maneuvers like sitting down. This is especially true in warm weather when lighter clothing is in fashion.
And even if you live in a high-crime neighborhood, your gun sits unused in its holster 99 percent of the time. The old adage about children is equally true of firearms — they are a constant burden and an uncertain comfort.
As a result, most people compromise firepower and effective range in exchange for ease of carry. Lighter, smaller handguns may repel the typical mugger but they fall short of the armaments the Colorado psycho was packing.
Had I been armed in the theater that fateful night, I probably would have had my Beretta Nano in my waistband. It holds seven rounds of 9mm ammunition. My adversary is armed with a high-powered rifle with a 100-round magazine, a 12-gauge shotgun and two .40 caliber pistols. I’m outgunned by any one of these weapons.
To make matters worse, the assailant is up-armored with a bulletproof vest and SWAT helmet while I’m wearing a Batman T-shirt and Bermuda shorts. This doesn’t figure to be a fair fight.
Admittedly, if everybody in the audience were armed, somebody might have taken the killer out. But the prospect of watching a movie with hundreds of gun-toting Batman fans raises a plethora of other problems.
The simple truth is that having a gun doesn’t make you invincible. Every time you hear of a soldier or police officer who made the ultimate sacrifice, you witness the death of a well-trained and well-armed marksman who was nonetheless mortally vulnerable.
Mitt Romney recently managed to piss off most of the British Empire by questioning the security preparations for the London Olympics. In truth, the Brits spent millions trying to keep the venue safe. Yet, they still allowed certain athletes to compete with rifles and shotguns within the security perimeter. These shooters posed no public hazard because they were responsible adults and adequate precautions were in place.
As I conclude this series about a gun massacre, breaking newscasts advise of a Sunday morning shootout at a suburban Milwaukee temple. By the time this column is published, full details should be known but at this writing, it looks like seven dead — including the gunman — and three wounded, including one police officer.
Sam Colt may have made men equal, but he sure as hell didn’t make them all equally qualified to carry a gun.