The Virtue of Guns

March 22, 2018
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Owning a Gun is Immoral...

...is a divisive statement I made on facebook a few days ago. To say I was “ambushed” would be melodramatic. I was however, informed that I was shutting down progressive conversation and told that such an inflexible stance, without a willingness to unpack, was the reason we as a nation would never find compromise when it comes to the gun debate. I was scolded for my statement. Implored to admit that guns will always be a part of America's culture; if I was just willing to examine and explain why I think guns are immoral, perhaps I can add to a conversation that will build a more respectful culture around guns, in order to create a safer country.

“I could walk you through the morality of owning a gun. The proper morality, not what we see in today's gun culture, because that's all straight up trash.” another (gun-owning) friend of mine chimed-in, with a voice that I read (perhaps projected) as particularly man-splany.

My first friend continued: “Just saying owning a gun is immoral and not saying anything more is I suppose a fine thing to believe if that’s what you believe. I guess I was commenting with the aim of addressing the complexity of gun culture in America and our expectations of change in that gun culture.” (It's so eloquently dismissive I almost envy the smarm.)

 

Well you can imagine (or probably empathize, since you presumably survived 2017) my FaceRage -you know, that feeling of sever rage which accompanies reading a facebook post that makes your face tense, your eyes wide, your brows wrinkle, yet your sharp inhalation remains eerily steady? I was in a FaceRage. I called gun ownership immoral, and was immediately told that I was the problem with the gun debate. Where was my willingness to find compromise? I was being a bad liberal, speaking yet refusing to talk. And so I did not respond to the facebook comments, and instead grumbled (read:ranted) to my roommate for a good few minutes (read:days).

 

While grumble/ranting about how patronized I felt by the comments, how uninformed my friends seemed, and how the content of my post (Michael Ian Black's op-ed in the New York Times) was not even addressed by the commentators, I found myself feeling a bit guilty. Here I was, lambasting gun owners yet unwilling to present my own thoughts and research on gun ownership. In the back of my head I knew tons and tons of statistics that backed up my opinion -male allies should not own guns- but when it came time to quote those statistics specifically...I drew a blank. So I began researching, and the fruits of that labor are presented below, in an essay that is way too large to post as a facebook comment. (Though believe me, the self-righteous snark in me did fantasize about a particularly smarmy “reply all.”)

 

And for the sake of my friends/commentators who inspired me to write this essay I will even amend my original statement. Owning a gun in America today is a dangerous act of complacency within America's Patriarchy. ...which I personally believe to be immoral. (Self-righteous smarm having been achieved, you can find me looking at videos of bunnies until the FaceRage calms.)

 

Most gun owners in America are either direct or indirect supporters of the National Rifle Association of America (NRA). To purchase a firearm or firearm accessory in America, one would be hard-pressed not to see a portion of their purchase donated to the NRA and/or more specifically, the NRA-ILA (Institute for Legislative Action) which is the organization's lobbying branch. Only about half of the NRA's income comes from membership fees. Between 2005 and 2012 an estimated $38.9 million dollars in contributions can be sourced specifically to gun manufacturers. These funds come from two primary sources: direct donations from firearm sales promised by the manufacturer (such as the “Million Gun Challange" organized by the Sturm, Ruger & Company, which raised $1.25 million for the NRA between May 2011-May 2012), and direct donations from firearm customers. Many retail stores solicit a “round-up” donation to the NRA during purchasing transactions. The NRA has even gone on record to specifically thank firearms manufacturer Bushmaster Firearms Inc. (the maker of the gun used in the Newtown, Connecticut Shooting) for their financial support. Indeed, most of the top-selling gun manufacturers in America financially support the NRA.

 

The overwhelming financial support the NRA receives from gun manufacturers has spurred accusations that the organization is lobbying for the financial interests of manufacturers, instead of focusing on the protection of the second amendment as stated in the NRA Foundation's mission. These accusations make sense, as the NRA is certainly a political organization with a vested interest in protecting gun sales. And yet, at the time of writing, the opening quote found at nra.org has nothing to do with guns, gun ownership, or gun legislation. Visitors to the site are instead immediately confronted with an attack on Democratic leaders, accusing them of being secret Socialists, delivered by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

From the site: “President Trump's election, while crucial, can't turn away the wave of these new European style socialists bearing down upon us … How about Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bill DeBlasio, Andrew Cuomo,….they hide behind labels like 'Democrat,' 'left-wing,' and 'progressive' to make their socialist agenda more palatable, and that's terrifying.”

Why would an organization dedicated to protecting the second amendment have such a vested political interest in taking down Democratic leaders? It is financially prudent for the NRA to align itself with conservative politics and politicians. The NRA is reported to have contributed $31 million dollars to supporting Donald Trump and opposing Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential election. In fact, contributions to the GOP from the NRA and it's affiliated Political Action Committees (PACs) is 51 times larger than contributions from individuals.

 

As political spending goes, there are clear ties to the money the NRA spends to block gun restriction legislation, and the profit the organization shares with gun manufacturers. Profit which stems from gun purchases. In addition to the profit to be had in blocking gun restriction, there is even more so in promoting the bulk purchasing of weapons. Perhaps this is why the NRA has been lobbying for all public schools to hire armed guards since 2013. It is fiscally lucrative for the NRA to block all legislation that would restrict gun control. It is reported that gun sales spike after gun-related terrorist attacks, when stricter gun legislation (usually lead by Democrats) is seemingly imminent as a result. By purchasing a weapon from any major weapons manufacturer you are not only supporting the NRA, but you are indirectly (or directly, should you opt-in to round up your dollar) supporting a block on gun restriction.

 

However, the ties linking gun owners to the National Rifle Association only pricks the surface of the irresponsibility of owning a gun. Guns are not safe, and the NRA actively promotes a loose and cavalier relationship with the weapons. And yet, the NRA does seemingly care about gun safety. A portion of the organization's resources are dedicated to firearms training. The organization's website boasts “With roughly 1 million people attending NRA training courses annually, the NRA is recognized nationally as the Gold Standard for firearm safety training.” While it is unclear if the “gold” in said “standard” comes from the quality of the training or of the attendance, the latter is laughably low. There are an estimated 55 million gun owners in America, and as of 2017 NRA membership is estimated at 14 million persons.

 

While at the time of writing, no clear numbers were available on the ratio of gun owners to attendees of proper firearms training outside of NRA membership, the statistics on gun safety speak for themselves. In 2017, Science Magazine reported a spike in accidental gun deaths following the 2012 spike in gun sales after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. And while lack of proper training is responsible for this spike, dedicating resources to training every American gun owner would only put a band aid on the huge epidemic of gun violence plaguing our country. Accidental gun deaths do not comprise the majority of gun-related fatalities. In fact, accidental deaths make up less than one-fifth of fatalities by firearms. The C.D.C reports that more than 30,000 people a year die due to gun-related injuries, with 60% of those being suicides. And did you know that more than half of the nation's suicides are the result of gun fatalities, 36% of gun fatalities are homicides, and the rest belong in the categories of accidents/miscellaneous. (However, this CBS News report from October 2016 suggests those statistics may be severely under estimated.)

 

Those numbers are particularly interesting when you juxtapose why people are dying to the reasons Americans are buying guns in the first place. To answer that, we must also examine which Americans own the estimated 300 million guns in circulation today. Overall? White, conservative, men living in rural areas of America. While that number doesn't account for the 600,000 guns a year that are stolen, that still leaves 299 million guns a year in lawful owner's hands. Why are these white men buying guns? Well, the fact that suicide affects white middle aged men the most not withstanding, reports say gun owners are buying guns to make themselves feel safe. But safe from what, or whom? Certainly not other gun owners, because statistics show that gun-related homicides disproportionately affect a population of the country that only makes up about 14% of gun owners: African Americans. In a report published by the BMJ Journal, it is presented that African Americans are dying at rates as high as 19 persons per 100,000 from homicidal gun fatalities, compared to 9 per 100,000 in their white counterparts (who are more likely to commit suicide with a gun). Black people die at the hands of other gun owners, and white people die by their own hand. And very, very few people who are killed by a firearm die justifiably.

 

And that safety that white men crave when purchasing a gun? It is a fallacy. It is a fact that a legally obtained firearm is more likely to be stolen or used in an unjustifiable homicide than it is to be used in self-defense. And yet, owning a gun is legal (mostly.) Due in no small part to the efforts of the NRA and it's affiliated PACs. But the profit that is to be gained comes at the expense of tragedy. Tragedy which in turn begets more gun purchases, which begets more tragedy. And that cycle of destruction is perpetuated by toxic masculinity and fear, which is killing our men. This is the conclusion I came to upon reading that the op-ed mentioned earlier.

 

And yet, I don't think the motivations of gun owners and non-gun owners differ, really. We all want to be safe, law-abiding citizens. So, while I am not calling the average American gun-owner immoral, I am attempting to make a case that the purchase of a firearm is neither fiscally responsible nor apt to increase the safety of anyone. And in fact, it is at its least, a passive act of complacency with a violent institution and at its worst a destructive, deadly decision. Statistically speaking owning a gun is not safe. Which means the reasons for having one are personal, and affecting white men on an emotional level they have not been given to tools to unpack. Owning a gun is a security blanket, and one that makes the owner feel more safe at the expense of making me feel less safe -and I'm a female, a demographic also affected by homicidal gun violence at higher rates than men.

 

The numbers are stark and tell a very clear story. So: if guns are not responsible for keeping Americans safe, if guns are a tool wielded against African Americans in the deadly racial divide from which this country suffers, if only 3% of Americans hold the nation's entire stock of legal firearms, if gun purchases directly and indirectly support the National Rifle Association, which profits from mass shootings and actively blocks attempts to keep firearms from irresponsible hands, if guns are killing Americans and saving no one...I ask my friends this: what virtue could possibly justify gun ownership in America today?