I had a conversation with a colleague the other day and he gave me the old “Guns don’t kill people, people with guns kill people. I could set a gun on my desk right there and it wouldn’t kill a single person.”
Maybe, but I am certain I could never ignore a benign gun on a desk like I could ignore the tape dispenser or the sticky note pad or even the dagger-shaped letter opener. If I spot a gun on his desk, you can bet that I am going to approach him from a different perspective. I’m not going to be able to respect him based upon his intelligence, his level of articulation, or his knowledge; all of that would be eclipsed by the respect I had for the gun. Maybe he and I are cool and wouldn’t get to a point where we would reach for the weapon. But what if a third party came into the setting? What if derelict student came in, was having a bad day, and went for the gun?
What if none of those things happened and our interaction was uneventful? There remains a difficulty: My experience with him would be eternally tied to that singular impression, and it’d be difficult for him to earn my respect based solely on his character.
Representative Ralph Norman made this hypothetical scene a reality the other day when he placed his .38 on a diner table during a meeting with his constituents. ” ‘I merely proved a point that guns themselves are not the issue,’…Norman said that having a loaded gun in the room should, if anything, have made people feel more safe.” The point he actually proved was that energy of human interaction changes the second a gun is introduced. Instead of meaningful debate and a news story about discussion points, the emphasis was wholly on the presence of a gun. Everytown, an advocacy group seeking to end gun-violence in the US, was represented by Lori Freemon: “I had looked forward to a respectful dialogue with my representative about common-sense gun violence prevention policies. Instead, I felt unsafe when he insisted on showing us his loaded gun and keeping it out on the table for much of our conversation.” The presence of a gun inherently invites the potential for harm and we will intuitively react by shutting out every other detail. There was no way this group of people could have a diplomatic discussion about the issue.
Consider another angle. Let’s compare two people arrested on attempted robbery charges. All things being equal, if one of those is found to have a gun in their possession during the attempt, whether it was revealed or not, the consequences will be much worse than the one who merely had a knife or axe or baseball bat. If it were just that “guns don’t kill people” then it seems logical that both imagined perpetrators would be treated the same in a court. That isn’t the way it works. Because the presence of a gun exponentially increases the possibility and probability that someone will be harmed, even our courts treat the presence of a gun with stricter sentencing.
I’m done hearing the argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” When just the mere presence of a handgun changes the way people interact with one another, it’s time to start heeding the valid notion that guns do kill, even if it is the respect I could have garnered for you otherwise.