Guns more likely to cause tragedies than to avert them
Obama’s measures will not solve gun violence in the US but should reduce it
When I travel abroad and talk to foreigners about the US passion for guns, people sometimes express a conclusion that horrifies me: in America life is cheap.
President Barack Obama announced a terrific series of gun-control measures to show that we do, indeed, hold life dear. But the fate of these proposals ultimately will depend on centrist Americans who are torn.
They’re troubled by the toll of guns but also think that it’s reassuring to have a Glock when you hear a floorboard creak downstairs.
So, to those wavering, let me tell you the story of a goose.
I grew up on a farm in Yamhill, Oregon, a rural town where nearly every home had guns. My dad gave me a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday, and I then took a National Rifle Association safety course.
I understand the heartland’s affection for guns, and I share that sense of familiarity. A farm needs a gun or two to deal with coyotes with a fondness for lamb, and, frankly, it’s also fun to shoot.
But all those guns didn’t make us safer. Take the time we gave a goose to a neighbour.That goose would wander off to a different neighbour’s property and jump into the watering trough for his sheep. The sheep owner was furious that the water would be fouled, and one time he was so fed up he threatened to shoot the goose.
He was probably just making a point, but, since he had a gun handy, he pulled it out and aimed it in the direction of the goose. Seeing this, the goose owner (who had come to fetch his bird) saw the need to protect his property and pulled out his own gun. They faced off – over a goose!
Our neighbours were both good, admirable, law-abiding people, but their guns had led to a dangerous confrontation.
The NRA might say that guns don’t kill people, geese kill people, but in the absence of firearms they wouldn’t have menaced each other with axes or hammers.
The sheep owner’s wife eventually persuaded the men to stand down. Good sense prevailed, the goose survived, and so did the neighbours.
But I think of that episode because it underscores the role that guns too often play in our society: an instrument not of protection but of escalation.
Lovers throw plates at each other and then one indignantly reaches for a gun – maybe just to scare the other. And then, too often, something goes wrong.