Anybody interested in the problem of gun violence and America’s unique relationship to firearms (should be all of us), should take the time to listen to this podcast by Sam Harris. It’s probably the most sane and level-headed analysis I’ve heard on the subject in a media landscape dominated by hyperbolic zealots on either side of the spectrum. It’s one-and-a-half hours well spent.
Let me share, briefly, my own feelings on the subject. To set things straight from the get-go, let’s agree to the following: It is indisputable that America has more guns per capita than any other western civilized country we care to compare ourselves to. It’s also indisputable that we have more gun deaths (total and per capita) than any other advanced nation. It is much easier to get hold of a gun in America than in any other modern, first-world nation. The correlation between the number of guns in our society and the high occurrence of gun violence can hardly be denied. If we cannot agree on these things, don’t bother reading further; you are not a reasonable-minded person.
Still, a few years ago, for whatever reason, I got it into my head that I wanted to own a pistol. The local gun shop in the neighboring town of Monroe informed me that the state of Connecticut requires one to have a gun permit in order to buy a handgun. They kindly offered to provide the training necessary to get the certification. After a six-hour course, including firing a total of twelve shots (the only shots I had ever fired in my life at that point) with a .22-caliber revolver at a shooting range, and passing a 30-question written “test” (open-book, discussion with the other people taking the class allowed, and self-grading of said test), I was given a diploma certifying that I had fulfilled the state-mandated requirements. At the local police station I submitted my application and finger prints for a criminal background check and after about six weeks received notification that I could pick up my pistol permit at the state police facility in Bridgeport. I now had the state’s blessing to own and carry a gun in public.
That very same day I headed off to a gun shop and, on the advice of the store clerk, bought a 9mm Springfield XDM semi-automatic pistol with a total capacity of 19+1 rounds (legislation passed after the Sandy Hook massacre now prohibits me from loading it with more than ten rounds when not on my property, which is rather good news for the 11th person I plan on killing).
Next stop was the shooting range where I had previously “qualified” by shooting a revolver twelve times. The inadequacy of this qualification soon became apparent when I discovered that I didn’t know how to load the magazine of my newly acquired pistol; small wonder as this was the first time I’d ever held a semi-automatic pistol in my hands. Let me repeat this since it’s not insignificant: I was licensed by the state to own and carry any kind of legal firearm, yet I had never operated, and did not know how to load my pistol.
No matter how hard I tried I could only stuff a couple rounds into the magazine before it jammed. I finally sought the help of the range officer on duty, and after he also failed to load up the magazine, he finally discovered the problem: the store clerk had sold me two boxes of .40 caliber ammunition to go with my 9mm pistol.
What I’m trying to say here is that even in Connecticut (and even after Sandy Hook), the requirements to own and carry a pistol, are woefully inadequate. It is absolutely crazy to allow somebody with the training I received to own, buy and carry, openly or concealed (which is the law in CT) any kind of firearm.
I agree with most, if not all, of what Sam Harris said in his podcast, and have become more convinced than ever that what I said in a previous post is true: we need to repeal the second amendment of the US constitution. Or rather, repeal and replace, since I don’t want to ban guns. But the way 2A is worded makes it very difficult to come to any kind of consensus as to what it actually means in practical terms. The gun nuts (the Ted Nugent fan boys) will always point to “the right of the people” and “shall not be infringed”, while the gun grabbers (Bloomberg et al.) will emphasize “a well regulated militia”, and they will both be right. My own vision for a revised 2A might include words to the effect that gun-ownership is indeed an individual right, but not any gun for anybody at any place, and the power to regulate requirements and limitations is given to congress. I believe Sam’s analogy to the requirements to get a pilot’s license is appropriate and sound. I say this knowing full well that any member of Congress who proposes a repeal of the second amendment will have committed political suicide more effectively than declaring an unbelief in Jesus.
Update October 3rd, 2019: Since posting this my opinion on the matter has evolved. I now consider the 2nd amendment to the US constitution to be my permit to own and carry a gun. I still recommend taking classes and learning as much as you can about gun safety and general usage, as well as the laws related to guns where you live. Practice handling and shooting your gun regularly. Don’t be that guy that shot himself in the foot on YouTube.