The weekend’s headlines confirmed my growing sense that the American fascination with guns has reached a crucial inflection point. We are, to put it politely, making ourselves look ridiculous, and sometimes much worse.
Item No. 1: Litigation and other discord have erupted in a peaceful, prosperous suburb of Denver called Castle Rock in the wake of a vote to repeal the town’s ban on carrying firearms openly to the shopping mall or park. Four lawsuits have been filed and local tranquility has been disturbed as new arrivals from other parts of the country express dismay at longtime Coloradans’ affection for firearms.
Item No. 2: From Utah, the Associated Press reports that “a risqué video shot for a pinup calendar featuring bikini-clad women firing high-powered weapons while riding in tanks has raised the ire of two enforcement agencies, which said some of their officers were in the film.”
Item No. 3: In Florida, Michael Dunn, the motorist convicted of shooting and killing an unarmed teenager in the so-called “loud music” case, was sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder. Dunn had testified that he pulled a handgun and fired 10 rounds, including the three that ended the life of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, because the victim was pointing a shotgun at him. No other witnesses saw a shotgun, however, and the police never found one.
I don’t raise these seemingly disparate events to wave the banner of banning firearms, or even to argue about how they ought to be regulated. Readers of my past writing on the topic, including my 2012 book, GLOCK: The Rise of America’s Gun, know that I consider it fruitless at this late date to debate the legitimacy of the Second Amendment and unseemly to condescend to the tens of millions of law-abiding Americans who see firearms as necessary for self-defense or representative of their fundamental liberty. We have a subculture of gun ownership in America, and it’s a big country. I say live and let live.
However. As firearms have transcended their role as weapons in a literal sense to take their place as leading instruments of cultural warfare, we’ve reached the point of self-parody in our neurotic focus on them. To illustrate, allow me to return to the weekend’s three news items:
In Castle Rock, Colo., the citizenry is driving itself to distraction over a now-rescinded ban on the public carrying of firearms, even though the only person in town who actually flaunts his pistol in this manner is Mayor Paul Donahue. And why, pray tell, does Donahue do so? Because he owns a “luxury gun club that caters to the region’s expanding elite,” according to the New York Times. In an interview, Donahue said: “If I have a firearm and someone asks about it, it’s like, ‘Oh, Centennial Gun Club?’ It would give me an opportunity to talk about my business.” Has the man not heard of billboards and radio ads? Is pushing gun club memberships really worth making the soccer moms uneasy?
In Utah, top officials of the state’s National Guard unit and the Department of Public Safety are upset because officers from those two government agencies showed up in the bikinis-and-semiautomatics-on-tanks video. Antigun activists demonize military-style weaponry, but as I’ve written before, shot-for-shot, these weapons aren’t intrinsically more dangerous than Grandpa’s wooden-stock deer rifle. As for bikinis, in the right circumstances, who doesn’t enjoy a revealing bathing suit? But military and law enforcement officers cavorting with skimpily clad ladies firing guns while riding tanks? Seriously? Where were the adults?
In a far more somber context, the Jacksonville (Fla.) loud music murder offers another reminder that if we’re going to tolerate a gun subculture—as the current Supreme Court understanding of the Second Amendment obliges us to do—common sense absolutely must be part of the equation.
The backdrop to the Davis killing was the shooter’s belief that under Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” law, he was justified in going for his gun after a parking lot argument over high-volume rap music escalated. Florida state court Judge Russell Healey, who sent Dunn to prison for the rest of his life, holding the convicted defendant responsible also for attempting to murder three teenagers who were with Davis, made a poignant plea for logic and maturity.
Saying that the stand-your-ground concept was fueling confrontation, Judge Healey acknowledged that debate over the law would continue. Meanwhile, he added, “we should remember there is nothing wrong with retreating or de-escalating the situation.” Words of wisdom from the bench, well worth heeding.