It is impossible, save for the callous and the sociopathic, to not feel sickened and outraged when children are murdered, much less when that murder is of so many in such a fashion as occurred in Sandy Hook Elementary school. It is soul crushing to consider and the very definition of "unthinkable". In the wake of such a tragedy, the only natural response is to want to do something so this can never happen again.
This response, for many, has been to demand that we ban guns of a certain type or magazines of a certain size or to end the private ownership of firearms altogether. The rhetoric that has accompanied these demands have varied from simple disgust to accusations of complicity. Those who have offered rebuttal are in the position of having to defend their right to own a device similar to the one used to commit a crime of such evil that it cannot be forgotten, even if we wished to put it out of our minds.
The question must come: How dare you?
As one of those who has argued against the extreme measures that people are suggesting, I feel I should respond.
I want to preface this with some of my experiences. I lost my father to gunfire when I was six; my grandfather shot him in my living room because my father was abusive to my mother. I was looking in the eyes of a friend who shot himself in the head (though he thankfully suffered only minor injuries) with a revolver that both he and I had checked to make sure it was unloaded. I have had a gun pulled on me in the middle of a high school classroom before I knew where Columbine was and no one saw but him and me. I have been there for other gun accidents that save for luck could have been headline grabbing tragedies.
With this in my history, I still decided to carry a firearm and get a concealed carry permit. I still decided to keep guns in my house. The tipping point for me was a place called Luby's Cafeteria and a woman who lost her parents to gun violence there when a man drove through the front of the building and opened up with a pair of handguns. She had a handgun, but it was in her car because of how the laws in her state were at the time. She was close enough that she could have shot him rather than have her parents killed.
I decided that I would not lack the option to shoot back if such a thing were to happen some place where I was.
The rebuttal to this, of course, is the likelihood of being able to do anything effective should one be in the rare position of having a firearm and being in a mass shooting. It's dismissed by many as a want-to-be-cowboy's fantasy and I admit, the chances are so small they'd be acceptable to the house at a Vegas casino. But they are non-zero, and that to me is enough to warrant the action.
This personal reasoning is not enough to convince anyone, I'm sure. What matters to most is the number of people dieing to gunfire. And that's where I think there's one other number we need to consider.
In 1995, a study was done to determine how many times guns were used defensively every year in the United States. The number he came up with was 2.5 million. This number is pretty heavily disputed; more reasonable estimates put it at around 600,000 for the same year.
Even this number seems exaggerated, as it likely includes people who just cried "I have a gun" through a closed door when they thought they heard something in their house. Even if that weren't the case, these statistics include those who drew a firearm to keep from being robbed. So let's make an even more conservative estimate. Let's say that only 1 in 50 of those actually meant that having a gun was the difference between being harmed or killed. That would bring it down to around 12,000. And that's an important number.
Because that means that if even 2% of the current lowest estimate of defensive gun uses are actual cases of life and death, that being armed saved more people than were murdered by gunfire in 2011.
I will not say we do not need to take a look at our gun laws. There are places that we can make them better. But if we are going to consider reforms, we need to consider those hypothetical 12,000. Without bringing hunting, revolution, sport shooting or anything else into the conversation, we need to look at the fact that being armed was the difference for many Americans and if it is even tiny fraction of the number claimed, we cannot ignore them even in the face of horrors such as the United States is coping with today.
So the question comes: how do we keep guns out of the hands of the mentally disturbed and the murderous without disarming the people who are neither but still have had need of a gun?
And can we keep them in mind as we debate this issue?
Because if someone came to harm over our collective outrage, my question to those who made that happen would be the same one they are asking me and people like me now: How dare you?