Can you ban guns like lead paint, or is it a useless fight, like Prohibition and the War on Drugs? Noah Brand, liberal gun owner, on why he loves and owns guns.
Some folks were surprised to recently learn that Brad Pitt keeps a gun in the house, as some folks are inclined to believe that only toothless snake-handling redneck morons own guns, or that effete liberal sissy-boy wimps are all afraid of guns. (Please pick whichever stereotype you prefer; I strive to be inclusive.)
Me, I’m a big ol’ liberal, marched with Occupy Portland, writing a book on gender theory, planning to vote to legalize pot this November, and I’ve got a loaded 9mm in the desk I’m typing this on. I haven’t seen a contradiction there since I was sixteen.
As a lad, I was anti-gun in a basic sort of received-wisdom way, y’know, violence is bad, guns are instruments of violence, ergo guns are bad and we should make them illegal. Which makes sense, as far as it goes. My journey from gun opponent to gun owner came in two stages, as any real change of mind usually does: emotional and intellectual. Usually someone’s feelings change, and then they come to understand the logical arguments they’d previously rejected, like a parent who comes around on gay rights when their child comes out. Typically, I managed to get it in the wrong order.
I had the typical adolescent boy’s fascination with weaponry and the tools of violence. Remember the kid in high school with the knife collection and the martial arts movies? Yeah, that was me. But I kept a strong line between reality and fantasy, and I knew that in real life, violence was nothing to fuck around with, and guns were bad and should be illegal. Except that the more times I got in stupid gun-rights arguments online (and they were, and are, always stupid arguments), the more I began to realize that the things I was citing didn’t hold a lot of water, statistically. There simply wasn’t a reliable correlation between gun ownership and violence, OR between gun restrictions and violence.
Thing is, as liberals, we know that certain things just don’t respond to being banned. Abortion, for one. Booze. Drugs. Sex. Some things you can ban, like asbestos and lead paint, and they’ll actually go away. Other stuff, it’s best to keep it legal and maintain some sensible regulations. Conservatives are the idiots who think that you can ban weed and everyone will just quit toking up, right? We’re the practical folks who understand that there’s some things people aren’t gonna stop doing, legal or not, and who want people to be free to do stuff that doesn’t hurt anyone, right?
It felt really weird to have to move gun ownership into the category of “stuff that doesn’t hurt anyone”, but the more I fooled around with the data, the more I just couldn’t support other conclusions. Outside of a few lightning-strike acts of violence, legal gun ownership just didn’t map well to overall societal harm. As the saying goes, correlation doesn’t prove causation, but lack of correlation does prove lack of causation.
So, as I left my teen years, I was in the position of no longer wanting guns banned, but not wanting to own one myself. Kind of how I feel about ferrets, really. Then, as I left my first college and found myself shifting for myself in the dark paths of adulthood I, like so many others, found myself seduced by an irresistible temptation: the prose of Vladimir Nabokov.
There, snugly wrapped in a white woolen scarf, lay a pocket automatic: caliber .32, capacity of magazine 8 cartridges, length a little under one ninth of Lolita’s length, stock checked walnut, finish full blued.
That, from Lolita, is the sexiest description of a Colt 1903 hammerless automatic I’ve ever read, or ever will, and it made me realize that owning a gun might be not only possible, but useful. After all, life gets uncertain sometimes, even dangerous, particularly when you’re that age. In the novel, Humbert Humbert was grateful to have a gun when he found himself on an endless and directionless road trip with his 13-year-old daughter/lover, pursued by an ever-shifting phantom whose existence he could never be entirely sure of. Myself, I’ve made it to 35 without that scenario coming up, knock wood. But should something equivalently weird come to pass, it would be a great comfort to be packing a bit of heat. And when I was young, my life had a tendency to get a bit out-of-control weird.
Furthermore, after buying my first gun (an atrocious little .380, long since traded in on better armament), I discovered the great secret that so many of my fellow liberals never learn: shooting is a hell of a lot of fun. One of the friends I’ve introduced to it described it as “Like bowling, but louder.” One can work out a lot of stress and repressed homicidal fantasies on relatively blameless paper, it’s a fun exercise of dexterity, practice, and hand-eye coordination, and speaking just for myself, I really love the smell of gunsmoke.
The reason I keep a gun in my desk, though, isn’t that it’s fun and it isn’t that it’s aesthetically pleasing, though both those things are also true. I keep a gun handy because it makes me feel like I have a plan B. Plan A is, you know, civilization. People being generally courteous and decent and not violent and horrible. I am a huge fan of plan A, I actively work to keep it functioning well and where possible improving it, to make it a more robust and reliable plan A. (Perhaps the thing I hate most about gun culture is the number of guys one finds actively disparaging plan A because they have a boner for plan B.) And it’s worked really well so far, in that I’ve never been in a situation where I needed a gun for self-defense. So, yeah, go plan A. I’m just too much of a paranoid bastard to be comfortable without at least one backup plan, though.
I don’t like violence, I don’t like solving problems with violence, and I am enormously encouraged and pleased by the continuing global decline in violence. I’m just not ready to take the option entirely off the table, because life is uncertain and I make a habit of publicly pissing off groups with a penchant for violence. Hence, I am an armed liberal.
Image of guy and a girl pointing two guns courtesy of Shutterstock