The Conversation

Responses and reverberations


On December 14, a 20-year-old man killed his mother with her own legally obtained guns, then opened fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut. Adam Lanza murdered 20 first-graders and six adults before killing himself. In December’s “The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control),” which appeared just before the events at Sandy Hook, Jeffrey Goldberg argued that such massacres might be stopped earlier if more civilians, after obtaining a license and training, carried weapons. The response to this article was so overwhelming, and so varied, that it warranted singular attention in The Conversation.

After 60 years of not owning a gun, in 2007 I purchased my first handgun, practiced until I was proficient, took a class, and got a concealed-carry permit. Why? After my daughter was attacked by an ex-boyfriend/stalker, I realized a well-run police department does a good job of responding to crime, but a poor job of protecting against crime. If police are in position to stop an attack, the attacker will simply choose another time or place. We would live in a better country if the 300 million guns in it disappeared, but I will not risk my family’s safety to make a political statement.

Raymond C. Harlan
Aurora, Colo.

The officer guarding the former Century 16 theater in Aurora, Colorado, where I live, said, “I guess people move on,” after Goldberg asked whether people drive by to look at the scene of the shooting. Move on? I hardly think so. Will we forget? Never. Will every single resident be lined up on opening night of the newly renovated Century 16, surrounded by friends and family? You better believe we will. And trust me: I won’t be the only one with a packet of Kleenex in one hand while the other rests firmly on the 9 mm strapped to my hip. In Aurora we take care of our own.

Karen Madsen
Aurora, Colo.

My understanding of the gun-control debate began with personal experience: I was present, and two of my friends were wounded, during last summer’s shooting at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater. Since then, I have tried to better understand what happened, and why. Knowing what I do now, I find this article to be the most intellectually sloppy piece I’ve ever seen in The Atlantic.

Mr. Goldberg largely fails to distinguish among types of gun violence, focusing instead on mass shootings. The vast majority of gun violence is not in fact committed during a mass shooting like the one I witnessed in Aurora; the plurality is committed during arguments, followed in frequency by robberies and juvenile gang activity. In assessing the potential effects of more (or fewer) guns in our society, ignoring this fact is simply negligent.

Mr. Goldberg might have come away with a better understanding of what more guns really entails had he been interested in asking why many victims of mass shootings don’t go out and buy a gun to protect themselves, and in some cases advocate against the further erosion of gun-free zones.

Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent
Southbury, Conn.

Jeffrey Goldberg makes the excellent point that armed self-defense is enshrined in our Constitution—and that it works. “Guns are with us, whether we like it or not,” he writes. “Americans who are qualified to possess firearms shouldn’t be denied the right to participate in their own defense.”

If you think the problem of mass violence is just about guns, you’re wrong. If you think it’s just about an entertainment industry that markets violence to kids, you’re wrong. If you think it’s just about insufficient security at our schools, you’re wrong. If you think it’s just about the lack of mental-health services, you’re wrong. We need to address all these issues.

We cannot have this conversation without gun owners and groups like the National Rifle Association. If you blame the NRA for what happened in Newtown, you’re blaming 4 million law-abiding Americans. And you’re blaming me, because I am an NRA member.

Responsible gun owners should be at the forefront of any effort to find a balance between rights and responsibilities, to make America safer for our children. We understand better than most that guns made this country free and are an important part of our culture and heritage.

Senator Joe Manchin (D)
Charleston, W.Va.

After reading this article, the NRA’s seemingly outrageous suggestion that we install armed officers at our educational institutions becomes more plausible, even persuasive. Such security could deter future attacks on our students or ameliorate the effects of these attacks should they occur. The response times of local SWAT teams, however fast, cannot match those of armed personnel already on-site.

How to pay for this extra security? Under the Wildlife Restoration Act, an 11 percent federal excise tax on sales of “long guns and ammunition” and a 10 percent tax on pistol sales have been in effect since 1937. Each year, $3 billion to $4 billion is generated by these taxes and used for wildlife conservation and restoration. Would it be unfair to increase these taxes and funnel the additional revenue into enhanced school-security programs administered by local law-enforcement officials? Locally generated revenue might also be raised, by increasing fees for concealed-weapons permits and by charging more for weapons-training courses.

Finally, would it be possible to offer recently returned combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan some preference in hiring for these new positions?

Jack Jackson
Albuquerque, N.M.

More people than ever carry handguns. Homicide rates are falling. Must mean handguns are making us safer from gun violence. Wrong. According to The Wall Street Journal, “The reported number of people treated for gunshot attacks from 2001 to 2011 has grown by nearly half.” What’s changed is that doctors and first responders have gotten better at treating gunshot wounds, so fewer people die from these injuries.

Goldberg effectively plays on the fears generated by isolated, rare, and particularly brutal attacks. The fact is, we will be safer from gun attacks when there are fewer guns.

David Finck
Boone, N.C.

Goldberg provides a provocative case for carrying a gun: “Guns can be used to do evil, but guns can also be used to do good.” But perhaps there are better questions to ask than whether, when a stranger is shooting at you, you prefer to be armed or unarmed. The focus should be on the “Zimmerman Syndrome”: How does the gun carrier’s view of the world differ? Do political and social views harden? Does suspicion of others become common? In other words, what damage is done to the carrier, and how might that fundamentally harm a society needing to move away from violence as a response to fear?

Rodney R. Jones
Mendocino, Calif.

Referring to armed self-defense as something that “often works” and implying that the alternative is “encouraging learned helplessness” is a low blow to those who, while possibly naive, envision a safer, less violent society. After all, the primary justification we have for obtaining a firearm for self-defense is that there are so many guns out there already. It is a self-fulfilling premise. And it is most likely misleading. Although there might be many occasions when firearm owners have used their weapons to deter violent crime, where is the evidence that those incidents outnumber the occasions when their weapons are used to kill or injure an innocent?

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