Wednesday, July 30 2003

Multiple-choice gun safety

I finally got around to acquiring California’s new Handgun Safety Certificate, one of the pointless bureaucratic hoops the state makes you jump through before you can buy a handgun. There’s still the ten day waiting period and background check, the mandatory trigger lock, the safe-storage requirements, the one-a-month purchase limit, and, of course, the limited selection created by ineptly second-guessing the manufacturer’s ability to create a safe, functional product.

No one has been able to demonstrate even a tiny benefit to society from any of these laws, but then again, who would have rationally expected one? There is very little overlap between “people who obey gun laws” and “people who commit crimes with guns,” after all, and legislators who vote for gun-control laws know this.

But I’m not interested in debating the motives of what is aptly referred to as the Victim Disarmament Lobby, at least not at the moment. If you are, do yourself a favor and spend a few hours reading The Gun Control Debate: You Decide first, a non-partisan book containing the most-quoted research papers on both sides of the subject, written by people unaffiliated with NRA, HCI, or other lobbying organizations.

The mechanical safety of guns hasn’t been a serious issue for decades; the vast majority of so-called “gun accidents” occur when someone deliberately pulls the trigger while pointing a weapon at a human being. They’re more unintended than accidental, and are almost always the result of negligence on the part of the owner.

They’re also an increasingly rare event. The fatal gun accident rate has been dropping steadily for nearly seventy years, and very few such incidents involve handguns. More people drown in swimming pools and bathtubs than die in gun accidents (source: National Safety Council; visit a library for their annual Injury Facts pamphlet with more details). Most of the with-gun deaths are of adults, of course; the kids-and-guns alarmists are inventing most of their “facts” out of whole cloth.

So why, if there’s no demonstrated effect on crime or accidents, does it keep getting harder and harder to buy a gun? Because it’s not about eliminating crime or accidents; it’s about eliminating privately-owned guns. Most gun-control advocates will even admit this if you catch them in the right mood.

I have never committed a violent crime. Demographically speaking, there was never much chance that I would, even before I passed age 35. I have never been the victim of a violent crime, and, again, the odds are excellent that I never will be.

I have never hunted. For at least twenty years, I’ve lived within two miles of a 24-hour grocery store that has an excellent meat counter, so I don’t really see the point. I’m not opposed to responsible hunting; hunters are perhaps the most dedicated defenders of America’s natural resources, and tend to care more about animals than anti-hunting activists do. I just have no motivation to join in.

So, if I’m not a criminal, and I’m not afraid of criminals, and I don’t hunt, why do I need a gun? I don’t, any more than I need a 30GB iPod, a $300 chef’s knife, an Xbox, an SUV with a spiffy GPS navigation system, a DV camcorder, a backyard grill, a 20-inch Apple Cinema Display, ten cameras, a cell-phone, or half a dozen bookshelves overflowing with novels. I do need a monitored alarm system for the house, though, to make sure all that nice stuff doesn’t go missing…

Bottom line, unless there’s a clear danger to others involved in my possession of a particular inanimate object, the word need has no place in the discussion. And there is no hard evidence that owning a gun creates such a danger.

With all that out of the way, I of course find California’s Handgun Safety Certificate test annoying and offensive. It consists of thirty questions, true/false and multiple-choice, that combine basic common sense with political propaganda, in equal amounts. If you haven’t lost a finger to a lawn-mower or attacked a family member with a kitchen knife, you can almost certainly pass this test without preparation. The questions you’re most likely to miss are the ones that require a politically-correct but misleading answer. It took me less than five minutes to get a perfect score.

So, is society safer because I had to jump through all of these hoops before buying a Browning Buck Mark Classic Plus .22-caliber target pistol? No, of course not; if I had ever had an interest in crime, I could have used the .357 Magnum revolver I’ve owned for more than fifteen years.

My target of choice has always been concentric circles on heavy paper. Why shoot at defenseless bullseyes? Because it’s fun. ’nuff said.