I was raised in the gun culture. I shot my first duck at age 10 with my grandmother’s Winchester single-shot .410. The next year I graduated to an Ithaca Model 37 20-gauge pump, and then went through a succession of hand-me-down shotguns until I finally saved enough to buy my own, a used Remington 870 Wingmaster.
For my 12th birthday, my grandpa Emmett gave me a Smith & Wesson .38 Special. He got it from his uncle, a law enforcement officer in San Francisco who confiscated it from a speakeasy during a federal raid. Every grandchild received a gun from Emmett on his or her 12th birthday.
All of the men and most of the women in my extended family own guns. As for many Americans, owning, shooting, talking about and handling guns safely and responsibly has been an integral part of my life.
And so, when Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, delivered a defiant speech this month after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., I understood his indignation.
But as he spoke, I also was reminded why the NRA does not speak for me and why a sizeable minority of lifelong gun owners are embarrassed to be represented by such an organization.
LaPierre said of the media that “they perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban — or one more law imposed on peaceful, lawful people — will protect us where 20,000 others have failed!”
Well, people in the media do say a lot of dumb things about guns, but LaPierre beat them to it with this one. There is no way he, or anyone else, can know whether existing gun restrictions have saved lives or not.
In order to demonstrate the link between cause and effect, researchers must isolate the phenomena under investigation. That is not always possible. So when someone states that studies have failed to show a link between, say, gun bans and gun violence or video games and school shootings, that may be because there is no connection or it could be that the relevant factors are complicated and inextricably entwined with other relevant factors.
The difficulty of demonstrating cause-effect relationships did not stop LaPierre from casting the blame for school shootings on violent entertainment, especially movies and video games. But the charge was disingenuous. Was he unaware of the close relationship between the NRA and the gaming industry?
A recent story in the New York Times pointed out that Electronic Arts created a website for one of its recent releases, Medal of Honor Warfighter, to promote products featured in the game. Among the companies advertised on the site was the McMillan Group, manufacturer of the CS5, a sniper rifle. McMillan is a corporate sponsor of the NRA.
As one would expect, gaming advocates deny that their products lead to a real-world culture of violence. Chris Sullentrop, author of a popular gaming blog, emphasized the point: “There’s no evidence that video games cause — or even correlate with — violence, and that can’t be stated often enough.”
This does not mean there is no connection. I agree with LaPierre that there most likely is, but, to be honest, it is not as strongly established as the link between gun ownership and gun violence.
The gun-related homicide rate in the United States is about 3 people per 100,000. That compares to 0.3 per 100,000 in Western Europe, where gun ownership is negligible. The U. S. ranks No. 1 in the world in gun ownership, with about nine guns for every 10 people. We rank No. 2 in the world for gun violence.
Such statistics do not prove that guns cause violence. But they do reveal a strong correlation, and correlations suggest a cause-effect connection that has yet to be determined.
I like guns. I enjoy hunting and target shooting. I also enjoy fishing, skiing, golfing, biking, and basketball.
I don’t like restrictions on the things I enjoy. But if bikes or fishing rods or skis were being used to harm people, I would have to accept the fact that stricter regulations on those things might be necessary to protect the vulnerable.
Guns are used to harm people. Gun owners, especially those of us who use them safely and lawfully, need to acknowledge that and accept responsibility for making sacrifices that can reduce the harm.
LaPierre does not think law-abiding gun owners should be asked to pay a price for harm done by others. But that is precisely what we should do.
It is the cost of living in a moral society.