A strange day for sad news

With elections looming in sunny SA, it seems very… typical that our media attention is focused elsewhere. And by elsewhere I mean on violent crime.

Today was a bit of a strange day for me, in that I actually dived into the news a bit.  This is because, with an election coming up, I felt that it was high time I had a think about who to vote for. The problem is that there are a number of  minority parties, each with its own particular spin on an otherwise uniform agenda (fight corruption, fix the economy, lower unemployment) and looming over all these small fish is the ANC; which seems to be pretty universally held as responsible for the problems that everyone (including itself) is trying to fix. In any case, there was a large multi-party debate today, and I heartily recommend anyone who is in any way interested to find a podcast of the event or something. If nothing else it was profoundly entertaining. Less entertaining, was that today was also apparently Oscar Pistorius media saturation day or something.


I’ve tried to avoid hearing about the case, partly because I have no stomach for even more stories about fallen heroes and the suffering of innocents. Mostly, though, it’s because I have a suspicion that – whatever result comes from this three-ring circus – it can all be traced to one fairly arrogant kid who used money and power to obtain dangerous toys and then found an opportunity to use them.


The thing is, gun ownership is (or should be) a profound responsibility. Ta-Nehisi Coates spelled it out pretty well during this discussion, when he outlined the weight that comes with having an easy option (or an easy out) and being a good enough person not to take it. The problem is that a lot of us aren’t good enough people.

I actually have a bit of a weird stance on this one, as I completely understand the thrilling ‘toy-like’ aspect that guns have. They are very often beautifully-engineered machines, with the mechanical elegance of a watch or an engine (which is effectively what they are). And they make noise (ear-shattering), spit fire (eye-opening) and generally appeal to the part of the human psyche that likes fireworks and explosions. Guns represent a seductive form of power: the power to utterly control something which is in itself powerful. The power to reorder fate and determine your own destiny.

Guns speak to us on many (very primal) levels.


Unfortunately, guns also exist for a very specific purpose: to end life. Worse, the specifics of how it all works out means that they are much more useful in offence than defence: it takes a certain amount of time to draw and arm a pistol or rifle, while your hypothetical enemy will have his weapon ready well beforehand. Bullets (especially handgun bullets) also tend to be better at killing than incapacitating: your average shooting victim will either survive (with prompt medical treatment) or else die some time after the event due to blood loss.


I think gun owners often pay lip service to these issues – in as much as they go along with the narrative of the stoic good guy defending themselves against an otherwise-overwhelming enemy. However, there is the uncomfortable fact that, for every responsible owner carefully checking his rifle every time he handles it there is a yahoo with a cocked, loaded pistol in his glove compartment. And for every ‘walk softly’ owner who minimises his encounters out of respect for the power at his disposal, there is a fool who escalates because he knows that he has the option to.

Like, for instance, firing his nightstand 9-mill four times through a locked bathroom door.


So, the eternal phrase: what is to be done?

It’s a good question, and one that I don’t honestly have a firm answer for. What I can say is that (contra both gun owners and anti-gun advocates) you can both acknowledge that not all guns are made equal and that the majority of gun owners are not in danger of killing anyone other than themselves. In addition, the myth of a person (invariably a man) using a handgun to foil a robbery or stop an attacker has to die. It’s not that this doesn’t happen, but that it is such a rare occurrence that the risk/benefit ratio just doesn’t mesh. This may actually extend to a general ban on pistols (coupled with more relaxed laws regarding rifles and the like), but I’d want to see some sort of research on the consequences first.

Finally, because guns are genuinely fun to use in a controlled environment, I’d be in favour of de-regulating them completely for one specific purpose: the gun range. This might include some caveats on storage: owners would have to permanently store some weapons at a range, with range security being even more beefed up than it already is. But otherwise all bets would be off – if people want to shoot rifles, machineguns, cannon or whatever then there should be a place to fulfil that need. After all, yahoos aren’t going to stop being yahoos just because we take away their toys. So we should let them (and, let’s face the ugly truth, us) get their jollies in a controlled environment.



PS: In more tragic news for the day, a kid somewhere in the U.S. (Pittsburg) went on a spree. Wielding some sort of edged weapon, he succeeded in attacking 20 people. Note the caveat though: no fatalities. Apparently knives don’t kill people, or at least not as well as a gun. Although try having that debate.


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