The conversation at a dinner party the other night drifted to handguns. I’m not sure whether handguns are a topic typical of dinner parties but it seems typical conversation at the few dinner parties I attend. The host’s young son had just moved away from home and been permitted to carry a concealed weapon.
.357 Magnum, a weapon capable of rendering a wild boar into chorizo at a hundred paces…
Apparently carrying a concealed weapon is the inalienable right of every adult in the state of Washington, other than those with a history of domestic violence, convicted of a felony, or currently wanted by the police. The state’s constitution permits citizens to openly carry a handgun anywhere except where specifically prohibited—Federal buildings, courthouses, schools, airports and such. Bars are also prohibited but churches, shopping malls, and the Issaquah Salmon Festival are apparently appropriate places to promote your personal firepower.
The Seattle Post Intelligencer reported recently that concealed weapon permits jumped 44% between 2003 and 2007. As of September 2007, there are 3,339 people licensed by the state to conceal their ability to exert lethal force.
None of the other dinner guests seemed so intrigued by this bit of conversation or perhaps they were more diplomatic. I couldn’t let it go. I narrowly avoided being so gauche as to ask why their son felt compelled to carry a concealed weapon. Instead, I asked the type of handgun he carried.
“A Walther PPK,” replied the young man’s father. “James Bond’s gun.” The father had recommended a .357 Magnum, his personal choice, a weapon capable of rendering a wild boar into chorizo at a hundred paces. (I missed the opportunity to ask if he carried his concealed .357 to the Salmon Festival.) His son preferred something more stylish than a piece of field artillery. Mind you, these are gentle, deeply religious people, not toothless residents of the periphery with refrigerators in their front yard.
You might use a Walther PPK on a rattlesnake or a rabid coyote but those are targets of little opportunity in Seattle.
“It’s like a seat belt” one woman told the Seattle PI reporter. “Hopefully I’ll never need it.”
How is a handgun like a seat belt? The single purpose of a handgun is neither to deter nor reassure. It’s not even to wound. It’s to kill another human being on command. Sure, you might use a Walther PPK on a rattlesnake or a rabid coyote but those are targets of little opportunity in Seattle. If you’re going to use a handgun, you’re going to use it on someone, not something.
And please don’t think you can use less than lethal force. Only in the movies do they successfully shoot the gun out of the bad guy’s hands. In the real world the police shoot to kill or they don’t shoot at all.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a conscientious objector. Well, actually I was but mostly I objected to the Vietnam War. My thoughts about personal violence have matured. I own a handgun even if I don’t carry it on my hip to the Puyallup Fair. I keep it at home to defend my wife and, to a lesser extent, my dog. And each time I pull it out of the drawer, I acknowledge that I may have to make the decision in a fraction of a second whether to take another’s life. If you’re not prepared to make that decision and live with the consequences, if you haven’t closely considered the gravity of taking “everything a man’s got and everything he’s ever going to have,” then you’re likely to hesitate when action is required or act when hesitation is wiser: live with the guilt or don’t live at all.
I wonder how many of the 3,339 people licensed to conceal deadly force in Washington state have the gravitas to understand the consequences of their actions before they act? I hope each one.