How is a handgun like a seat belt?

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…

357_Magnum 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.

2 thoughts on “How is a handgun like a seat belt?”

  1. For me it’s all a matter of probabilities. I drive almost every day. Almost every time I drive I see some idiot who clearly doesn’t know how to drive. There seems to be a finite probability, maybe even more than 25%, that sooner or later one of the idiots will have an accident with me, and then I will be glad I was wearing a seatbelt. Indeed one of those idiots already has.
    On the other hand, in 60 years on this earth I have never come across anyone whom I felt obliged to shoot dead on the spot. (Well maybe that’s not absolutely true but those moments soon passed and if I had shot the other fool dead on the spot I sure would have regretted it a few seconds later.)
    So why carry a gun for the infinitesimal chance that I might need one day to shoot a fellow human being dead on the spot? Especially bearing in mind the risks that
    a) I might shoot someone dead who didn’t deserve it in a moment of anger or drunken passion.
    b) Some kid might find my gun and shoot herself.
    c) I might accidentally shoot myself in the private place on my person where I had chosen to conceal my deadly weapon.
    No. A seatbelt is not like a gun.

  2. Tillerman, I think you pretty much covered it. There might still be valid reasons for arming yourself but I suspect they would be specific, limited, and rarely justify walking among your fellow citizens “packing heat.”

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