– Agent K, Men in Black
Margaret: “What are you, darling? Where's your costume?”
Wednesday: “This is my costume. I'm a homicidal maniac; they look just like everyone else.”
– Addams Family (1991 movie)
The first half of “Does Carrying A Pistol Make You Safer?” aired on NPR’s Morning Edition, which led to me find it in its entirety online (note: the audio version is notably different from the text version.) I suppose that to a degree I’m glad I read and heard both pieces this because it gave me an insight into the thought processes of people who feel it absolutely necessary to carry concealed firearms. However, some of the interviewees’ statements left me at various moments feeling appalled, saddened, flustered, and angry.
These people are clearly living in fear and are convinced that carrying a gun will make them safer. Unfortunately, as the piece so clearly illustrates, carrying a concealed weapon changes the way one views the world around them. They are constantly performing risk/threat assessment and stereotyping in an effort to differentiate potential bad guys from potential good guys. Worse, they are teaching their children to view the world through fear-tinted prisms – one mother stated, “When we go to a restaurant, my 9-year-old [is thinking] who looks suspicious? What are people doing? What’s an anomaly? Let’s point out people in their cars. We make a game of it, of who can find somebody in their car just sitting there.”
Hearing that made my stomach feel as though I had just driven far too fast over the crest of a hill.
Look, I understand that everyone wants to feel safer, and as a parent I want the world to be a safer place for my son. However, this just strikes me as all wrong. It’s a terrible thing to live in fear, but I just don't get the sense that carrying that gun is making things any better. They may “feel” safer, but their statements belie that belief. I can’t imagine walking into any situation – restaurant, movie theater, concert, etc. – and performing a basic risk assessment by noting the location of all the exits and scanning for potential threats. On top of that, the thought of periodically rechecking my surrounding to reassess everything sounds absolutely draining. I don’t have the inclination or the time, and, quite frankly, such a mindset strikes me as defeatist. You go looking for threats all the time, and you’re going to find them, whether they are legitimate or not.
It’s those wrongly-determined threats that are truly appalling. One of the interviewees stated, “I pay attention to different people, weird people, maybe stereotype people,” and went on to add that he was looking for “Gangbanger-looking guys, maybe guys that look like they’re up to no good or somebody that may think they’re a Muslim extremist or something like that.” I’m sorry, but from my perspective, this ammosexual sounds like more of a bad guy than the overwhelming majority of strangers I run into in everyday life. In fact, stereotyping doesn’t mean shit. The fact is that most mass shootings have been committed by white men, and white men are scarcely ever stereotyped as gangbangers or potential Muslim terrorists.*
But that barely begins to address the issues I have with people who are putting their individual need to feel safe, regardless of the cost, above everyone else’s. To these people, I ask the following: How do I know that you’re not the bad guy with the gun? How do I know that you’re not the one who will pull-and-shoot in response to a situation where it wasn’t warranted at all? You do realize, don’t you, that I view you as a stranger and that the fact you have a gun makes me feel less safe? Or, is it that your need to feel safe completely trumps everyone else’s need to feel safe?
Of course, it’s well understood that we as human beings are awful at personal risk assessment. The majority of gun violence occurs in the home. Furthermore, you are far more likely to be injured or killed in a car accident than you are to be shot at in a public setting. Yes, mass shootings are horrifying and we should be doing more to stop them, but the fact is that there are many other lethal threats in your everyday life that we do almost nothing about. People who are carrying guns to feel safer have woefully, erroneously prioritized the ways to protect themselves.
I know that there isn’t a single thing here that hasn’t been said countless times before and will be repeated countless times in the future. It just continues to bewilder and frighten me that there are people in this world who view the world and interact with it in such a manner. I suppose that it is understandable – I know full well that we all operate with different operating systems and that these operating systems can be somewhat incompatible with each other. I just continue to vainly wish that more people took the time to stop and attempt to the best of their abilities to understand the intricacies of the world around them rather than simply react and then defend that reaction.
* It amuses me to think that the man who made the statement about stereotyping might be one of those men who gets personally insulted when a woman states that she has to treat all men as potential rapists – a risk assessment which, in my opinion, is both defensible and totally understandable.