Friends Can't Let Friends Shoot People

This morning, the NRA demanded that Congress place “armed police officers in every school,” to create a “shield emergency response” around schools. “If we truly cherish our kids, more than our money, more than our celebrities, more than our sport stadiums, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible,” NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre said, in a very long and strange speech. (A PDF of the prepared remarks is here.) The NRA’s solution? “Properly trained armed good guys.”

Gun bans “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,” LaPierre said. This is the NRA’s response to the professional opinion-holding class, who have all presented banning proposals over this last week: Increase waiting periods. Ban guns. Ban assault rifles1. All agree it’s time to “do something.”

In an op-ed by Drew Magary headlined “Down with Big Gun,” Gawker and Deadspin’s self-described dick-joke purveyor suggested a four-point plan to attack “Big Gun.” The author put forth what’s become a popular reaction: “OCCUPY GUN STREET.”

“Down with Big Gun” came four months after the same author’s post-Colorado movie-theater-shooting opinion piece that never mentioned targeting CEOs, businesses or gun brands—but did call guns “fun” and promoted the virtues of going to the gun range “while shitfaced” to fire a Desert Eagle.


A celebrated early victory of this approach was Wall Street’s fire sale of gun conglomerate Freedom Group.

But in reality, the pro-gun community welcomed the breakup of “Big Gun” with open arms. Consolidation of gun-makers under Wall Street private equity resulted in junk guns. Throughout 2012, Freedom Group has been the butt of the quality control joke within a shooting community with a bad sense of humor. So while “occupy gun street” proponents saw the sale of Freedom Group as a victory, so did pro-gun people. But by all means, occupy “Gun Street.”

Others have argued that now is the time to “politicize the shit out of this shooting.”

Be careful what you wish for. Legislation, born from politicization, has actually gone backwards for decades. After the 1991 Luby’s massacre in Texas, concealed carry laws boomed. And the recently opened “gun dorms” at the University of Colorado are a direct response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, the massacre that replaced Luby’s as the nation’s most deadly.

As conceal carry laws expand, campuses in general have followed suit. While not as loud as the call for gun control after Newtown2, legislators in Virginia, Iowa and South Dakota proposed allowing trained educators to carry concealed handguns at school.

An armed campus—the NRA’s “new plan” in action—does not work. As I discovered while profiling the 2010 Marinette, Wisconsin, classroom shooting, at the time shots were fired in the school, even as a 15-year-old held a class at gunpoint, an on-duty police officer in the school got in her cruiser and returned to the station.

But, sure: maybe now is the legislative turnaround? Maybe. Maybe not3.

Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the face two years ago. Even since then, laws on gun ownership and gun use have become more permissive. Illinois is now the only state without a conceal carry law—but it will next year. Since the Congresswoman was shot in the head, silencers (“suppressors“) have become legitimate hunting accessories in numerous states.

If Congress cannot act when one of its own is shot, can we reasonably expect them to act out of character when some unknown-to-them moviegoers, shoppers or schoolchildren unluckily wander into the working end of the Second Amendment?

By all means, try to ban “assault rifles.” The popularity of Colt-trademarked AR-15 knockoffs is a result of too many gun owners with sexual fantasies about invasion, who want to be part of Seal Team Six but don’t have the dedication, or, frankly, the fitness. A “well regulated” Militia includes well regulated physical ability. Make the Marine Corps’ minimum Initial Strength Test requirement of two “dead-hang” pullups the condition for purchasing an assault rifle. Sales will plummet.

Sure, try to ban high capacity magazines4. Institute better background checks to identify gun buyers who have domestic abuse arrests and/or mental illness histories. Although, the ability to reasonably defend the need for a high capacity magazine could suggest just such a mental illness. (Also, surely there’s nothing better for America than the government deciding who’s sane and who isn’t.)

Good luck pushing for greater safety standards on the guns themselves. James Bond may get a Walther PPK that fires only with his “biometric palm print” but it won’t be a Glock feature anytime soon5. The technology has been developed for more than a decade—but the NRA and most gun owners fiercely oppose it.

In the end, real gun “control” can only be achieved within the gun owning community itself. In this regard, there must be a move that mirrors the “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” campaign.

Gun owners know other gun owners. (We take our conceal carry classes together, for one thing.) This is a community strength. It’s a strength that can be harnessed if the NRA, and similar groups, would promote a “see something, say something,” “friends don’t let friends” approach to gun safety. (Clearly, they have no such plans.)

Gun owners prepare for—and too many fantasize about—being the hero, using their training to save the day. With the help of the NRA and the gun companies, a new kind of Second Amendment hero could have been formulated. A hero who saves lives in his community through the very thing that all conceal-carry owners proselytize about: situational alertness.

Sure, be ready to shoot the “bad guy,” in the NRA formulation. But this “bad guy” is always a stranger. Gun training should stress stopping the bad guy in one’s own family or circle.

Almost all post-Newtown “do something” arguments—apart from the NRA’s—arise from a prohibitory, confrontational position. Ban this, ban that, legislate the problem away, “occupy” something. Very few argue for making the problem that of the gun owners and Second Amendment groups themselves. We now know that the four states that passed gay marriage laws this last election did so because of individual people’s impact on other people, not lobbying or legislation. That approach was based on similar tactics to the campaign to not let friends drive drunk, which has been meaningfully successful6. Guilt and person-to-person contact works—and it can work with guns.

1 One reason America struggles to have the same conversation every time this happens is that it speaks different gun languages. “Assault weapon” is a meaningless, cosmetic term, like “rap music.” “Machine gun” is an ignorant one (also like “rap music”). The problem with this inability to speak the other side’s language is consequential; the “assault weapons ban” of 1994 was in place when the Columbine shootings occurred.

2 It was not mentioned much by the national media and by approximately zero pundits writing op-eds, but exactly one month before the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, three children and one adult were shot to death in New Town, North Dakota.

3 That same year, when Texas Governor Rick Perry shot a coyote while jogging, Ruger issued a limited edition .380 “True Texan Coyote Special” in his honor. The most recent Las Vegas SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show had a record-setting 61,000 attendees. Compare that to the much heralded Consumer Electronics Association (CES) Show’s 153,000 (which was also a record).

4 I believe a “high capacity magazine” ban will be the NRA’s sacrifice, giving both sides of a gummed up Congress a midterm “protecting our children” moment without ever really upsetting the balance. It’s worth mentioning that 3D printers are already capable of making AR-15 magazines.

5 Accuse me of being in bed with Tipper Gore, but while everyone complains about Heineken in the latest James Bond film, Hollywood “artists” are quietly doing the gun industry’s marketing. A common feature in many of the numerous gun magazines is a layout of the latest onscreen gun models. Gunmakers rely on Hollywood for advertising, with the prop masters placing their weapons in the hands of the silver screen’s favorite heroes. For example, the Tactical Edge Group, licensed Hollywood weapons prop masters, offer product placement services as “the exclusive representation” of the semi-automatic, 16 shot 12 ga. shotgun to the entertainment industry. Magnum Research, maker of the Desert Eagle, a hand cannon that has no reasonable justification for existing but is fun to fire “while shitfaced,” maintains a website dedicated to its Hollywood roles. A portion of the NRA’s website is dedicated to “Hollywood Guns.” The Internet Movie Firearms Database is a thing.

6 “In 1998, America experienced its lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities since the U.S. DOT began keeping records and at one point, more than 68% of Americans exposed to the advertising had taken action to prevent someone from driving drunk.”

Abe Sauer is the author of How to be: NORTH DAKOTA.