Join in the dance: Guns! Guns! Guns! Guns! Fire! Fire! Fire!

In the long-running American debate about gun control, it occurred to me long ago to wonder about those folks whose “home protection” failed them in certain ways. After all, anyone can point to a news story about a grandmother shooting a fleeing intruder in the back and crow about home protection with firearms. And who, really, is going to make the obvious point in those cases? And, certainly, there are the criminals who probably shouldn’t be carrying guns in the first place. But you rarely encounter headlines like, “Homeowner misses intruder, shoots up own living room”. I mean, I’m sure it happens from time to time, but it just doesn’t make a juicy headline like an old woman shooting down a bad guy.

Every once in a while, though, we do get hints that not all is well among the happy shooters. There is the almost funny story of the auto dealer in Missouri who thought it a good idea for a promotional scheme to offer an AK-47 with each new car purchase:

“This is about the right of defending me and my family,” said Mr Muller, a 49-year-old father of three. “I have a loaded gun in my pocket now and one in the glove locker of the car with a 12-round clip in it. My wife also carries a weapon.”

Asked why an automatic weapon with a 30 or 60-round magazine was required for self-defence, he cited the case of the Florida couple recently shot dead in their homes by a gang of six robbers.

“I don’t know a single shotgun would have worked for them. With an automatic they might have died, but they would have taken some of the bastards down too,” he said.

Mr Muller added: “They think we are all cross-eyed rednecks down here. We are not. Tonight I am going to the theatre with my wife to see Anything Goes and we will eat sushi on the way.”

So, hey, we get one of those examples courtesy a Second Amendment advocate. And, you know, he’s right. They might have died anyway, but at least they would have killed someone—maybe—before they did. And that, after all, is what’s important. Er … um … right?

And in July, we learned of the tragic death of former boxing champion Vernon Forrest:

Lt. Keith Meadows told the radio station that Forrest was shot seven or eight times — at least once in the head — as he chased at least two men who had tried to steal his Jaguar as he put air in its tires at an Atlanta gas station. Forrest had a gun and confronted the men, who fatally wounded him with two semiautomatic weapons, according to police ….

…. Charles Watson, the boxer’s manager, said police and witnesses told him that Forrest had stopped at a gas station to put air in his car tire when a man approached asking for money.

Somehow, Vernon had his wallet out and the guy snatched his wallet and started running,” Watson said. “Vernon pursued after him. The guy turned the corner and Vernon didn’t see him. He turned around to go back to the car. That’s when he started firing.

The obvious question is whether Vernon would have chased after the robber had he not been carrying a gun; we cannot, however, know the answer.

Then, earlier this month, we learned of a tragic close to a bizarre story out of Pennsylvania. The bizarre story starts with a woman, Meleanie Hain, who felt so threatened at her child’s soccer game that she would show up wearing her Glock. Other parents, as we might expect, complained, and eventually a local judge revoked her permit to carry the weapon according to a state law that prohibits gun permits for people of dangerous character. Hain sued in federal court and won, though the judge in that case questioned her judgment and pointed out that she frightened a number of people by her actions.

Ms. Hain became something of an icon among Second Amendment advocates.

And only a few weeks ago, Ms. Hain—who was also known to carry a rifle in her front yard—and her husband were found dead in their home. Their three children, aged ten, six, and two, were physically unhurt in the murder-suicide.

Neighbor Aileen Fortna, 51, told The Associated Press that her husband noticed the two older Hain children running past their house and crying. She said the children told another neighbor that “daddy shot mommy.”

Meleanie Hain always carried her holstered 9mm Glock pistol, even to the grocery store, and was holding a rifle while she talked to someone outside her house last week, Fortna said.

“I’m shocked at the whole thing,” Fortna said. “I’m surprised she didn’t defend herself” ….

…. Mike Witmer, a 32-year-old maintenance technician who lives across the street and about 50 yards from the Hains, said he was unloading groceries when he heard a commotion at their house. Shortly afterward, police swarmed through the neighborhood and told him to go inside.

“I’m pretty sure what we heard was the bang of the gun. It was a weird sound,” he said, expressing concern for the children. “I hope they’re OK and they get through the hard times they’re in for the rest of their lives.”

“I’m a big hunter, and I support gun rights and I own guns,” he said. “I just think sometimes guns get into the hands of the wrong people and tragedies happen.”

Two issues worth mentioning arise from this story. First, we hear much about how gun control punishes “responsible gun owners”. But what is a responsible gun owner? There are as many definitions as there are “responsible gun owners”. And I could certainly stack on some sick anecdotes about the behavior of people who consider themselves responsible gun owners, but as I said, that’s beside the point today. Another thing that stands out is neighbor Aileen Fortna’s comment: “I’m surprised she didn’t defend herself”. I’m sorry, but if your spouse is someone your gun is protecting you against, why are you still in the same house? More murder victims know their killers than don’t.

These issues aside, however, there is something more important to consider in the broader context of the gun control debate. Last month, ScienceDaily brought us the news:

In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

The study was released online this month in the American Journal of Public Health, in advance of print publication in November 2009.

What Penn researchers found was alarming – almost five Philadelphians were shot every day over the course of the study and about 1 of these 5 people died. The research team concluded that, although successful defensive gun uses are possible and do occur each year, the chances of success are low. People should rethink their possession of guns or, at least, understand that regular possession necessitates careful safety countermeasures, write the authors. Suggestions to the contrary, especially for urban residents who may see gun possession as a defense against a dangerous environment should be discussed and thoughtfully reconsidered.

Charles Branas, author of the study, explained that,

“The US has at least one gun for every adult …. Learning how to live healthy lives alongside guns will require more studies such as this one. This study should be the beginning of a better investment in gun injury research through various government and private agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, which in the past have not been legally permitted to fund research ‘designed to affect the passage of specific Federal, State, or local legislation intended to restrict or control the purchase or use of firearms.'”

Or would living a healthy life alongside guns be a punishment to “responsible gun owners”?

We should probably go so far as to ask the specific question, What constitutes “living a healthy life alongside guns”?

For instance, Hain’s neighbor, Mike Witmer makes a point that suggests the problem: Sometimes guns get into the hands of the wrong people and tragedies happen.

So what do we do about that? After all, efforts to prevent criminals from buying guns on the open market have long been denounced as punishing “responsible gun owners”. Or do we just suck it up, strap on, and hope our tragedies visit other people?

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