A gun owner responds to Sandy Hook

“Hi, I’m Edwin, and I own firearms!”

Right now, in the shadow of the horrors of the Sandy Hook shooting, it feels as if every gun-owner is on edge.  Some are apologizing, distancing themselves from gun advocacy groups.  Some are saying all the right words, “well, my target gun is locked in a safe.”  Like telling your Baptist Preacher grandpa, “my whisky is in a cabinet and is only for medicinal purposes, of course.”  Some are saying, “well, I like guns, but nobody needs automatic guns that can be sprayed across a room.”

The thing is, we didn’t want to talk about this. We wanted to let people grieve, to try and find solutions to unpredictable events.  The gun control crowd politicized this first. They launched into the predictable tirades against the very people who, after all, didn’t commit the crime.  So we’ve responded.

The arguments and tirades go on and on.  But here’s the salient point.  I didn’t do it.  I hate that it happened.  I grieve for lost children and teachers, for hurting family members.  But I didn’t do it. My guns didn’t do it.  My friends didn’t do it, and neither did their guns.

I have my guns in a safe.  But they don’t stay there all the time.  I have nothing that qualifies in the minds of most progressives as an “assault weapon,” but if I could afford one I would.  They’re interesting, and enjoyable to shoot.  I have had friends who owned them, and I still do.  I knew people with fully automatic weapons; none of them killed anyone.  They were lawful, contributing citizens. Several were physicians.

So what I want to know is this:  what do you want us to do?  For those of you uninitiated into firearms, you don’t just walk into a store, pick one up and leave.  There’s paperwork, ID to show (it isn’t like voting, after all).  There’s either a background check or presentation of a concealed weapons permit in states, like mine, where they are available.

But what about those machine guns?  To belabor a point that should already be well understood by all, fully automatic weapons are not legal without further permits.  (You pull the trigger and it fires until empty.)  And they haven’t been since  1934.  Semi-automatic weapons (one round per trigger pull) are very common among various styles and purposes of rifles, pistols and shotguns.  And in fact, semi-automatic handguns may be safer to keep around than revolvers.  I know, too much detail, scary guns, etc.  But a semi-automatic handgun can have a magazine of ammunition loaded in it, without a round in the chamber to fire. Whereas a loaded revolver will fire whenever the trigger is pulled.  Of course, both are perfectly safe when treated safely and owned by lawful, responsible and trained individuals.

So which thing do we need to limit? Which part of the process do we need to tighten?  If you want to expand psychiatric background checks, I can get on board with that.  Depends, of course, on how you define mental illness.  If the desire for a gun is a sign of mental illness, we’ve made no progress.  But if you mean a history of suicidal or homicidal behavior or commitment for such, fair enough.

And if you say, “we need more mental health care,” I’ll say “Amen.”  You send me some more psychiatrists and I’ll forward to them all the patients that they can bear.  There just aren’t many of them around.  Furthermore, their work is frustrating, often thankless and populated with patients who are mentally ill, as well as with those who want mental illness rather than actually having it.  It’s hard to care for the sick while sifting through the lot.

So let me be clear.  I have a concealed weapons permit.  It took a background check, fingerprinting, a class and a test.  I have a gun safe.  I have taken extra training in the effective use of my weapon.

What would you like me to do differently?  What would you like to take from me?  If I threw open the safe and said, “come take what you want to make society safer,” what would you take?  Would the world be better?

The thing is, I’m representative of the vast majority of America’s gun owners.  Like it or not, we’re a boring, law-abiding bunch.

Of course, those are the ones it’s easiest to regulate, I suppose.

Even when it doesn’t help.

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of The Practice Test.

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