If I’m wrong about guns, can you please explain why?


In the wake of the Newtown shootings, as a country we are all taking a step back, looking at our laws and our policies and thinking about what we can do to prevent unspeakable tragedies like the deaths of those children from happening again.

I am not a gun owner and never will be, but I am not advocating getting rid of all the guns. I totally get that there are responsible gun owners out there, people who use them for hunting and sport, keep their guns safely stored, and would never think of using them (or allowing them to be used) to hurt anyone (or at least anyone who wasn’t in the act of attacking them). Those are the people I’d really like to help me understand a few things.

First of all, can you help me understand the problem with universal background checks? In his senate testimony, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said that they will never be universal because criminals will never submit to them. That’s true, of course. But I can’t understand how one gets from there to saying that it’s okay that 40 percent of gun sales happen without background checks. I know that bureaucracy is a hassle and background checks can miss things. But I don’t get why saving some lives isn’t worth a hassle–and why we shouldn’t make at least the basic attempt to stop people with mental health problems or a criminal background from buying guns. Am I missing something?

Second: assault weapons. I need help with this one too. I need someone to explain to me why people feel so strongly about having them. The fact that they are flying off shelves is disturbing to me. I get that they are cool, that it could be exciting to own something so powerful. But they are guns designed for maximum carnage. They are meant for military use, not civilian use. I understand that the data suggests that the assault weapon ban didn’t lower crime–but these are the guns that killed all those children in Newtown, that killed the people in Aurora….in the wrong hands, they can cause not just murder but devastation. There needs to be a really good reason to keep them available–can someone please tell me what that reason is?

Third: what’s up with the marketing to children? I was so upset to read the article in the New York Times about the various efforts of the gun industry to recruit and engage children–even young children, younger than 12. It was absolutely chilling to read about marketing military-style rifles for “junior shooters” (who can’t buy them legally, but whatever), the semiautomatic hand gun competitions for youth, and the other ways that gun manufacturers and gun organizations are targeting children. I understand that parents might want to pass on a hobby or tradition–that is their choice. But marketing, by definition, isn’t about teaching values and safety–it’s about selling things. Can someone explain to me why it’s okay to market something to children that they can’t buy legally and don’t have the maturity to use responsibly, something that could literally kill them or someone else?

Watching Gabby Giffords struggle to speak at the hearings was heartbreaking. A gun did that to her. We have to do something, she said haltingly. It will be hard. I think she’s right–I think it will be incredibly hard.

But we have to do something. Background checks, banning assault rifles, and looking honestly and critically at gun marketing seem like good places to start. If I’m wrong, can you please explain to me why?

Claire McCarthy is a primary care physician and the medical director of Boston Children’s Hospital’s Martha Eliot Health Center.  She blogs at Thriving, the Boston Children’s Hospital blog, Vector, the Boston Children’s Hospital science and clinical innovation blog, and MD Mama at Boston.com, where this article originally appeared.


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