Dear Non-Gun Owner,
I am writing you today to discuss firearm ownership in America. Fear not – I will not talk down to you, belittle you or call you names. For instance, I could have used the term “anti-gun” instead of “non-gun” in the title, but that would have immediately put you on the defensive. That is not my intent.
I also will refrain from invoking grandiose constitutional arguments or partisan political statements – in reality, I don’t need them. What I would like to do is explain why the restriction on inanimate objects in the United States is not only ineffective, but also goes against our way of life as a free society.
Besides being a life-long shooter, I have lived in almost every part of this country: the South, the Northeast, the West, the Midwest even in the middle of the Pacific. I have lived in both rural areas and big cities. I have traveled the world personally and professionally – and not to just the nice places, either.
I am also a husband, a father, a tax payer and a community member. I have worked both “blue collar” and “white collar” jobs. I am also a law enforcement officer with two decades of experience who has seen both the best and worst examples of the American populace. So, I feel that I have a fairly broad, even-keeled perspective on gun ownership in the United States.
Aside from a select few topics, you would be hard-pressed to find something as polarizing as firearms ownership in the U.S. As such, I certainly don’t have any delusions that a single open letter will do anything to change the mindset of any non-gun owners. However, I would like to try.
II. The Unfair Analogy: Alcohol
The analogy between firearms ownership and the legal consumption of alcohol is unfair – to gun owners. But if I am going to attempt to explain a topic for which you have little to no understanding or basis, I need a comparable consumer-based industry in which to draw certain parallels.
Why is the comparison between firearms and the possession and consumption of alcohol unfair to gun owners? For one, alcohol is a mood-altering drug that effects each of its users in different ways. Firearms, on the other hand, are inanimate objects that have no chemical or pharmaceutical properties.
Second, there is no actual need for alcohol – its consumption is strictly for entertainment purposes only. Firearms, however, can fill distinctive rolls: protection, defense, hunting as well as entertainment top the list of why some Americans own firearms.
So, knowing these differences, why bother to compare firearms with alcohol at all? Because many of you drink alcohol. And most of you who do drink alcoholic beverages do so in spite of the health and public safety risks that go along with the entire industry itself. And even if you don’t drink, you know of others who do, and probably don’t judge them or attempt to take away their right to drink.
Another reason to compare guns to the alcohol industry is sheer numbers: even though firearm ownership has increased in the last few years, its numbers still pale in comparison to the number of Americans who imbibe regularly. So if you aren’t a gun owner and I’m trying to find a common point of reference that a large swath of America can understand, drinking alcohol might be a good place to start. Again, it’s not perfect, but in my opinion it is much more viable than using the tobacco industry or passenger cars as examples.
So now that we have our baseline comparison, let’s begin.
Why does the United States continue to allow the legal sale, possession and use of alcohol? Its use only serves entertainment value, however the detrimental health effects from the consumption of alcohol is well documented. The social consequences of the abuse of alcohol are also wide-reaching. And the public safely concerns of operating a motor vehicle under the influence, domestic violence, sexual assault and many other crimes have a direct correlation with the use of alcohol.
Knowing all of these facts, the use of alcohol should have been banned long ago as a menace to society. We could talk about the failed prohibition days, but that had everything to do social progressive crusaders and nothing to do with protecting public safety. Yet today, for all intents and purposes, the beer, wine and liquor industry is stronger than ever. But why? For one reason countless people drink socially and don’t want the industry banned or restricted. They enjoy drinking and they are willing to accept the risks of doing something that may have unintended consequences like those mentioned above.
Again, the comparison is unfair – alcohol serves no purpose. And whether you like it (or understand it) or not, firearms have many legitimate uses that are not purely entertainment-based.
III. Looking At The Numbers.
I detest statistics. Besides being nearly impossible to boil down dynamic events into mathematical data sets, statistics can be easily manipulated in favor of one side or another. However, people, especially Americans, prefer “hard data” when discussing emotional topics. As such, I guess I am forced to play along.
A. Let’s take a look at Operating Under the Influence (OUI) statistics as posted from the Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) website:
- Every two minutes, someone is injured by a drunk driver.
- Every day, 27 people die from drunk driving.
Those numbers are staggering. Why haven’t we as Americans moved to ban the consumption of alcohol based on these drunk driving statistics alone?
B. Let’s look at the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control on liver cirrhosis:
- Number of deaths: 36,427
- Deaths per 100,000 population: 11.5
An overwhelming majority of these cases are caused by alcohol abuse. So why not ban the use of alcohol?
C. Let’s take a look at the overall public safety statistics related to alcohol as presented by the CDC:
Short-Term Health Risks
Excessive alcohol use has immediate effects that increase the risk of many harmful health conditions. These are most often the result of binge drinking and include the following:
- Injuries, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings, and burns.6,7
- Violence, including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence.6-10
- Alcohol poisoning, a medical emergency that results from high blood alcohol levels.11
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. These behaviors can result in unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.12,13
- Miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs) among pregnant women.6,12,14,15
Long-Term Health Risks
Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
- Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
- Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
- Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.
I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but here are are a couple counterpoints that you may be thinking:
It’s ironic that you cite the CDC since they have been prohibited from studying firearm related injuries and deaths.
I guess it’s ironic, however remember, guns aren’t chemicals, pharmaceuticals or mood altering drugs. They are just inanimate objects. In addition, it’s not like we have no studies or statistics to base injuries and deaths from guns in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting Program keeps comprehensive statistics on all types of crime, including gun deaths.
The statistics on the public health risks you posted above pertain to the abuse of alcohol, not the safe use of alcohol.
I understand. So you don’t want me to judge a large cross section of society based on the actions of a small group irresponsible or criminal abusers? Got it. Can I ask the same consideration from you about gun ownership?
IV. Laws and Regulations
Another argument in the comparison between alcohol and firearms is that, over the years, alcohol education, deterrence and enforcement through legislation have attempted to reduce the risk of injury or death. So why haven’t gun laws followed suit? Why can’t gun owners make “reasonable” concessions to make everyone “safer”. The truth is, there have been many firearms laws passed:
- National Firearms Act (“NFA”) (1934): Taxes the manufacture and transfer of, and mandates the registration of Title II weapons such as machine guns, short-barreled rifles and shotguns, heavy weapons, explosive ordnance, silencers, and disguised or improvised firearms.
- Federal Firearms Act of 1938 (“FFA”): Requires that gun manufacturers, importers, and persons in the business of selling firearms have a Federal Firearms License (FFL). Prohibits the transfer of firearms to certain classes of persons, such as convicted felons.
- Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 (1968): Prohibited interstate trade in handguns, increased the minimum age to 21 for buying handguns.
- Gun Control Act of 1968 (“GCA”): Focuses primarily on regulating interstate commerce in firearms by generally prohibiting interstate firearms transfers except among licensed manufacturers, dealers and importers.
- Firearm Owners Protection Act (“FOPA”) (1986): Revised and partially repealed the Gun Control Act of 1968. Prohibited the sale to civilians of automatic firearms manufactured after the date of the law’s passage. Required ATF approval of transfers of automatic firearms.
- Undetectable Firearms Act (1988): Effectively criminalizes, with a few exceptions, the manufacture, importation, sale, shipment, delivery, possession, transfer, or receipt of firearms with less than 3.7 oz of metal content.
- Gun-Free School Zones Act (1990): Prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly possessing a firearm at a place that the individual knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, is a school zone.
- Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993): Requires background checks on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.
- Federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994–2004): Banned semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition feeding devices. The law expired in 2004.
Remember, in what many refer to as the “simpler times” that followed World War II, all types of firearms could be mail ordered from places like the Sears catalog and delivered right to your door. So, to say we haven’t enacted firearms laws is simply not true.
But gun regulations and laws in the United States are so much different than in other parts of the world. Why do we live in a ‘Gun-Culture’.
The reverse can be said for consumption laws in many countries throughout the world, where, for example, drinking is socially acceptable among younger age groups than legally allowed here at home.
So, what are you trying to say? That it is ok to die or be injured from a firearm because your could also die or be injured from an alcohol related incident?
Not at all. I think that non-gun Americans need to rethink their aversion to risk when it comes to firearms, because they will gladly accept the risk of living in a free society when it come time to doing something they want to do, like consuming alcohol and supporting an industry that can cause so many social issues.
Laws and regulations barring the possession and use of inanimate objects are completely ineffective. Humans need to evolve in a way that addresses violence, impulse control and myriad of other societal issues. Simply taking away objects only treats us like children, creating disdain, anger and furthering inequality.
I could go on for pages, identifying all the negatives of alcohol in America. Gory details of death, injury and loss. A billion-dollar industry whose singular purpose is to give people a chemical high. Tales of ruined lives that start from the bottom of a bottle or a can.
Sounds pretty dramatic, doesn’t it?
The truth is, no one is calling for the end of all (or even parts) of the alcoholic beverage industry. For one, because scary looking bottles of swill aren’t being paraded across the tv and Internet as being evil incarnate. But mostly it’s because in America, almost everyone drinks. And because it’s so mainstream, the industry will remain, no matter what the risk is to the American people.
And I’m fine with it – because I accept those risks as well.
VI. A Request Of non-gun Owning americans
I am not asking you to change your mind on gun ownership (right now, anyway). I am asking you to gauge the hypocrisy that may be playing out within you. Do you believe that so-called “assault weapons” should be banned, but you enjoy a gin and tonic on your porch? Do you “not understand why anyone needs a gun” while you head out to the bar on a Friday night? Is it really because you think it’s a public safety hazard, or is it because you are not part of that specific demographic. Be honest with yourself: are you more likely be hurt from an alcohol incident or a firearm incident? How do you honestly deal with that dichotomy?
And if you don’t drink, why are you not calling for a second Prohibition before more gun laws? The health and safety risks are clear. We don’t treat legal drinkers as criminals, so why should we treat legal gun owners that way? We don’t call for the ban on hard liquor over beer because they are somehow “more dangerous”.
Like alcohol, firearms are the horse that has left the proverbial barn. Closing the door is not an option. As Americans, we need to find new ways to deal with criminal behavior and our fulfill our responsibilities as good human beings
Stop and make the comparison. It might just open your eyes.
One American Firearm Owner
p.s. In case you somehow missed the point, I’m not calling for any restrictions on alcoholic beverages (like most Americans, I do enjoy a good drink now and then).
(Views expressed herein are strictly personal.)