Unsurprisingly, pro-gun conservatives have already suggested that the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina could have been averted had the entire congregation been armed. Besides advocating that we live in a world where we’re constantly on alert for fear of being murdered at any moment, conservatives never seem to talk about the completely plausible situations in which more guns would make everything else so much worse. Let’s run through a couple of thought experiments:
1) A buffoon in the parking lot of Wal-Mart on a busy day has forgotten to switch on the safety of his handgun. While walking towards the storefront he accidentally discharges his weapon, scaring himself and all the other shoppers in the lot. Being the buffoon he is, he immediately removes his weapon to inspect it and switch the safety on, but the frightened shoppers, having just heard a gunshot ring out in the early afternoon, see a man in the direction of where the sound came from fumbling with his weapon. A few people understandably panic and take out their weapons as well. You pick up the storyline from there.
2) A black teen walking home from a friend’s house at night is waved down by a single police officer in his cruiser. The teen, a bit on edge because he watches the news, throws his hands in the air. The officer, paranoid because everyone he pulls over for a speeding ticket has a gun like his and tired after a long shift, immediately retrieves his weapon and points it at the teen. A miscommunication occurs where the officer orders the teen ‘to the ground,’ but the teen understands it as ‘turn around,’ and the officer, seeing this perhaps as an escape attempt, fires.
3) Two men have a disagreement as to whose fault the fender-bender is, and neither is willing to take responsibility. The conversation becomes heated, and when one retreats to his car to wait for the police to arrive so he can give his statement, the other perceives the first’s swift motion as an indication he’s going to retrieve a weapon from the glovebox. Unsure, he takes his gun from his belt. When the first man sees this, he also takes the gun from his belt. Both think the other has drawn his weapon in order to fire.
How do conservatives expect law enforcement to react to this? Those who defend the police for murdering people or using excessive force claim that the job is extremely stressful because they never know who might have a weapon. If they’re trigger happy and paranoid about the mere possibility of every average Joe having a gun, how would they act in the world where virtually everyone has one?
Perhaps, though, pro-gun advocates have considered these scenarios and just believe that after a jumpy population has had enough haphazard murders (like the aforementioned situations, plus countless other possible cases), everyone will learn to adjust to everyone else having a gun on them all the time. But the weird part is that they would think all these accidental murders would be a fine means to an end of preventing deliberate murders.
That’s what happened in the case of Dustin Cheever in Wichita, Kansas, who entered his neighbor’s (Robert Gammons) backyard without his knowledge or permission in search of a stolen motorcycle. When Gammons, on his own property, confronted Cheever and his friend (Steve Grose) with a BB pistol, Cheever pulled out his own gun and killed Gammons. Cheever was tried for second degree murder—understandable, because he was trespassing on Gammons’ property instead of calling the police about the stolen bike—yet he was acquitted of all charges, even involuntary manslaughter, which is reckless but unintentional killing. Had neither parties had guns, Gammons would be alive, and Cheever wouldn’t have faced the threat of a decade in prison. But conservatives have to concede that this is the preferable reality—that it’s better with Gammons dead.
Worst of all is that those who advocate for a reduction of gun-free zones or an increase in the number of firearms in circulation is that they essentially blame the victims (or, more broadly, liberals) for their own deaths, because if guns had been present, it never would have happened. “Well, sure. You were in a church and weren’t packing heat. Why would you expect to not be shot?” I’m not sure what kind of person wants to live in a society that is so suspicious of itself that insta-murder is considered an everyday, legitimate threat. How would that shape our culture? How would that affect the average citizen’s psychology? It’s a perverse worldview to have, and it’s one that persists and is strengthened every time something as horrible as this happens.