Our Gun Love Is Killing Our Kids

ASBURY PARK, N.J. (TheStreet) -- TheStreet's Peter Morici has it right in his story Wednesday: Tougher Federal Gun Laws Won't Stem Violence. The Senate bill and the debate can't change human nature.

That doesn't mean the bill is bad, or that we shouldn't at least try to curb gun violence. It just means the problem is deeper than we can currently address with laws alone.

I don't agree with Peter's conclusion that the Senate bill will lull the citizenry into a false sense of security. I give people a lot more credit for understanding what we're up against. They see the guns; they hear bitter outcry from those who feel, incorrectly, that only possession of a gun stands between them and catastrophe of one sort or another.

Those arguments are indefensible as bodies from gun deaths continue to pile up -- 3,370 since the Newtown massacre, and counting. But few, including me, have the stomach to follow the arguers into crazyland, the mirror world where the Constitution guarantees a right to overthrow the Constitution; where encouragement of "responsible" gun ownership is a cure for the threat of loose guns "responsible" gun owners have left on the streets; where the proximity of guns to children poses no threat in itself.

We here in central New Jersey -- home of some farther flung commuter towns south of New York City -- woke Wednesday to a headline screaming at us in all caps from the front page of the Asbury Park Press: BOY, 6, DIES FROM ACCIDENTAL SHOOTING BY 4-YEAR-OLD FRIEND.

I'll spare you the details. Just let that sink in.

(Full disclosure: I have a classical music column that runs weekly in the Asbury Park Press.)

The Press hammered the incident, with three related stories taking up most of its front page. One of the articles points out that more children die from guns than from cancer, more kids were hurt by guns in 2010 than soldiers in the war in Afghanistan.

Four-year-old boy. Playing with a .22 rifle in a truck and shot his friend, 6, dead.

There are laws on the books -- largely unenforced, as the Press points out -- to punish owners who allow children access to guns. Punishment after the fact certainly wouldn't bring much consolation to anyone in this case, if it ever does.

And that's really the point: Laws can't fix what we have broken. We have learned to love our guns and we have to learn to unlove them.

Wal-Mart ( WMT), Cabela's ( CAB) and other retail outlets can't be entirely blamed for making weapons as easy to stockpile as canned goods. If we didn't have an insatiable appetite for them, Walmart stores wouldn't sell them.

The National Rifle Association's well-publicized suggestion, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn. shootings, that we arm teachers to keep children safe from gun-wielding intruders is being taken seriously by a large segment of the population, entertaining debate on a point many would have assumed to be a joke even 30 years ago, as if it were now somehow reasonable. That alone shows the degree to which we have, as a nation, come to accept the inevitability of guns in our lives.

So let me point out: There is no inevitability. There is only culture and culture can be changed. In fact, inevitability is on the other side of the logical inequality: Trust is greater than fear. Trust comes through cooperation. Guns breed fear. They break down cooperation, break down trust.

No one who carries a gun is free from the fear that they might be called on to use it or that it might fall into the wrong hands. That is the fear of a responsible gun owner. Your gun can fall into the wrong hands. You do have the capacity to shoot someone by accident. Your weapon can be taken from you and used against you or someone else.

A gun is an awesome burden. No matter how disciplined you are, if you aren't afraid of those negative outcomes, you are simply not being realistic, you're not being responsible.

A gun does promote a sense of strength, a sense that you and your family are powerful and will survive an attack. Apart from being incredibly selfish and fueled by fear, that's quite possibly false. Many armed people die all the time.

But that's not the point. The sense of strength that comes from gun ownership, whatever else it might be, is not peace of mind. Peace of mind comes from letting go of fear, cooperating with one another, admitting that we are dependent on one another, working together.

Your neighbors don't benefit from your sense of strength. They only fear you. Fear fractures community. They do benefit from your peace of mind. Promoting peace of mind brings communities together.

As I pointed out in my article last year on this subject, we, as a nation, can't defend our right to amass stockpiles of weapons while we also have high rates of gun deaths.

So why are we trying? Where's the upside?

As illustrated by the deaths of children each year all over the country from accidental gunshots, a gun in the house keeps no one safe. A gun in the house threatens everyone in proximity.

And please, spare me the "swimming pool" argument that gun rights propagandists toss out: Children die in swimming pools; we're not going to make those illegal! That's a completely false analogy. Swimming pools aren't designed to kill. They can't be picked up and carried into a movie theater and used to drown a handful of strangers. No one is suggesting lining the halls of elementary schools with watery graves. Wal-Mart isn't selling extra-lethal water you can use to kill swimmers more reliably.

If you can't extend trust to your neighbors, to your community, then at least take more sensible precautions. Don't threaten them. There are better ways to protect your family.

Buy an alarm system. Have everyone in your household take self-defense classes. Give each member a cellphone programmed with a handful of local emergency contacts on speed dial. Get a dog. Build a fence. Build a moat and a drawbridge and an electrified fence if it will make you happy.

Anything would be better than a gun.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park.

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