Some people die in freak accidents that are impossible to predict. Charles Vacca isn’t necessarily one of them. Vacca was the Arizona shooting-range instructor killed this week by a 9-year-old girl playing with an Uzi. (Of course, playing. She wasn’t there to fight Hamas.)
Vacca was experienced with guns and, judging from his Facebook page, enamored of them. One of his postings was a paean to the Second Amendment accompanied by the gun-movement slogan: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
Vacca’s death proved the validity of his point: He was indeed a person killed by a person – in his case, a 9-year-old female person. That, of course, isn’t the scenario the sloganeers at the National Rifle Association and its assorted frenemies in the gun-rights movement promote. In the dystopia envisioned by NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, everyone needs guns – lots of ‘em – not to fend off little girls at play but to protect oneself from the zombie apocalypse that is life in these United States.
“We know that in the world that surrounds us there are terrorists, home invaders, drug cartels, car jackers, ‘knock-out' gamers, rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers, shopping mall killers, and killers who scheme to destroy our country with massive storms of violence against our power grids or vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse as a society that sustains us all,” LaPierre said in prepared remarks for a speech in April.
The gun movement is as deeply invested in hyping the apocalypse – we can discuss another time the utility of a firearm in combating “vicious waves of chemicals” – as it is in denying the reality of carelessness, stupidity and poor judgment as causes of the U.S.’s world-beating gun injuries and deaths. The movement’s ideology rests on the premise that everyone should own a gun, a belief that presumes that every owner is competent. Thus, the only division that matters isn’t between the responsible and the reckless, but between the good gunslinger and the evil one. Because evil is pervasive, guns must be too.
One goal of extending the boundaries of gun culture to the furthest extremes is to normalize behavior that the actual, nonapocalyptic conditions of society cannot justify. When the Georgia legislature passed its “guns everywhere” law legalizing guns in bars and just about every other place in the state (except, curiously, inside the Georgia legislature), it was a big win for the NRA.
Trouble is, guns everywhere means guns for people who drink too much, people who take drugs, people with deep insecurities and poor impulse control, even people who are too young and small and inexperienced to manage the surprising recoil of a submachine gun at the range. (This boy died.)
Lately, the gun movement’s crusade against laws and cultural norms that seek to constrain gun violence has been overwhelmingly successful. Perhaps in the end, LaPierre and his allies will prevail. Americans will live in alternating states of gun terror and gunplay, armed at all times out of fear of all the other people armed at all times. Gun manufacturers will reap the windfall.
But it seems more likely that we will grow frustrated by pointless death and injury from reckless people empowered by laws enacted to appease an obsessive fringe. Commenting to National Review writer Eliana Johnson on the lengthy wait to acquire a machine gun legally, Jeff Folloder, executive director of the National Firearms Act Trade & Collectors Association, said a purchaser of a restricted machine gun “knows he will be waiting for upwards of a year to get the toy that he paid for.” (Read this on the rules.)
There’s no point denying that for many people a gun, like a fast car, is a toy. I have a friend who enjoys going out to the countryside and shooting things up for fun. That won’t change. But if we don’t want the toys to kill us, we should probably start encouraging our friends, neighbors and legislators to take some modest steps to minimize their lethality, and to alter the behavior of reckless gun owners. People kill people. But there is no reason people should kill people nearly as often as they do.
Francis Wilkinson writes editorials on politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg View.