After last week's shooting, some are saying that the tragedy could have been avoided if someone in that audience had been holding a gun. Ignoring the intense panic and huge crowd, the tear gas filling the theater and the body armor the shooter was wearing, sure, maybe someone could have gotten a good shot off. After all, there are many success stories of defensive gun uses, or DGUs. Around the Internet, many people toss around the number "2.5 million," as in "There are 2.5 million DGUs a year." That's quite a lot of lives possibly saved. Now compare it to, say, the 75,684 gun-related injuries back in 2000, or the 31,224 gun-related deaths in 2007. Two and a half million! Wowzers!
Scientists confirm: "Wowzers."
Except "2.5 million" comes from a single study back in 1993. A study that involved calling 4,977 people across the country, asking them a few gun questions and then adjusting the number to fit the population of the whole country. The number is both highly cited and highly disputed. Not only are the figures not enough to make an accurate estimate (other studies range from 50,000 to 2 million), but the results don't actually translate to "lives saved thanks to gun use." They refer to a gun being involved in the presumed protection of a person or thing. This could be a life-threatening situation or a situation where a gun wasn't needed at all. DGUs include people who were in actual danger of losing their lives, as well as people who were George Zimmerman. Regardless, the general consensus is that 2.5 million is a gross exaggeration.
So we have a mixed bag of "guns saving lives" scenarios. In some cases, guns will stop a crime. In others, guns will kill a maybe criminal. In others still, they will be a part of a terrible accident. It's quite a gamble. Like Russian roulette, only no one knows they're playing it. And now, since the Dark Knight shooting, gun sales have gone up thanks to a healthy dose of fear. More potential to save a life, and just as much more potential to end one. I of course don't want to belittle the success stories, though. A life saved is fantastic, and however many lives saved is however many fantastics.
But the real problem with a "guns save lives" argument is the language used. People talk about "defensive gun uses" and their right to defend themselves and their property. But there's actually nothing defensive about a gun. They are all ATTACK. They are made and used for offense. "Defense," on the other hand, is resistance against an attack. Defense is protection, something that STOPS an attack. Wearing a condom is defense, whereas punching yourself in the balls is offense. Protection is a bullet-proof vest, or mace, or a security system. A gun is not defense. The widespread use of an actual defensive weapon would potentially save more lives than a gun because, again, guns are for killing, not protecting. The sooner we are all provided a weapon LIKE a gun that merely incapacitates a person, the sooner we can safely defend ourselves, instead of defending ourselves by killing each other.
OK, that poster isn't super relevant. I just felt like lightening the mood. Because I don't want to say that "Guns Save Lives" is absolutely meaningless. But it is muddy. It's just not all there, which makes it not have true meaning in the context of the larger conversation. The truth is, "Guns Have Saved Lives. Guns Have Ended Lives. Guns Are Meant to Kill." The issue isn't whether or not we have the right to protect ourselves and others, it's whether or not guns are the best instrument to do the protecting.
Speaking of rights, none of this actually matters, because ...
Stop it. Technically yes, the Second Amendment says what you were going to say before I cut you off, but stop it. I'll tell you what the Second Amendment says.
"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
There's quite a lot of debate over what this actually means, and many will argue that the amendment only refers to people in a militia. So if you're not in a militia, then you should not have a gun. Except in 2008, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects the right of an individual to possess a firearm. So there. The Second Amendment wins. You can grab your gat and go get your kids back now.
Except that court ruling doesn't have as much meaning as you think, in the long run. The very nature of the Constitution is not permanent. We're talking about the Second Amendment, after all. The Constitution is supposed to be amended. Not only that, it's supposed to be completely rewritten. Take it from Thomas Jefferson:
"Every constitution, then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of nineteen years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right."
Our Constitution, of course, has not been rewritten in more than 200 years (read: ever). But people change, and nations change. Ideals and rights change. Life was, ya know, totally way different 230 years ago. It's quite possible that the people no longer require or even want every citizen to have the ability of point-and-shoot death. We should also consider what "bear arms" meant when it was written. Back then, guns were muskets, and muskets could fire about three incredibly inaccurate rounds per minute. Today, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle can shoot off more than 60 rounds per minute with extreme accuracy, and reload in seconds. Perhaps it's time to reevaluate our needs and freedoms. In fact, regardless of the gun control issue, perhaps we're about 200 years late on reevaluating our needs and freedoms.
All I'm really asking is that when the conversation starts, let's actually have it. These basically meaningless phrases always seem to stop the conversation from even beginning. Let's move past that, and really look at ourselves and our country and our planet and our future. Let's consider who we are on a larger scale, and who we want to be, and where we are headed.
"Wheeeeeeeeeee!" - humans
For more from Cody, check out Advanced Batman Theory: Why Nolan Will Kill Bruce Wayne and The 12 Most Baffling Genres of Stock Photo, Explained.