Amy Gehrt: Gun debate full of loaded questions

Amy Gehrt

Open a newspaper, turn on a TV news program, browse a news site online or just log into Facebook and chances are good you’ll find someone weighing in on the gun debate raging across the country these days.

There’s no doubt that it’s a complex, emotionally driven subject. It’s not a black-and-white issue, nor is it — despite what many would have you believe — a blue versus red issue. There are plenty of Democrats who support gun rights, just as there are many Republicans who call for stricter gun control. (In fact, the only obstacle standing in the way of a proposed “assault-weapons ban” in Congress is a handful of Democrats, by all reports.)

The trouble is that those who want gun control don’t seem to grasp that the problem isn’t responsible firearms ownership — it’s the criminal element, and the lack of adequate mental health treatment. If someone hacks up a bunch of people with a machete, he’s labeled an insane or evil person. If that same person goes on a shooting spree, it’s suddenly the gun’s fault. Where’s the logic in that type of so-called reasoning?

I understand that people are afraid. When there are mass-casualty incidents in public places such as schools and movie theaters it makes us all feel fearful. We search for answers, for a way to make sense of the tragic events. In an attempt to make ourselves feel better — safer — we look for something to blame ... for an easy fix. But the simple fact of the matter is there is often no way to explain exactly what motivates someone to go on a killing spree.

One thing is clear to me, however: Stricter gun control is not the answer. Want proof? Just look at Chicago. It has some of the toughest gun-control measures in the U.S. Yet despite that, and a nationwide reduction in the number of homicides, Chicago’s murder rate actually spiked sharply in 2012.

The only thing stricter gun control will accomplish is to keep firearms out of the hands of those who have respect for the law. People who have no compunction about slaughtering a room full of strangers certainly aren’t going to care about what weapon they’re legally permitted to own, nor will they be dissuaded from their plan merely because a firearm may be more difficult to obtain. Someone set on murder will find a way, whether it’s by doing a simple google search for bomb-making recipes (it results in literally hundreds of millions of hits — I checked) then gathering up those common household products, or some other deadly means.

According to FBI crime statistics, in 2011 there were 323 people killed by rifles, compared to 496 murders committed with hammers or clubs. Deaths caused by hands, fists and feet totalled 728 that year. So where are the proposals to outlaw hammers and clubs? Should we start chopping off people’s hands and feet, just to be safe? Sure, it’s hard to get much done around the house without a hammer, not to mention opposable thumbs, but if a tool is going to be misused by some then why not just take the right away from us all?

And that’s the crux of the matter, for me. Two years ago, I likely would have been writing a very different column. I didn’t know much about guns and, like many Americans, I feared the unknown. But during an argument about gun rights, a friend of mine made a point that really resonated. A firearm, he said, was a tool — just like anything else. Misused, many tools have the potential to kill or maim. Yet when one is properly trained and uses the tool as intended, it can serve a valuable purpose.

To illustrate his point, he put a disassembled Glock into my hands. In pieces, I had to admit it wasn’t nearly as scary. It was months before I felt ready to step on a firing range for the first time, but that moment changed my way of thinking about firearms.

I believe many gun-control advocates might be similarly swayed if they took the time to truly understand guns, and the ban they’re so quick to support — something far too few do, based on the number of people who keep proclaiming that “no one is trying to take your guns” while, in fact, trying to do exactly that.

The proposed law is far more restrictive than the one the U.S. let lapse several years ago after realizing it did not, in fact, reduce gun violence. A much larger variety of firearms would be impacted, including a number of popular handguns such as Glocks — the most commonly issued law enforcement pistol, by the way.

As a society, we must ask ourselves if we really want to outlaw the guns that have the best chance of keeping us safe, just for an illusion of safety. Or would we be better off allowing responsible, legally armed citizens to freely walk among us, ready to step in and offer real protection? I know which option would make me feel safer if my life is ever on the line.

Amy Gehrt may be reached at The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.