Those who oppose even the smallest movement towards better gun safety policies do so love to invoke the figure of the "responsible gun owner" as their reason for wanting more unfettered gun access. "Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for acts of criminals," NRA head Wayne LaPierre said in his 2013 remarks to Congress. "Teaching safe and responsible gun ownership works.”
It all sounds good on paper, but Detroit got to see what that mentality actually looks like in practice this week, when a woman who was certified for concealed carry---meaning she had to take gun safety classes and everything---decided that the best way to deal with a shoplifting that had nothing whatsoever to do with her was to pull out her gun and open fire in a Home Depot parking lot. This is what you get from the simplistic dividing of people into "law-abiding" and "criminal", as well as assuring people that taking a few classes makes you a responsible gun owner: A woman who was so sure of her righteousness and responsibility that it didn't even occur to her not to do something so immoral and stupid. Immoral because under no circumstances should the penalty for shoplifting be death at the hands of a vigilante. Stupid because she was in a parking lot, where innocent people are milling around, with soft bodies that will take a stray bullet whether the NRA considers them law-abiding or not.
But the fact that there are idiots in this world isn't the most troubling fact about this story. No, what is even more troubling is that the woman remains unarrested and uncharged, and may not be facing any criminal charges at all. Unfortunately, under Michigan law, it may not be possible to charge her with a crime at all because, foolishly, the state allows people to take potshots at people who are fleeing from the commission of a felony.
Let's hope that she doesn't get away scot-free for this. If responsible gun ownership is really the ideal that our country is trying to uphold, then, by God, let's start by throwing the book at people who are irresponsible with their guns.
Unfortunately, despite their claims to be for responsible gun ownership, the gun lobbyists like the NRA have worked diligently at chipping away any legal recourse that victims of gun violence or the government has to hold people responsible for mishandling guns. This part of their work tends to go under-discusssed, because Most discourse about guns in our country focuses on the issue of restricting gun sales.
But what happens once the gun leaves the store gets less attention, though in many ways, it might be just as important an issue. It's not just the sheer number of guns that this country has, but the increasingly cavalier and irresponsible attitudes that are growing up around it, where guns are treated like toys or props in people's Dirty Harry fantasies, instead of the deadly weapons that they, in fact, are. No doubt that's they way that gun manufacturers want it to be. It's a lot easier to sell a lot of guns if people think of them as cool consumer items to collect instead of dealers of death that you invite into your home. But the result is behavior like this woman's, where the excitement of finally getting to use your cool toy outweighs the fear of killing someone.
It all starts with the marketing around guns. Marketers often advertise guns by making them seem like toys, advertising them as props in someone's action movie fantasies, stoking the belief that confronting criminals is a common part of everyday life, framing guns as ideal playthings for children, or promoting them as accessories to the "manly" life, as if they were cigars and sports cars. In other words, despite LaPierre's posturing about responsible gun ownership, marketers encourage irresponsible gun ownership.
But despite all this irresponsibility, gun manufacturers enjoy broad immunity against lawsuits. It's hard to imagine that conservatives really support responsible gun ownership while simultaneously encouraging irresponsibility in the sales and marketing of guns, by refusing to hold gun companies accountable.
If guns are status symbols and trophies, people aren't going to lock them up or use them responsibly. They are going to want to have them out for others to see. If you drop so much money on you vigilante fantasies, you're going to want to justify that expense by having a confrontation with a criminal. A couple of concealed carry classes isn't going to counteract that, especially if the classes are being taught by people who are also entranced by a culture that romanticizes guns.
This culture of irresponsibility around guns was illustrated most dramatically this week in a series of fatal shootings by children. An 11-year-old shot an 8-year-old to death to punish her for not letting him play with her puppy. Another 11-year-old shot his 12-year-old brother to death during a target shooting outing. A 5-year-old shot his 2-year-old sister to death with a gun that was literally given to him as a toy, marketed as "My First Rifle".
Family members of the boy and his dead sister painted the accident as if it was just a weather event. "It's something that you can't prepare for," said one.
"It was God's will. It was her time to go, I guess," said another.
It was none of those things, of course. The deaths of all these children go straight back to the irresponsibility of gun owners, namely the adults in this situation. It's irresponsible to leave guns laying out for children to grab, as happened with both the 11-year-old shooters. It's irresponsible to give a 5-year-old a gun. It's irresponsible to soak children in a culture that teaches them that they can feel powerful and adult by playing with guns. But all these things are being done, and the worst part about it is that no one is holding anyone responsible for any of this.
Gun lobbyists have successfully fought against safe storage laws. Subsequently, many of these irresponsible gun owners face no legal repercussions for their behavior. There are no reports in any of these cases of the adults who allowed children access to guns being charged, though the 11-year-old who deliberately shot the little girl will be facing murder charges. That's the culture we live in. It's not only way too easy to buy a gun, but if you are a big enough idiot to let little kids play with them, the chances are low anyone will do anything about it. Not even if your negligence kills someone.