04 August 2010

Bullet Points

In an eye-opening article published in the August 2010 issue of Harper's magazine, titled "Happiness Is a Worn Gun," writer Dan Baum estimates that there are 250 million firearms owned by private citizens in the United States. And among those gun owners, 6 million have permits to carry a concealed pistol.

Baum, himself a handgun owner and holder of a concealed-carry license, traces what he calls "the gun-carrying revolution" to Florida, whose cocaine-driven murder rate in 1987 ran 40 percent higher than the national average. But instead of restricting access to guns in the face of such slaughter, he writes, the Florida legislature took the view that citizens should be able to defend themselves and ordered police chiefs to issue any adult a carry permit unless there was good reason to deny it. "In the history of gun politics, this was a big moment. The gun-rights movement had won just about every battle it had fought since coalescing in the late 1960s, but these had been defensive battles against new gun-control laws. Reversing the burden of proof on carry permits expanded gun rights. For the first time, the movement was on offense, and the public loved it."

To his credit, Baum is candid about the heightened sense of power carrying a handgun has given him: "There’s no denying that carrying a gun has made my days a lot more dramatic. Suddenly, I’m dangerous. I’m an action figure. I bear a lethal secret into every social encounter." And he has to "remind myself occasionally that my gun is not a prop, a political statement, or a rhetorical device, but an instrument designed to blow a ragged channel through a human being."

Currently in the United States, 37 states have "shall issue" laws, which require law enforcement authorities to issue a concealed-pistol license to an adult citizen unless he or she has a state-mandated reason for disqualification, such as a felony conviction. With 250 million firearms in private hands, guns are here to stay.

Gun ownership and control is a hot-button subject that invariably fans emotional flames no matter what position you take on the issue. Baum deserves credit for having written a balanced, well-researched, and personally revealing article. He has advanced--and elevated--the discussion.