Why I'm so virulently anti-gun

Ira Lacher shares a personal story that busted the myth of the "good guy with a gun."

Years before Donald J. Trump placed the approval of the highest United States official on the toxic streams that run through America, I had it out with my brother-in-law one Thanksgiving Day about the granddaddy of them all: unfettered access to personal weapons of mass destruction. The stridency on both sides soared to such a pitch, the rest of the family vacated the room.

But I had to say what I said in a manner holding nothing back. Because months before, I'd learned what the seduction of a firearm can do to even those whom most of us would consider the most rational of souls.

What follows is a true story. I have eliminated names because everyone involved is still living, and they deserve anonymity, because I consider them the most rational of souls.

And so . . . long, long ago, on a magazine far, far away . . .

There was an editor who respected no one on their staff. There wasn't a word they hadn't changed, a concept they hadn't rejected, an attitude that no one could do the job as well as they. And they bullied incessantly, some staff members to tears. And they were universally feared, disrespected, and detested.

It came to pass that the summer preceding my Thanksgiving outpouring, the editorial staff joined the advertising staff at a team-building retreat just outside a major Southwestern city.

To strengthen the camaraderie between the staffs, so they could work more closely together, event organizers arranged a series of team competitions, pairing editors with ad folks. Competitions included scavenger hunts in the desert, trail-following, and, since this was the Southwest, a target shooting competition, using working replicas of Colt Peacemaker six-shooters, "the gun that won the West." These firearms, carefully designed to resemble the real thing, fired real bullets.

Our editors mostly lived in or were born and raised in major cities; to a person the ad staff were New York City residents. The closest we had come to guns like this were Western movies and TV shows: Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Have Gun, Will Travel. None of us had ever seen one of these, much less fired one.

The instructor, an off-duty sheriff's deputy, gave us some pointers about the weight of the weapon (heavy), how it sounded (loud!), and how it kicked back (considerably), closing with the ubiquitous "Never point it at anyone." As our teams paired off and began to practice with empty chambers, I couldn't help silently asking, "Then what's the use?"

And as I handled the Colt, trying to familiarize myself with its heft, its sighting and its operation, that's when it struck me: No one here is an expert marksman, to be able to place a slug where we want it. Even if a proverbial broad side of a barn were in sight, who among us could hit it?

Who would know whether a shot that struck my ogre boss were intentional or not?

I could make it seem like an accident.

I wrestled with this thought for perhaps 20 seconds before snapping to the realization that I had the ability to intentionally cause serious harm and even death to another human being. It was repugnant.

And, of course, I did nothing of the sort. Along with my colleagues, I simply shot at the target. I might have even hit it a few times. And that was that.

Only it wasn't.

That night, the editorial staff met for drinks at a local establishment to rehash the day's events. We reveled in how we handled Jeeps out on the desert, went rock climbing and other activities. Then we brought up the shooting exercise. And as the conversation continued, we all realized that at the time, eight minds had generated a common thought:

I could make it seem like an accident.

Eight reasonable people, entertaining thoughts of violence, at the same time.

Just because we could.

Because we had the key that would have enabled us to open that door: a real gun . . . firing real bullets . . . capable of inflicting real harm.

And at that moment, one of the central myths gun advocates hold was busted: that there's such a thing as a "good guy with a gun." That moral people can prevent evil—as long as they're sufficiently armed.

Because there's no such thing as a "good guy with a gun." There's only an ordinary person driven in their own mind to extremes:

The taxi driver who's been stiffed by one passenger too many.

The awkward twenty-something who can't get laid.

The longtime employee who won't take it anymore.

The kid who's been bullied by his peers for years and years and years.

And that's why I'm anti-gun. Totally. Because no one is immune from crossing the threshold from "ordinary person," one you can trust with a lethal weapon, to one you can't. It was only sheer luck that no one had followed through on the thought of violence that had occurred to all of us. Who knows whether a comment at the time, or a gesture, or a reminder of why we detested this person could have sent one of us over the edge?

Just as those who on a whim murder their wives, husbands, children, neighbors, supposed home invaders, and themselves. Because they have the means.

I know the argument: If you want to kill someone, you'll find a way to do it. Hammers and screwdrivers can be murder weapons. You can even club someone to death with a frozen turkey leg.

But hammers, screwdrivers, and turkey legs are not meant to end lives. Only guns are. Put one in someone's hand, and you tempt them to kill. As I was. As we all can be.

There's only one way to assuredly lead us not to temptation. And we all know what that way is.

Top illustration of "Wild West" revolver by "Militarist" available via Shutterstock.

Tags: Guns, Personal
  • I don't know what the terms mean anymore.

    Am I a "gun advocate" because I think responsible Iowans who pass background checks, take appropriate hunter education classes, and follow laws and regulations should be able to own guns and use them for hunting? Am I "anti-gun" because I think requiring background checks makes sense? The last comment forum I skimmed largely amounted to "No one should have guns" versus "Everyone should have guns." Scary.

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