Huffpost Homepage
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Ellis Weiner Headshot

Johnny Get Your Gun

Posted: Updated:

When I grow up--which, experts assure me, will happen any day now--I want to be a "conservative." I want to live in a make-believe world in which every single fact--about human nature, economics, sexuality, race, history, power, class, society, money, virtue, greed, corruption, truth, and God--is what I want it to be.

I mean, it won't really be what I want it to be. But I'll construct an entire life pretending it is. I can write for a "conservative" blog or magazine or think tank and create an actual career simply by stating my (unconsidered, self-serving, often quite stupid) opinion as fact, and then getting other "conservatives," my friends and neighbors in our imaginary world, to agree.

Like this.

It's an entry in a blog called Power Line which, because you are a sensible person with an actual life, you may not have read before. One of its proprietors is "a lawyer with a nationwide litigation practice" named John H. Hinderaker.

I'll spare you the nicknames applied to this citizen by the snarkier writers on the blogs that I frequent. Instead, let's examine what Hinderaker recently wrote under the somewhat pretentious, faux-classical title "An Argument for An Armed Citizenry."

In the entry, he recounts the truly horrific story of a gang of thugs brutalizing a family of five at Valleyfair, an amusement park near the Twin Cities, where he lives. Nine criminals beat up the father as the man's wife, children, and the hapless security guards failed to stop them. As of July 16, the father was still in the hospital and the attackers were "out on bail."

Now, the state of "conservative" commentary in These Nominally United States is such that I must preface what follows with the categorical statement that, assuming this account is accurate, these hooligans should be tried and punished to fullest extent of the law. Period.

There. Ready? Here's John H. Hinderaker's response:

The story is an infuriating one in several ways, but what strikes me most forcibly is that it would have been a good thing if a few armed citizens had happened by while the assault was in progress.

"Good"? It would have been great! Even better would have been the arrival of the Justice League of America. Maybe next time. Meanwhile:

So the optimal outcome here would have been for one or more normal citizens to pull a firearm, shoot a couple of the criminals, and hold the rest until the police arrived. Criminals who carry out outrageous assaults in public do so on the assumption that passersby will not be able to stop them. Absent firearms, that assumption is reasonable. So let's hear it for concealed carry.

You bet. And if this song sounds familiar, it's because we heard it sung after the horrendous attack on students and faculty at Virginia Tech in 2007. But before we hear it for concealed carry, let's hear a few other things--such as the possible less-than-optimal outcomes possible when your entire populace is allowed to pack heat:

1. The fantasy is of "a few" good citizens stepping up and stepping in. But why just "a few"? What makes Hinderaker think that a lot of people wouldn't be armed? The more you know that any putz or nitwit on the street can be carrying a gun, the more you'd be tempted to get one yourself, "just in case." It would be naïve not to. Never mind roving gangs of youthful thugs; you know how many free-lance nuts are out there. All it takes is one, shooting off his mouth and his Glock, to do permanent damage. Thus does the neighborhood, and the world, become the locus of a self-perpetuating arms race.

2. These selfless civilian law enforcers, per JH, would disable a few perps and then stop "until the police arrived." Why would they stop? With so many amateur Dirty Harrys and Harriets loaded for bear, why might not one or several be so itching to use their weapons, they'd just keep shooting until all the attackers were dead? "How come that guy gets to be a hero, but not me?"

3. Hinderaker assumes that everyone wielding a piece is sober. Does it occur to him that one, or ten, of them (especially in an amusement park) might be drunk? Or pissed off at something else and looking for an opportunity to "vent"?

4. What makes this Fellow of the Claremont Institute think that a single latecomer, hearing shots, might not accidentally think--or want to think--that he's under attack, prompting him to draw and start shooting? Because not all of these concealed-carriers will have witnessed the original attack on the family. Put it this way: You just got off the Tilt-a-Whirl. You hear shots. You immediately reach for your gun and go to Defcon Two. Isn't that why you have the gun in the first place? How many people running (or crouching) in panic, holding how many weapons, does it take, before one of them shoots it deliberately or accidentally and hits someone who ought not be hit?

5. Speaking of which, may we broach the highly technical topic of acoustics? Gun shots are sharp percussive noises that echo and ricochet fairly cleanly. They're particularly susceptible to sounding like they come from over THERE when in fact they originate over HERE. Imagine other "normal citizens" coming upon the scene--whether the scene is the amusement park, the bank, the office, the grassy knoll near the School Book Depository, or the Virginia Tech library--and having to assess correctly where the shots are coming from.

One error--one person wheeling in the wrong direction and firing off a round--could result in what? Why, in return fire from others, who naturally don't know why they're being shot at, but who aren't going to take it lying down. Oh, and, of course, in innocent bystanders being hit, if by "hit" we mean "wounded," "permanently paralyzed" or "permanently killed."

6. Hinderaker assumes, because he resides in Conservative Dream World, that all these law-enforcing civilians are good shots. And that they can correctly discriminate, when shooting, between the malefactors and the victims. What does he deem an acceptable level of collateral damage in an operation like this?

A population of civilians, brandishing iron and looking for trouble: It reminds me of a film we saw in elementary school in the early 60s entitled, touchingly, Our Friend the Atom, in which a chain reaction was demonstrated with a table covered with mousetraps. Each trap held two Ping-Pong balls. The explainer held up a ball and gently tossed it onto the table. It hit a trap, which released two more balls. Each of those two hit other traps, releasing four more balls. It took maybe three seconds for that single ball to transform the table from a silent tableau of coiled potential into a clattering, frothing chaos of bouncing balls. If you saw it once, as a kid, you've never forgotten it.

That's the promise of concealed carry.

And these are just some of the Arguments Against An Armed Citizenry. For additions to the list of potential disasters, ask your neighborhood fourth grader. It doesn't take much to think up a few more--just a little intelligence and a little imagination, both of which are available to John Hinderaker and his chorus of gloatingly indignant commenters.

But it also takes two things they don't possess: a bit of empathy for the reactions of other people, and the willingness to discuss real or potential phenomena in a world outside the hothouse Bio-Dome fantasy realm of "conservative" ideology in which Power Line and its readers spend their heroically oblivious lives.

Let Hinderaker--or, worse, a member of his family--stop a passer-by's bullet while going about their business in the rugged individualist Tombstone in which he purports to want to live, and we'll see what next insight strikes him most forcibly.

Cross-posted at What HE Said