A New Argument for Gun Control: The Occasion of Sin

02/18/2014 12:39 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2014

Michael Dunn killed a black teen, Jordan Davis, during an argument at a gas station over the teenager's loud rap music. The jury agreed Dunn was guilty of several counts of attempted murder, and only deadlocked over the charge of murder, which requires premeditation on the part of the perpetrator. Premeditation required an active intention to plan and commit murder. It's hard to see Dunn's actions as cold-blooded premeditated murder. It's not so hard to see his actions as a hot-headed response that, in the absence of easy access to a gun, would have resulted in nothing more lethal than a fist fight. If Dunn had not been able to reach in and grab a gun, not only would Davis be alive today, but Dunn would not be facing spending the rest of his life in jail. That gun in his car was an occasion of sin.

The gun lobby frames the gun control debate using overheated rhetoric about rights that sound suspiciously like an appeal to masculinity; real men don't let anyone take away their guns. How childish. Real men don't need guns to be powerful. It's time we put this argument in it's proper perspective: ready access to guns is, in the terminology of Catholic dogma (but logical to anybody who can think) an occasion of sin. If you want to avoid committing a sin, stay away from the immediate temptation. It's a pretty foolproof method. If you don't want to gain weight, stay away from the cookie section of the supermarket. If it's not in your kitchen cabinet when you're hungry, it's far less likely to end up on your hips.

If you have ready access to a gun, you can be tempted to use it. And when are you tempted to use it? Whenever you feel disrespected? Angry? Frustrated? In the heat of an argument, when all sense of proportion and reason is gone, and all that remains is emotion, it only stands to reason that if you have ready access to lethal force, a moment of anger can turn violent. In a flash.

Knife fights are brutal. You often have to look your adversary in the face, be close up. Risk injury to yourself. Same is true for all other possible weapons in a fight, baseball bats, fists. They require time, and the risk of injury to yourself. If your adversary is unarmed, guns are quick. It doesn't take but a moment to aim and shoot. There is no need to think; if you have any experience with firearms, they can become like an extension of your hand. Natural. And they fire in a flash.

The absolute number one on the hit parade of deadliest possible weapon you can use quickly and easily, without even getting your hair mussed, is a gun. I know this from experience. I was trained to use weapons as a member of the National Guard, and did my basic training at Fort McClelland, Alabama. Although this was over forty years ago, if you were to put a rifle or a side arm in my hand, I would know how to use it. Without thinking twice.

Should the government have the right to regulate access to something that makes it incredibly easy to turn a dispute into a death? Hell yes. This is common sense. It is such common sense that in every other advanced democracy in the world, access to guns is controlled as a matter of course. In America today, the opposite has happened; one party has declared that access to guns is not only a right to be protected, but something to be encouraged. In state houses controlled by Republican majorities, the lawmakers are busy trying to expand places where guns can be allowed, to include bars and college campuses. Yes, by all means, let's allow young people in the throes of hormonal swings, who are living in close quarters with strangers for the first time in their lives, and who are known to binge-drink, their God-given rights to pack heat.

The occasion of sin argument is very hard to refute. A loaded firearm is just waiting to be used. Kept in the glove compartment of a car, concealed in a pocket, it is ready any time you are. Ready when you lose your temper over something as small as loud music, or texting in a movie theater.

It doesn't matter that the Supreme Court has made some wrong-headed pronouncements about the Second Amendment's interpretation in the modern world. Congress and state legislatures still have plenty of room to regulate the purchase and sale of guns to make it less likely that a handgun or rifle will be readily available to a person in the middle of a fight, or in the middle of a psychotic break. A hunting rifle kept in a locked case and used for sport is a far cry from the loaded handgun in the glove compartment. There is no constitutional right to a concealed weapon.

We spend millions of dollars on police departments because we don't want people to have to defend themselves. We have good reason to have moved from a society of Wild West self-defense standards, because one person's idea of threat can be very different from a dispassionate standard. Some people claim loud music, or thrown popcorn in a movie theater, feels like a threat to them. All Stand Your Ground laws should be repealed immediately, because they are also occasions of sin. These laws tempt people to believe they have the absolute right to not feel threatened, in any way they wish to interpret that term subjectively.

Let's use the occasion of sin argument to bring common sense back to the gun debate, before more people are killed over stupid arguments that turn deadly, in a flash. If it's not easily available, it won't be used. Period.