12/18/2012 06:59 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

You Don't Need a Gun

Dear Gun Owner,

I don't know a lot of things about a lot of things, but I know something about guns. I will tell you that I know what it's like to be around guns, to fear them and to want one. I have listened to the sound of gunshots outside my window, bullets in the air, my heart racing in my chest, wanting to shoot back. And I will tell you about the first time I held a gun, in hopes that you will give up yours. You probably don't need a gun.

Fear is why we buy guns. There's the hypothetical fear of being alone in a dark alley, unarmed, with a knife at your throat or a pistol at the back of your head. Or the fear of being alone in your home, vulnerable. It's the fundamental fear of human helplessness, of mortality itself. Like the Soviets and the Americans during the Cold War, we delude ourselves into thinking that the power of death in two hands nullifies. In reality, it amplifies.

This power is handed down from generation to generation, grandfathers to fathers to sons, guns changing hands as easily as money. Growing up, there were newly-registered, shining firearms from Walmart, and there were hand-me-down rifles kept in the closet. I watched my relatives shoot down clay pigeons and knock over tin cans, harmlessly. There's a picture of my grandfather with his own freshly-shot turkey at Thanksgiving. So I'm not talking about these traditions and pastimes, which I believe should be protected.

I'm talking about that gun in your purse, or the assault weapon in your attic. I'm optimistic that a new assault weapon ban will cruise through Congress in the coming days or weeks. But beyond this obvious course-correction, there is fear, which causes us to buy guns, to keep them and to use them. These are not recreational rifles, but the small touches of terror tucked away "just in case," in case we get scared or angry or jealous. We have entrusted ourselves to be rational at all times.

We are not a well-regulated militia. We are an irregular mix of temperaments, personalities and disorders. We are prone to error yet empower ourselves to act irreparably.

So I will tell you. The first time I really held a gun was to yank it out of a friend's hand who was considering suicide. I thought it might go off. It didn't. But it was an awesome, horrible moment. The gun -- justified as a safety precaution -- became something to fear, more terrible than whatever I had been afraid of before. In that moment, my friend was merely a scared human being, emotional, acting out of instinct, some warped sense of preservation. Unfortunately, he had a handgun, and the situation spiraled.

So let's not kid ourselves into thinking that this national conversation is only about assault weapons and mental health centers. It's about us, the irrational, horrible us, who act without thinking, who leap before we look. Who are we to play God with death rattling in our back pockets?

Here then is my radical, pie-in-the-sky plan: ban all guns in public areas. All of them. There's no need for them. You can hunt and shoot and target practice as much as you want in your own backyard, or on a shooting range. The presence of a gun in a public place is more of a hazard than a help. Leave your guns at home. If you're too afraid to leave the house without one, how can we trust you not to use it? Fear feeds fear.

At first glance, this proposal might not seem to change what happened that day. Would my friend have bothered to own a gun if he hadn't been able to carry it in public? I can't say. This long and tortured argument through our nation's history demands a deeper, more complex discussion. But guns can kill quickly and without much thought. Like a drone strike, they separate us from the cruel physicality of the deed. Removing a gun from our awful moments in life prevents us from extending the basest part of ourselves into an irrevocable act.

My friend didn't need that gun, and you probably don't either.