Monday, April 18, 2011

Let A Thousand Concealed Handguns Bloom!

Strange things happen to your mind when it’s transplanted to a foreign culture. Events and ideas that would have once appeared outrageous become very normal, and before long you accept them without batting an eyelid. It takes a serious jolt for you to realize how normal the hitherto abnormal has become.

Recently I had one of those jolts, when I read that the Texas State Legislature was about to pass a law forcing college campuses to permit students to carry concealed weapons on their persons. There is already a law that says Texas colleges can decide for themselves if they want students to wander around with secret firearms. None permit it; that’s why state lawmakers want to force them to grant students their 2nd Amendment rights.

O brave new world, that has such people in’t!

The idea is not new. I first encountered it following the Virginia Tech massacre of 2007, when a student named Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself. A few days later a lawmaker in Texas proposed loosening the gun laws in the state, to make colleges safer.
‘Arm these kids…’ he said. ‘Teach them to KILL.’

Well, he didn’t quite put it that way. His argument, however, was nearly as simple- that by depriving kids of weapons on campus you render them defenseless against murderous psychotics such as Cho.  By the time campus police respond there’s usually blood on the walls and brains on the ceiling. Only by letting a thousand firearms bloom will the flower of Texas youth be safe.

I must admit, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was a seductive logic to this argument. I think it was its very simplicity that gave it power.

And that was the second shock, perhaps even greater than the first. I found myself half in agreement with a proposal that two years earlier would have struck me as berserk, although more from sheer pragmatism than the semi-sacred awe of the gun that many Texans feel. After all, if just about anybody can amass an arsenal of deadly weapons in his basement then it is inevitable that a small number of psychotics will occasionally snap and kill innocent people. If loons and scoundrels can arm themselves, it’s inexcusable to deny sane, decent people the same privilege.

Now of course there are plenty of counter arguments, and they too have power. Usually they run along the lines that more firearms means a greater likelihood of more shootings, accidents, and- do you really want to place semi automatic instruments of death in the hands of drunken, horny frat boys? Hell, no!

And then there are the counter- counter arguments. In Texas you need to be 21 to have a concealed handgun license; therefore it will mostly be bearded gentlemen with PhDs in Theoretical Physics who will be packing heat. Furthermore, since 1995, when Texas passed its concealed carry law permitting the good folks of the Lone Star state to enjoy the warm throb of a revolver on their person more or less whenever and wherever they feel like it, violent crime in the state has dropped dramatically.

But of course statistics can be read and twisted in all sorts of directions, and I’m sure opponents of Texas’ libertarian gun laws have some alternative reading that explains away the influence of more guns in more hands entirely.

And so on, and so on.  Ultimately it boils down to the following Manichaean conflict between two elemental attitudes:

Guns = totally awesome
Guns = definitely not awesome

Thus the arguments don’t matter as nobody is looking to be persuaded. And that may be why what appears to me to be the central impact of concealed carry laws is almost always neglected in these arguments. If hidden guns have any effect it is not in their use, but in the very fact that nobody knows how many there are, or who has them. I remember when I first started driving in Texas, I was told: don’t get aggressive, and don’t give anyone the finger. You don’t know if he has a gun...   

I will admit, I remember this advice whenever I am stuck in traffic and I get irritated with an idiot in front of me. Indeed, this fear makes me a more civil driver than I would be otherwise. Thus if hidden guns have any positive effect it is in the anxiety they cause among angry men that they might die if they act upon that anger.

And that brings me back to where I came in. Can I imagine saying that in Britain, where I grew up? Absolutely not. But here it’s become my reality. And I’m no longer shocked. In fact, I don’t even care.