The Universal Notebook: The case for universal disarmament

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A year ago I was advocating for universal background checks for gun purchasers and a ban on assault weapons, but I have come to realize that our political leaders lack the courage to pass such laws.

So rather than advocate for any for any further gun control laws, I have decided to simply suggest to gun owners that they voluntarily lay down their arms.

For their own good.

Though it may be counter-intuitive, you are more likely to be a victim of gun violence if you have a gun in your home, five times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and three times more likely to be a homicide victim.

The National Rifle Association maintains that there are 2.5 million incidents a year of Americans using guns for self protection, but the Violence Policy Center says there are actually only about 67,000 cases a year of guns used for self defense or deterrence. Of the nearly 11,500 homicides in America in 2010, only 230 were considered justifiable homicide, and we all know that what some states consider justifiable homicide would be considered murder in others.

Gun rights advocates constantly maintain that “Guns don’t kill, people do.” True enough. But it is also true that if guns were not so pervasive in this society, they would not be misused so often. If you don’t own a gun, you are 100 percent less likely to do something stupid, mistaken or accidental with it. It seems the news is full these days of tragic stories of the misuse of firearms.

In North Yarmouth, for instance, there was recently the sad case of two men getting into a beef, one apparently pushed the other, who pulled a gun and killed the man. In a situation that should have just been an argument, a shoving match, or a fist fight at worst, one man was killed, the other will stand trial for murder. No matter what the courts decide, there were no winners. If only there hadn’t been a gun involved.

Down in Biddeford, a dispute over something as innocuous as a parking space escalated such that a landlord got his gun and shot two young people to death. Two lives lost, one life ruined.

Then there was the 19-year-old black woman in Detroit who got in a car accident in the middle of the night, wandered into a white neighborhood looking for help, knocked on a door and was shot in the face and killed by a homeowner who apparently mistook her for an intruder.

In Georgia there was the 72-year-old man with Alzheimer’s who wandered away from home, knocked on a stranger’s door in the wee hours and was gunned down by another trigger-happy homeowner.

Then, of course there is the tragic case of Trayvon Martin, the Florida youth stalked and killed by self-appointed vigilante George Zimmerman. A jury decided that was a case of justifiable homicide, because Martin, who had broken no laws, confronted Zimmerman and got into a fight with him. I think the jury’s decision was wrong, but it also seems unlikely that Zimmerman would have been so aggressive had he not been carrying a gun.

Sometimes it seems as though this country is filled with frightened people armed to the teeth against both real and imaginary threats. In most cases, they would do themselves and everyone else a favor by unilaterally disarming themselves. If you live a life that requires you to fear everyone you don’t know, you need help that a gun cannot provide.

Still, Americans cannot come to terms with the epidemic of gun violence.

If the slaughter of 20 little children and six adults a year ago in Newtown, Conn., didn’t tip the balance in favor of reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, there is very little chance that we will ever find a satisfactory resolution to the problem.

At this point, my primary interest in gun control is less in passing laws as in using it to judge the fitness of people to serve in public office.

If, for instance, I ultimately decide I cannot in good conscience support Rep. Mike Michaud for governor and end up voting again for independent Eliot Cutler, it will be in part because of Michaud’s abysmal record on gun control. How can I vote for someone who opposed gun registration in Washington, D.C., and voted to prohibit victims of gun violence from suing irresponsible gun sellers and manufacturers?

If Michaud loses, it may be that, in an ironic way, he will be just another victim of our gun-crazy culture.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.