Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A quick hit

From this week's Chronicle, letters section.

To the Editor:

Alan Contreras's "In Defense of Self-Defense" (On the Contrary, The Chronicle Review, June 15) is so uninformed by facts and so drenched in NRA-produced fictions (you don't have to be a card-carrying member to be fully deluded by the nonsense the organization has spread) ... that one has to ask why The Chronicle felt it a good idea to print it. Some bizarre notion of the need for balance in the wake of the several intelligent criticisms of guns in American culture The Chronicle printed in the wake of the Virginia Tech murders?

The problem in this reasoning, of course, is that there is no need for balance when one side of a debate bases its position on facts, and the other depends fundamentally on myths and simplistic and obfuscating moral binaries. The framing of good guys versus bad guys, central to Contreras's argument, is simply not helpful in considering the dangers of guns to people. ... Good people sometimes drop their guns, which discharge — harming or killing others. Good people have their guns stolen by bad people. ...

The evidence that good people with guns do a significant amount of harm is very strong. But the evidence that they do much good with their firearms is flimsy and challenged by data. The use of guns in legal acts of self-defense against crime is actually quite rare. ...

Sorry, Mr. Contreras, but your "right" to compensate for your lack of biceps does not trump the societal imperative of a safe environment for all those who are endangered by your gun every day that you carry it. Only when the gun issue stops being presented within the simplistic frame of individual liberty and self-defense, and is reframed in a public-health perspective — where the dangers presented by guns to everyone in their vicinity, including their legal owners, are the focus — will we have an adequate and sane policy on guns.

And only when media sources work harder to disentangle themselves from the fiction that this is a legitimately two-sided argument, with reasonable cases to be made pro and con, will we get a real effort to solve the problem of guns in American society. The bottom line is that there is no rational case to be made for the omnipresence of guns in American society. ...

Alexander Riley
Associate Professor of Sociology
Bucknell University
Lewisburg, Pa.

Riley is right about one thing: this is not a legitimately two-sided argument. The case for self-defense is supported by both ethics and the statistics; the case against has to do with painting the opposition as being deluded by a somehow sinister NRA and spreading irrational fears about guns discharging when dropped. And just how are people endangered by the mere presence of Contreras's gun?

Anyone who really harbors such bizzare fears is either too ignorant to speak on the subject or too afraid to be rational. Presumably Riley does not yet have tenure. If he approaches his specialty as he approaches this issue, he'll never deserve it.

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