Emotion tells us to fear guns in Myrtle Beach-area bars, logic tells us otherwise

For Weekly SurgeFebruary 19, 2014 

On any given day, Hunter S. Thompson consumed more drugs and alcohol than the entirety of any moderately-sized township randomly picked from a United States map. “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me,” Thompson once famously quipped. Thompson’s obsession with drugs was only rivaled with his love of guns. Yet, even with a cache of weapons spread throughout his remote compound outside of Aspen, Colo., Thompson never managed to kill anyone with a gun, with his suicide as the only exception.

Thompson respected the raw power, and inherent lethality, of firearms. It was the same respect he had for his drugs. He also knew that freedom demanded responsibility, and the reason tragic incidents occur with guns is because irresponsible people do irresponsible things -- the same with driving cars, frying a turkey, or voting for an establishment-backed candidate.

Gun owners, particularly those who have gone through the process of obtaining a concealed weapons permit allowing them to legally carry a firearm in public, are much different from non-gun owners. They may look the same on the outside, but CWP holders are time-and-time-again shown to have a greater respect for the law than their counterparts. You’re more likely to be wrongly killed by a police officer than a person carrying a concealed weapon. This is doubly true while in close proximity to a New York City cop.

So, given this, why is there such a backlash against a law signed by Governor Nikki Haley last week allowing concealed carry in South Carolina bars and restaurants? The same as it is against any attempt to strengthen Second Amendment protections for gun owners: fear, misunderstanding, and emotionally-driven irrationality.

On a purely objective level, there is simply no evidence showing a non-drinking (as the new law requires) CWP-holder in a restaurant or bar increases the risk to other patrons. Even circumstantially, there are far more examples of CWP-holders stopping the commission of a violent crime inside a business than CWP holders committing such a crime. This might be even more surprising to some given that most states already have such laws on the books. According to S.C. Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort), who sponsored the bill that Haley signed, only five other states still maintain these draconian (and possibly unconstitutional) restrictions on gun owners.

The new law also allows business owners to prohibit concealed carry in their establishments by posting a sign at the entrance. Business owners who feel safer without concealed weapons on the premises have the freedom to make that decision, and customers who feel safer avoiding restaurants that allow concealed carry have the freedom to make that choice as well. Nobody is forcing anyone to do anything, especially now that gun owners are not forced to leave firearms unattended in a vehicle while going out for a family dinner.

Sure. It is understandable that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of knowing a handgun may be hidden nearby -- like a shark passing unnoticed through a school of swimmers. Like shark attacks, gun violence is also sensationalized in the media, blowing far out of proportion the actual risk, especially since most of what people know about guns comes from movies, television, or the news. The lack of tangible firearm experience, coupled with the media’s sensationalism of violence, conditions people to react to firearms with emotion, rather than reason.

Emotion tells us to fear guns. Logic tells us a gun in the hands of a responsible, law-abiding citizen is nothing to fear. Emotion makes us question why people “need” certain rights. Logic helps us understand that fundamental freedoms may only be curtailed when objective evidence suggests it would lead to a greater public good.

Americans struggle with the uncomfortable reality that laws do not make people safe. The reason for the clamor for new gun laws following any mass shooting tragedy is that we have a psychological need for a feeling of safety that doesn’t come from a reasoned analysis of the facts at hand. We don’t like to accept that we are helpless against evil and stupidity. We hate the idea that no new law could have, or ever will, prevent an evil person from committing an evil act. Likewise, we struggle to accept that no new law will prevent a stupid person from making a fundamentally stupid decision.

Crime, by its very definition, is breaking a law designed to protect someone, or something, from harm. Laws do not stop crime; they only help us determine criminal actions. Anyone that has ever exceeded the speed limit, or laughed at a Darwin Award nominee, knows this principle to be true.

The real tragedy is not gun violence, but allowing our emotion (and our politics) to cloud our reasoning when it comes to determining ways to reduce this type of violence -- or any social ill, for that matter. By continuing to make the gun itself a villain in the gun crime narrative, we miss precious opportunities to address the true roots of gun crimes: illegal purchases of firearms, mental health issues, and a lack of firearm education about gun ownership, to name just a few.

An increased understanding of any of these variables would go much further in reducing incidents of gun violence than giving into our fears that a drunk at the bar is going to whip-out his firearm and accidentally shoot someone. We must focus on the real issues affecting America’s (constitutionally protected) firearm culture, not horrific figments of our emotional conditioning.

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