Paranoia plays a role in pro-gun movement
After the recent piece I wrote for NHBR about guns in the New Hampshire Legislature, I received an interesting opposing response. A former state representative from Georges Mills, Spec Bowers, wrote that mass shootings have occurred in a church, a shopping mall, a restaurant, a movie theater and a school. Bowers argued that victims who had guns sometimes stopped shootings by firing back.He said would-be killers target and prefer gun-free zones as a place to shoot because they calculate they will run into less opposition there. Since evildoers could be anywhere, Bowers felt legislators who were armed were best equipped to protect themselves and others.He went on to discuss the risk of a criminal opening fire against unarmed legislators and visitors at the State House, and he described the risk as “improbable but all too possible.”I would ask: what does that convoluted formulation actually mean? Is such an event probable or improbable?What has struck me since the shootings at Aurora and Newtown has been the irrationality, bordering on hysteria, of the pro-gun, no-regulation folks.For example, President Obama is routinely seen as an enemy of the Second Amendment. The NRA has called him the most anti-gun president in American history. It apparently matters little that Obama is on record supporting the Second Amendment. In his first term, he took zero action on gun control. He only acted after Newtown. If he had done nothing, I think he would have been widely condemned for inaction.Nevertheless, he is seen as a modern day George III, intent not just on some modest gun control, but on wanting to confiscate all guns. The gun store in Merrimack, Collectible Arms and Ammo, has had a picture of Obama on the storefront window along with pictures of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. The owner was quoted in the Union Leader saying that the picture montage was a nonpartisan statement.There also is an obsessive concern about the threat posed by the federal government. Many gunowners are anxious to let you know that the Second Amendment is not about deer hunting. They say it is about protection from the federal government, which wants to take your guns away.From a critical perspective outside the pro-gun movement, it appears to be rife with conspiracy theories, and in fairness it is hard to know what percentage of pro-gun folks subscribe to them. Most feature President Obama, cast as a James Bond-style super villain, who is staying up nights, feverishly figuring out ways to get his hands on the estimated 280 million guns in private possession of Americans. There is a racial component to many of these theories as well.Since President Obama took his gun control initiatives, gun and ammunition sales have gone through the roof, as if some gunowners think they must get certain weapons and ammo now because they might be off-limits later. The trumped-up fear mostly serves to profit gun manufacturers.In his essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” historian Richard Hofstadter described an angry style of mind – an accurate description of the pro-gun movement today.Hofstadter wrote that in this way of thinking, a feeling of persecution is central and systematized in grandiose theories of conspiracy. The pro-gun movement is the latest incarnation of a paranoid trend that has been repeated many times in American history.One other thing: We lack public health research about gun safety because a decade ago the NRA managed to quash all federal money directed at gun injury research prevention. The NRA had been concerned about public health research done by a Tennessee ER doctor who had looked at questions like, “If a gun kept in a house is used, who did it shoot and what were the consequences?” The physician found it was 43 times more likely that a gun kept in the home would be involved in the death of a household member than it would be used in self-defense. NPR reported this story.Assuming public health research about gun safety is equivalent to gun control is irrational. In considering public policy, we should not fear evidence-based research. I suppose I may be part of a minority in New Hampshire, but I question whether everybody having guns makes us safer.Jonathan P. Baird of Wilmot is a federal administrative law judge. This column reflects only his views, not those of his employer, the Social Security Administration.