Guns Don’t Kill People … Oh, Wait, Yes They Do

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One “hot topic” that has been in the news lately is the subject of gun control, and, more specifically, whether or not guns should be controlled. This is because of the recent tragedy in Jonesboro, Ark., which I am not going to make jokes about, and also because of the debate over whether people should be allowed to carry guns to Olympic venues in 2002, which I AM going to make jokes about.

Utah’s concealed-weapons laws are very relaxed, as you might imagine in a state where the first day of the deer hunt is more widely celebrated than Christmas. All you have to do is buy a gun, take some tests, pay a bunch of money, and BANG! You’ve got yourself a concealed-weapons permit. You are then allowed, by law, to carry a handgun with you pretty much everywhere you go.

Now, I’m not going to address the issue of whether ordinary, possibly stupid, citizens should be allowed to carry guns around, because that’s too easy. (The answer is no.) What we’re going to discuss is, why do they WANT to carry guns around? As usual, I think we can blame the media. After so many movies and TV shows in which everyday guys become heroes because they happen to have guns on them when they encounter hostage situations, this is the natural result. Gun-carriers honestly think — perhaps even HOPE — that they’ll walk into Winchell’s one morning right in the middle of a stick-up, and since they’ve got their trusty Smith & Wesson on their hip, they’ll be able to save the day and perhaps get a free cruller.

It is the same sort of fantasy I used to have about being a superhero, specifically Superman. I would imagine these situations in which whatever girl I was currently enamored with was in peril, and I would swoop in and save the day and we’d go make out somewhere. I think these sort of power fantasies are normal, but the difference is: I outgrew them. I haven’t imagined I was Superman since I was about 7. Now I imagine I’m Leonardo DiCaprio, which is a whole different set of issues.

My point is, in the land of Real Life, where we live, having a gun with you is rarely going to come in handy. I have a friend who recently obtained his conceal-and-carry permit, and he now carries his gun everywhere he goes except for the few places in Utah where guns are prohibited (federal buildings, airports, my car, etc.). His reason for wanting a gun with him at all times is that when he was 16, he was robbed at gunpoint. He wishes he had been carrying a gun at the time, because then the robber could have stolen that, too.

No, he figures he could have somehow used the gun either to prevent the robbery — “You’d better put down that gun in your hand, because I have a gun IN MY BACK POCKET, WHERE I CAN’T CONVENIENTLY REACH IT!” is probably how he would have frightened the criminal — or else, after the man began to walk away with my friend’s stuff, he could have pulled out his own gun and shot him.

As it is, my friend was robbed and immediately called the police, who quickly apprehended the bad guy, took him to jail, and returned my friend’s belongings to him. If my friend had had a gun with him, then perhaps the bad guy could have been shot. Or maybe my friend would have been shot. It doesn’t matter, as long as SOMEBODY gets shot, then the experience isn’t a total waste.

So should guns be permitted at the 2002 Olympics? First of all, I think it’s a moot point because 2002 is never going to get here. I mean, come on. We’ve been talking about how cool “The Year 2000” is going to be for like a hundred years, and has it ever happened? No. It’s not coming.

And even if it does, I doubt Utah will be capable of hosting the Olympics. I-15 will still be in the shambles it’s in now, and the only thing Utah residents will be able to focus on is the ever-burning question of whether or not Mormons are Christians, and they’ll probably just forget the Olympics are even coming. “Oh my heck,” they’ll say when all the foreigners start to arrive. “Was that THIS year?”

But assuming the Olympics do happen, then sure, people who have permits should be able to take their guns to the Olympic venues too, because there might be a crisis where guns will be needed. (But there will be POLICE OFFICERS there, and THEY have guns!) (Shut up!) Maybe the Olympic snowboarders will become so frustrated at the lack of drugs available that they will resort to terrorist actions, demanding 10 kilos of pot or else Orrin Hatch “gets it.” And don’t think a terrorist act couldn’t happen, because it did in Atlanta in 1996. That bomb went off in the park and Richard Jewell was promptly presumed guilty by everyone in the world. If there had been some law-abiding, gun-carrying citizens present when the bomb went off, then they could have shot Richard Jewell, instead of just falsely accusing him. Who knows, he might have preferred that.

I avoided writing this column for a long time because I knew my best friend, the aforementioned Robert, and I had seriously opposite views on the matter, and I didn't see any reason to introduce conflict into the friendship. But he kept insisting I should write it, that it would be funny, and blah blah blah.

So I wrote it. Rob read it prior to publication (he's the friend I refer to throughout the column), and said that it not only wasn't funny, but that "it's the most worthless thing you've ever written."

Dr. Laurie Wilson, chair of the Communications Department at BYU, said, "This is the best thing you've written."

So we can see that even before it was published, there was some major variance in people's opinions of this column. (For the record, Rob later recanted his "most worthless" remark, and in fact claimed not to remember making it.)

I got to take some good shots at Utah in this column, more than usual. The whole I-15 construction, which was an absolute mess at the time; Utahns' fascination with guns; the ongoing, very silly debate over whether or not Mormons are Christians (all religious truth has been narrowed down to a matter of semantics?!) -- all are points I wanted to get out of my system.

There's no question this column is more biting and satiric than usual. The question is, Is it funny? That became a non-issue once it was published. I got several e-mails from people who thought it was hysterical, but more people seemed interested in the issues it raised, ignoring, just as I did momentarily, that "Snide Remarks" is supposed to be FUNNY, and it doesn't have to be anything more than that.

But I knew I had crossed that line with this column. I figured I'm allowed every six months or so to write something that, while perhaps funny, is more interested in making a point than in making a joke. This was that semi-annual column. I was later able to find a balance between making a point and making a joke, and making them both successfully.

The responses to this column tended to be more coherent and less stupid than the usual angry e-mail I get from people. Also, because there were actual issues involved here, people wrote letters to the editor of The Daily Universe, which I will reprint here.

The first letter came from Robert himself. He figured he had a right to respond, even though he wasn't specifically named in the column. And of course he was right. Here's his letter:

This letter comes in response to the 5/6/98 "Snide Remarks" column. Eric D. Snider says he can not understand WHY people want to carry guns in the first place. I am a concealed firearm carrier - maybe I can shed some light on the subject. I imagine that many people with permits are afraid - and some with reason. Others are military or law enforcement veterans. Some want to go into law enforcement. It is not my experience that people who have concealed carry permits secretly or openly desire to replace the police. They simply share a desire to protect life if it comes down to them having to do so. If nothing else, guns offer their owners psychological protection. A gun also allows you some distance in a confrontational situation.

I agree that it may be too easy to get a permit in Utah. I had a letter printed previously in The Daily Universe stating so. I too share the worry that irresponsible people are carrying handguns. After all, irresponsible people are behind all accidental (and some not-so-accidental) discharges. [I assume he means discharges from guns, and not other kinds of "discharges," which I'd prefer not to discuss.]

Police officers I have talked to about civilians carrying concealed firearms are divided on the issue. I must acknowledge that anything a person carries for personal protection can be taken from them and used against them. In such a case, pepper spray would be a more survivable option.

It is true that people who carry guns will most likely never have to use them. In fact, most (including me) hope and pray that they never do. But if it came down to it, I would be prepared to defend my life or yours with my Smith & Wesson.

Robert L. Rookhuyzen
Riverside, California

I guess I'll mention here that I have shot Robert's gun. We've gone up in the hills and shot together, and I've enjoyed it. Robert is the epitome of a safe, conscientious gun owner, and he is not quite as fanatical as some people who write letters to the editor of the Deseret News (man, THAT paper seems to attract the nuts). He is fanatical, though I think he'd deny that. Heck, we're all fanatical about some things.

Next came this e-mail, sent to me and not to The Daily Universe. The writer is someone I've corresponded with before, and I like him, so I will honor his request to not publish his name here.
I've found that most people who are against permitting concealed carry of handguns are those who have never been victims of violent crime and therefore don't feel a need to protect themselves or are just people who haven't studied up on the subject very much. All recent studies have shown that states that allow their law-abiding citizens to carry concealed handguns experience a decline in violent crime rates. Look at your own state of California. It has some of the strictest gun-control laws in the country accompanied by one of the highest crime rates. These things are not coincidental, as the recent studies have shown. I myself hold a permit for Utah and carry my .45 everywhere I go (except of course for BYU Campus). I feel that society today has taught us how to be "good victims" of crime. Well, I refuse to be a victim at all, and I think that's the mentality of most people that acquire concealed firearm permits....

It seems you wrote this article from the fortunate viewpoint of one who has never been a victim of violent crime or armed assault. It's understandable then why you would have the opinion you do. Read up a bit on the subject and then tell me what you think.

Like I said, I like this guy. But I think there are two ways of going about this. It may be true that where more citizens have guns, there is less crime. However, it is also true that the United States, where there are lots of guns, leads the world in gun-related deaths (including murders, suicides and accidents). Japan has the lowest rate among the major developed nations. In Japan, owning a gun is pretty much against the law, and the police have been known to raid houses where guns are suspected to be present. There must be a happy medium somewhere in there, where there can be guns in a society without the society becoming a gun-oriented, gun-fixated society like ours is.

Next we have a letter sent to The Daily Universe from a BYU professor. It reads as follows (I quote it exactly as The Universe received it):
In Eric Snyder's piece "Start the Olympics with a bang" that appeared in today's Daily Universe, he expressed concern about concealed firearm permit holders carrying firearms into Olympic Venues, and about permit holders who are hoping to use a firearm to thwart a robbery or other crime.

Individuals who have a license to carry a concealed firearm are not the ones who will be causing trouble at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. [I didn't say they were. Rather, it is their hero-istic, impassioned attempts to thwart those who ARE causing trouble that I am worried about.] I know a number of people who own firearms, including handguns. Some of these individuals have applied for and been issued a concealed firearm permit by the State of Utah. I can assure Mr. Snyder that they have no intention of "shooting up" the Olympic Games. A person who is issued a concealed firearm permit cannot have a criminal record, and must pass a strict background check.

In my experience, individuals who have been issued a concealed firearm permit are not hoping for an opportunity to use a firearm "to save the day." The last thing they want to be involved in is a shooting. [Ah, see, the last thing I want to be involved in is buying something. That's why I carry money around with me wherever I go.] It's unfortunate that Mr. Snyder has chosen to promote this false stereotype of permit holders. Perhaps his attitude comes from ignorance of firearms, or that he doesn't know anyone who is a concealed firearm permit holder except his "friend."

John D. Lee
Department of Microbiology

Notice how he put "friend" in quotation marks, subtly implying he thinks my friend is either an unreliable source, or perhaps that he doesn't even exist. This motif is brought out in a far less subtle manner in the e-mail John D. Lee sent to me personally. In it, he makes essentially the same points as in his Universe letter (except he spells my name right), and then he says this:
Perhaps your attitude comes from ignorance of firearms, and that you don't know anyone who is a concealed firearm permit holder except your "friend."

[OK, here comes the good part. Watch closely. You may want to sit down first.]

Do you actually have an acquaintance who has been issued a concealed firearm permit by the state of Utah?

[Next, he answers his own question and assumes that I do NOT have such an acquaintance.]

If you choose to do another piece on firearms or issues surrounding firearms I suggest you talk to individuals who own firearms and have a concealed firearm permit.

Do I actually have an acquaintance who has been issued a concealed firearm permit?!? The entire column was BASED on the fact that I have a friend with a concealed firearm permit! What, did he think I was making the whole thing up? I may not have a lot of friends, but I haven't resorted to creating imaginary ones just to support my ideas about gun control.

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