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BLOW: Searching for solutions to shootings at a gun show

January 16, 2016

Blow
My brother, the one who’s a gun collector, invited me to a gun show in Texas last month. As he put it, “If you’re gonna write about it, you need to see it.”

As we drove to the Austin Highway Gun Show, we dove headfirst into our gun debate.

He seemed determined to convince me of the futility of many of the national gun control measures now being debated and how they would do little to block criminals from acquiring weapons or mass killers from using weapons.

I was determined to convince him that some new measures were needed to at least put a dent in this country’s abominable gun death numbers.

Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times has noted:

“Of 33,636 deaths from firearms counted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013, some 62 percent, or 21,175, were suicides, and about 11 percent of those were of people ages 5 to 24. Accidental shootings accounted for 505 deaths, including 69 victims ranging in age from less than 1 year to 14 years.”

My brother and I could both agree that those numbers were too high; we simply disagreed on how best to address it.

One area of agreement was to stop the opposition to smart guns—those that can only be fired by their owners or those that are authorized. I framed my argument this way: Don’t focus on criminals first; focus on responsible gun owners first.

These guns, which rely on fingerprint-access technology or radio waves to allow the gun to be fired, could put a huge dent in the number of suicides and accidental deaths.

This seems to me one possible step among many. He also didn’t oppose universal background checks.

My brother’s agreement on this point was a reasonable concession by a reasonable man.

At the gun show, the one thing my brother wanted to impress upon me was just how “normal” most people were, not the “gun nuts” people accuse them of being.

He had a point, but the somewhat festive environment felt a bit at odds with all the firearms. I was also surprised at how little security there seemed to be. It occurred to me that I had gone through more security at the airport than I had at the gun show.

Overall, the word that kept popping into my head was how “pedestrian” it all seemed, especially as I watched my brother—a gregarious man who has never met a person to whom he wouldn’t speak and with whom he wouldn’t laugh—chat up and chuckle with other collectors he recognized from the gun show circuit.

I thought of how productive it would be if more people with discordant views on gun regulations could have as civil a discussion as I had with my brother—full of mutual respect, adults disagreeing but not attempting to demonize, honestly searching for solutions.

The gun lobby poisons these conversations. It pumps out and promotes a never-ending stream of worst-case scenarios until it builds up a level of fear and paranoia. The Austin Highway Gun Show itself published on its Facebook page an image of a gun and a Bible with the caption: “History has shown that these are the first two things banned by totalitarian governments.”

But, I must also say that, to a lesser degree, some proponents of better regulations also do damage by painting with too broad a brush and labeling the millions of gun hunters, collectors and people simply seeking to provide an extra layer of protections for their families as deranged and deficient. Most are not.•

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Blow is a New York Times columnist. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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