So, a friend of mine forwarded me a link to an article entitled, “Stranger Danger and Guns,” written by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Given my friend’s political persuasion and stance on guns (emphatically pro-gun control), I knew right away that it would end up being an advertisement for tougher gun laws. And, sure enough, it was. But it’s reasoning was so flawed and it’s evidence so tenuous that I felt the need to respond.
In the piece, Kristof, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning writer, recounts an incident that happened earlier this month when he misplaced his iPhone. Using an app called ‘Find My Friends,’ on his wife’s phone, Kristof found his phone. It was at a residence approximately 15 miles away in a neighborhood he was unfamiliar with.
He decided he would go pick it up in person. He brings his wife. He writes:
I drove there. It was night. The house looked creepy.
My wife stayed in the car, cellphone in hand, ready to summon the cavalry. I walked to the front door and rang the doorbell.
Nothing. The lights were on, so I rang again and knocked hard. I spent five minutes ringing the doorbell and pounding on the door. Finally, a man emerged.
“I think you have my phone,” I explained tautly.
“Your phone?” he asked.
“YOU HAVE MY PHONE!”
“Oh,” he said, “your phone.” He pulled it out, still with my name, email address and office phone number pasted on it, and meekly handed it over.
I left, no questions asked.
Following the drama-free encounter, Kristof shared his story on social media. Not surprisingly, many folks blasted him for being stupid and reckless. As it’s one thing to retrieve one’s property in less-risky conditions, but it’s quite another to retrieve one’s property at night, unarmed, in a neighborhood that one is not familiar with (high-risk conditions!).
Yet, Kristof’s deflects attention away from his risky and carless behavior and instead poses the question, “Why we tolerate a society so bristling with guns that such a quest may be perilous? Aren’t we all knuckleheads for tolerating such a threat?”
The short answer: no. Putting aside the fact that only knuckleheads go banging on an unknown individual’s door in a strange neighborhood at night, the reason why it’s acceptable to tolerate a high level of gun ownership in this country is because the gun and self-defense laws are written in a way to protect and encourage reasonable behavior and punish unreasonable behavior. In other words, as long as folks act reasonably, that is they exercise sound judgment in the face of adversity, then they are protected under the law. Those who don’t face the consequences of their actions before a jury of their peers.
To give one an idea, take the “controversial” and much talked about ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, the self-defense statute that removes a duty to retreat and allows one to use deadly force outside the home. While many pro-gun control proponents have dubbed it a ‘kill at will’ or ‘shoot first’ law, arguing that fosters a Wild Wild West type of mentality, it’s clear that they haven’t read the text of the law because it not only emphasizes reasonableness, but clearly defines what reasonable behavior is under various circumstances.
A person who shoots an armed suspect during a robbery on a city street is reasonable behavior. A person who shoots a cop serving that individual a warrant on a city street is unreasonable, and therefore, unlawful behavior. Likewise, a homeowner shooting an intruder is reasonable behavior whereas a homeowner shooting a mailman is unreasonable behavior. (All of this is laid out in the Florida statute if one cares to look at it).
Generally speaking, the legal system does a pretty fair job of determining on a case by case basis whether or not the use of force was justified. That is, whether the shooter acted reasonably given the situation.
So, to make a long story short, Kristof’s fear is overblown. Citizens do not have to worry about responsible gun owners. Overwhelmingly, we tend to act reasonably and in accordance with the law. Crime statistics back this up. While Kristof glibly says firearms “kill 32,000 Americans a year,” without differentiating between homicides which make up approximately one third of gun deaths and suicides which make up approximately two thirds of gun deaths, he fails to mention that the gun-related homicide rate and overall gun-violence have been on a steady decline for the past decade. He also neglects to mention that lawfully instances of DGU (defensive gun use, good guy with gun stops crime) are far more common than instances in which a criminal uses a firearm to perpetrate a crime.
By and large America is a safe place. And neither guns nor the level of gun ownership make America any more dangerous or violent. What does? Knuckleheads.