The trouble with guns

Let's leave them at home more often

  • Diane Sylvain


I don't like guns. Before you erupt in outrage, let me clarify: I respect the Second Amendment of the Constitution. I'm a liberal Democrat, but I don't want to take away anybody's guns.

I just wish Americans would leave their guns at home a little more often.

I feel this way because of my own experiences. I'm not your standard big-city liberal elitist: I'm more of a small-town liberal elitist -- a military brat from a lower-income Southern background, a practicing Catholic who has spent her entire adult life in small remote Rocky Mountain towns. When I say I have friends who hunt and own guns, it's the simple truth.

I like my gun-owning friends, but I don't like their guns. That's because of the damage I've seen guns do. Although I've never worked as an EMT, I've twice had to treat gunshot wounds. When I was 18 in northern Florida, a kid from down the street accidentally shot himself in the stomach. My boyfriend and I called the ambulance and did our best to help the terrified boy.

Years later, in Colorado, a friend of mine was shot on his way into the restaurant in which I worked. The shooting had nothing to do with him; he simply strolled around the back of a car into somebody else's drunken argument. A guy pulled out a gun and fired it, just to make a point. He ended up firing his warning shot into my friend's lower leg.

The ambulance was a long time coming -- it was already out on a call -- and so I spent a half hour or so kneeling in the street, treating my friend for shock, trying to stanch the bleeding with restaurant towels and tablecloths, and lying to him about how bad the damage was.

Other gunshots have echoed through my life. My best friend in eighth grade, whose father died in Vietnam, lost her mother when she was shot by a guy who then turned the gun on himself -- in front of my friend's 3-year-old sister. One of my younger brother's high school classmates shot himself, and I have known other suicides. People kill themselves all the time, using all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons. But guns make it all too easy.

I realize that there are all kinds of ways for humans to hurt other humans. We're an ingenious little species, and relentlessly bloody-minded; we are good at improvising ways to do each other in. That's why guns were invented, after all: They're really good at killing things.

"Guns don't kill people, people kill people," the saying goes. Cars don't kill people, either; people driving them do. It's just that if you are hit by, say, a truck while crossing the street, you will be considerably more damaged than if you were rammed by a pedestrian in a hurry. That's why we have traffic rules and regulations. Our freedom to peacefully assemble doesn't mean that we can assemble anywhere by driving there on the wrong side of the road at very high speeds while drunk.

Now, since the Tucson shooting, probably even more people will carry guns and be primed to use them. We've all watched movies and see ourselves as the quick-thinking hero who pulls out a gun at just the right instant and prevents a total bloodbath. Maybe that sort of thing happens all the time in real life, but I doubt it. In the heat of a crisis, it's not always easy to know who to shoot anyway. In the movies, the crisis unrolls in graceful slow motion, and you're warned by ominous music that Something Bad Is Going To Happen. You can also tell who the bad guy is because he looks like a bad guy and dresses like a bad guy and is played by one of those actors who plays bad guys. But real life doesn't come with a script. Even trained officers sometimes shoot the wrong people -- mistaking a cell phone for a handgun or hitting a bystander.

No doubt there are plenty of citizen heroes who have saved the lives of innocents by their marksmanship. But I only know the kind of ordinary people who end up hurt when accidents happen or guns are deliberately used against fragile human flesh. If you want to be a guest in my house, you'll have to leave your gun at home. I think that even Wyatt Earp would back me on this.

Diane Sylvain is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News ( She works for the magazine in Paonia, Colorado.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

No guns for me, too...
Steve Waclo
Steve Waclo
Jan 19, 2011 12:50 AM

Thanks for your thoughtful article and insightful observations.

And regarding your "movie script" scenario, are you aware of reports that the only armed citizen that came upon the scene moments after gunfire stopped was taking up slack on the trigger of his own weapon when he suddenly realized his armed target was a person who had just wrestled the Glock away from the actual shooter?

Don't know when this madness will stop, but despair that we have gone far beyond being able to put the toothpaste back into the tube :-(.

Well done.

ignoring reality
jack burton
jack burton
Jan 19, 2011 10:02 AM
Six million CCW holders across the United States for the past several decades... there's been no blood on the streets, no wild west shootout, no roving bands of vigilanties looking for trouble. Just ordinary people going about their lives, and sometimes protecting it. Yet people like this author totally ignore that reality and are much more content to live with the fantasy world they have constructed in their head. The evidence proves that CCW holders are the safest group of people who are around... yet they are the group the author most fears. Simply amazing.
Jan 23, 2011 09:23 PM
I couldn't agree with you more! Guns are as safe as the person handling them...sounds like this writer has encountered people who shouldn't have been handling guns. This shouldn't make for a generalized statement against those who are licensed and protect their right to bear arms. I believe there is also a saying that should be mentioned here..."When seconds count, the police are minutes away." The police do all they can to protect and serve, but can't be everywhere. I'm not saying in a crisis I would display the perfection of a sharp shooter, but at least I would have a fighting chance of not becoming a victim or statistic. I must honestly say, I hope I never need to know how well I would do in a crisis, because I hope I'm never threatened in this way.
Durn it
Jan 19, 2011 11:40 AM
"If you want to be a guest in my house, you'll have to leave your gun at home. I think that even Wyatt Earp would back me on this."

I was just telling my friends, I otta go to Ms. Sylvain's house and say Hi. But now I can't:( I sure am all heart broken about it too. Doggone it...I guess I will just go to the gun range instead:) I believe you Liberals need to step up and put your money where your mouths are. Put out signs that you will not fight against criminals when they perp against, i.e. rob, rape, or murder, you or yours. Be strong with your beliefs. But don't force me or mine to follow your words of wisdom, they aint mine...
Jan 19, 2011 09:41 PM
a female that is a liberal democrat and anti-gun. incredible. is there any other kind?
Steve Waclo
Steve Waclo
Jan 23, 2011 01:13 PM
I led off comments on this article by breaking one of my own rules: quoting a vaguely recalled, unnamed source regarding actions of the only other (known) person who had a gun at this tragedy. According to today's NY Times, 23 year old Mr. Zamudio, who was in the nearby Walgreens inquiring about cigarette prices, arrived at the Safeway after shooting stopped and, by his own account, never removed his gun from inside his jacket. As perhaps many of us are guilty, I jumped on an account that met my personal perception of the way things may have happened. I was wrong and encourage interested parties to read the following article in today's (1/23) NY Times.

My apologies, and I'll try to do better.
Jan 27, 2011 11:45 AM
I grew up in New Mexico playing cowboys and indians(I know that now too is politically uncorrect), had pistol caps guns and basically we just ran around alot. I also played wild horse and I was King Of The Wind...what freedom. The first time I saw a real gun was when my father took out his shotgun, preparing to go hunting. We had just adopted a cocker from the pound and she got all excited. I got a B.B. gun when I was 15 and I later learned to shoot: I was a crack shot with my dad's .30-.30. I went hunting but it was for the companionship and being outdoors to learn things from my father. I later went quail hunting with my husband and loved to eat quail. I then got a standard poodle and took him bird hunting...yes poodles are excellent bird dogs and they were bred for duck hunting in Germany. I was thinking of getting a shotgun when the next morning my pickup was cover with bird doo doo. I told the universe okay, I wouldn't buy a gun. I will not longer own a gun, but I think that it is a right and should not be taken away. Criminals will kill anyway they can, and if someone is accidently killed by a gun, well, natural selection has taken place! Unfortuanately we will never be able to outlaw stupidity!
The Trouble With Guns
Martin Hagen
Martin Hagen
Jan 31, 2011 06:18 PM
Well said, and I agree. I am a gun owner and I hunt, but, I don't trust the average gun owner to do the right thing at the right time simply because the vast majority of us do not have the training to handle a situation such as the one in Tucson. Therefore, more guns in more hands out in public will not stop more crimes from happening. Any average gun owner who thinks so is suffering from dillusions of grandure and an inflated self image.
Wayne Hare
Wayne Hare
Feb 02, 2011 09:23 AM
Maybe the discussion should simply be about reducing violence, where ever that may lead. Even the NRA couldn't oppose reducing violence, could they?