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 (hcn.org). She works for the magazine in Paonia, Colorado.