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Tilly: We have a problem

BY ZACH TILLY | FEBRUARY 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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We don’t have a gun problem.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, took a few minutes on the Senate floor Tuesday morning to remind us of this and to excoriate President Obama for recently authorizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to restart research on the causes of gun violence.

“[G]un violence is not a disease,” Grassley said. “And lawful gun ownership is not a disease. It is a constitutionally protected individual right, the famous Second Amendment right, not only part of the Constitution for 225 years but reinforced by two recent Supreme Court decisions.

Grassley’s comments tap into what seems to be the conventional conservative wisdom on gun ownership. When guns are in good hands, the thinking goes, we are all safer for it. A well-armed citizenry is, ultimately, a citizenry safe from well-armed criminals.

We don’t have a gun problem, Grassley says.

Dispense with this idea.

In Georgia over the weekend, a 22-year-old named Rodrigo Diaz Jr. was shot in the head in front of his girlfriend when he mistakenly pulled into the driveway of a 69-year-old Vietnam veteran named Phillip Sailors.

According to local media reports, Diaz believed the driveway to be that of a friend. Sailors allegedly emerged from his house with a revolver thinking that Diaz and his friends had come to rob him; Sailors allegedly fired a warning shot into the air before putting a bullet in Diaz’s head as he quickly backed out of the driveway.

The police arrived on the scene to find Diaz unresponsive and his girlfriend screaming, covered in blood.

At some level, there may be some degree of truth to the hackneyed idea that only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun, but there’s much more to it. For every degree of safety fostered by a society armed to the teeth, there is born a degree of paranoia and distrust. For every good guy who stops a bad guy, there’s a guy who kills Rodrigo Diaz.

We can’t afford to pretend that guns aren’t at the heart of our problem with violence, as much as Grassley would like us to. Saturating the public with guns doesn’t make communities safer, more trusting or more vibrant. It only makes us more afraid, a little less willing to talk to each other, a little more skittish on the street.

We have a gun problem, and it goes a lot deeper than violence.


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