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Don’t argue over gun permits, just watch

Updated: April 11, 2014 6:12AM



The purpose of the news media is not to be a hallelujah chorus, not to clap our hands like seals whenever an official does or says something we feel is right. They pay a PR staff to do that.

What we are supposed to do is find flaws, point out problems, hint toward solutions. That’s our role.

So not a lot of “Well played, Mr. Mayor!” in this space. Not that there’s much cause for it anyway. Which is why I want to depart from habit today and tip my hat to Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy, because he said something that is utterly true and will certainly be born out by events.

As the state of Illinois sent out its first 5,000 concealed-carry permits, he noted: “Stand by and watch what happens. The answer to gun violence is not more guns.”

We don’t get a lot of “stand by and watch what happens” in politics. We are so hot to debate, to argue, to predict, to shout down the other guy — especially on guns, where arm-everybody proponents have adopted an all-or-nothing, cover-our-ears-and-howl approach that forbids even thinking about the issue — we forget there are facts under all this, a verifiable reality just waiting for us to notice, or, more likely, to not notice.

What are those facts? Well, some — and I know this will jar the “All libs hate guns and want them confiscated” mindset — support liberal gun rights. There are 300 million guns in this country, and if the vast majority weren’t being handled safely, the carnage would be far worse than it already is.

But. Let me roll out a factual statement that both sides can endorse (or gun fanatics would, if they would stop humming loudly and listen): A gun’s usefulness to its owner and the risk it poses are directly proportional. Meaning, the handier my gun is, the more it will ward off peril, the more it also poses a hazard when there isn’t peril.

Fact: There are far, far, far more ordinary days and years where you don’t need a gun than imperiled moments when you might.

If my handgun is cocked and in my hand, I am in the best position to defend myself, but it also poses a great danger of blowing off my foot as I go about my business. If I have it in the night-table drawer, loaded, it’s less dangerous, but also less useful if I’m in the garage when trouble occurs. If it is broken down in a safe, it poses little risk but not much help either in real-life situations.

Anything that encourages someone to take that gun and stick it in his pocket by definition increases the danger of guns.

The question is: Do people need those guns? If you ask any police officer, unless he or she is in the most crime-ridden district, they can count on one hand the times they’ve had to draw their weapon. It doesn’t happen that much, even to most cops.

For civilians, it happens far less. That’s why we keep hearing these stories about fearful mopes blowing away minority teenagers and hardly ever about grandmas getting the drop on bad guys stealing their purses, then marching them to the police station. And you know if it ever happened, the NRA would engrave the story on a coin and badger Congress into issuing it.

Guns are about perception, fear, fantasy.

The people who are getting these guns are, by definition, those who feel they need them, and it says a lot that applications for these permits skewed to the bucolic farm counties of rural Illinois, where paranoia grows between the corn rows, and not nearly so much in Cook County. A hint that the feelings urging one to lock and load are often tangled. In January, the Sun-Times ran interviews with concealed-carry permit applicants, including this 47-year-old man.

“I was on my motorcycle and got turned around a bit and ended up at a stoplight right near Cabrini-Green,” he said, citing a time he wished he had a gun. “And people began looking at me and coming out of the woodwork like they were gonna jump me.”

“People began looking at him.” What does a person who is gonna jump you look like? And how is that different from the “Hey, cool Harley, I think I’ll take three steps closer and get a better look” expression? Does the color of a person’s skin matter? I bet it does.

To return to McCarthy: “There are going to be confrontation situations. We’re hearing stories across the country about people getting shot over ‘thug music,’ right? Or somebody throwing popcorn in a movie theater. These things are going to come, as sure as we’re standing here.”

Bank on it. We don’t need to argue — not that anybody for sane gun control has the heart or the guts to pipe up anymore. All we have to do is sit back and watch the future unfold, which is all we’re going to do. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Email: nsteinberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @NeilSteinberg



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