Tools for killing

Have you ever tried to kill someone with your bare hands?

It’s difficult in a fair match.

You get winded quickly. You lose buttons and hair. You smell the iron in your own blood.

Others break you up. The whole thing is a stupid affair. I can imagine most people have not tried it.

A gun makes killing much easier.

I will explain by using burglars.

How burglars burglarize may help us understand how shooters shoot. This is very important, because it seems like it would take a lot to shoot somebody, yet we Americans do it all the time. Please bear with me.

A good burglar is nervous about the actual act. Therefore he is a calm planner. During the course of his day, he will place himself in a position to find targets by taking alleyways, for instance, in addition to the street. In this way he gets a look at places from front and back. He might find a reason to be inside the building legitimately, like working for a moving company. He will linger around good targets and note comings and goings of people there. He might innocently test doors ready with an explanation if he happens upon people.

All this time, he is completely legal. There is no anxiety in this. He might even tell himself that he is not a criminal while keeping the burglary in back of his mind. There is no reason to question him and if you do, he may cease the planning and look into another target. This is why lots of social activity around a place tends to deter burglars. Nothing here is a big move.

Yet most of the work of breaking into a building is finished. This compresses the nerve-wracking portion into a burst of action.

He might even divide that act in half — Breaking a lock one night and watching, then entering in one swift move the next night.

This may apply to how we shoot people.

We have legitimate reasons to buy a gun. We tell ourselves that something like an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, it is a “modern sporting rifle”; obviously for sport (yet assault rifles are rifles we use for assaults — it’s in plain English). We buy them for hunting, (if only because we can — an AR-15 is not calibrated for game). We buy them for home protection (you’ll never use it for this). We buy them for the Zombie apocalypse (this should disqualify you immediately).

Walmart sells it.

It must be normal.

But deep in our minds, we target humans.

Gun sales go up after shootings.

Who’s the winner?

Once we have a gun, we bring ourselves closer to shooting people by cleaning it when it’s not dirty, posing in the mirror, drawing it from its holster, buying accessories for it and making it into an accessory. We are the action movie. Stephanie Borowicz is running for office.

Her Facebook page shows her with a pistol in her pants, a common image.

She looks good, but I don’t vote on looks.

The older brother of school classmate of mine once held a .357 to his brother and asked me if he should shoot him. He made bombs for fun and had that gun out all the time. A middle class family.

All good fun. Another acquaintance was spinning a double action revolver and shot another acquaintance in the chest. The boy freaked out and ran to the middle of the front yard before dying.

I can count on one hand the number people I know who were killed by guns. I’ll bet you could too. I cannot think of a soul who saved his life with one. I don’t know anyone who knows anyone who has saved a life with a gun.

We are good people with guns. Most would never shoot anyone. We can tell ourselves that we are not killers. But we gun owners are like the burglar who has done most of the work of killing already. We are one emotional, stupid, quarter-inch trigger burst from doing just that. Americans may not be dumber, drunker or crazier than others. But we kill people much more. I think I know why.

Guns are dangerous not only because they are deadly tools, but because they shape our behavior.

Not everyone who has a gun kills people with it. But everyone who kills with a gun has one.

This pathetically simple logic eludes many of us.

Decades ago, this was the type of grave message given to me with my first gun.

Perhaps the NRA should encourage this type of message today.

Greg Walker is a sociologist. He lives in Lock Haven. You can reach him at Good reading can be found in Violence: A Micro-Sociological Theory by Randall Collins. You can also read Burglars on the Job by Richard Wright and Scott Decker.