I was waiting in line to order food at a local restaurant a few weeks back when I noticed the guy in line in front of me had a holstered pistol hanging from his belt. He wasn’t wearing any kind of uniform or badge, so I assume he wasn’t a policeman or a soldier, just an average citizen carrying a firearm for protection.
I admit that the unexpected presence of a firearm in such a seemingly unlikely setting gave me pause. Of course it’s perfectly legal to carry a firearm in public in Georgia if you have the proper license, but it’s not something I’m used to seeing every day.
As I ate my lunch I tried to decide if I felt more or less safe because this random man sitting a few tables away from me had a pistol on his hip. I tried to run through some of the possible scenarios in my head where the presence of a loaded gun might influence future events in either a good or a bad way.
Someone could come into the restaurant looking for trouble — say they had their mind set on robbing the place or just randomly shooting people — and they might decide against doing so if they saw an armed customer in the place. If so, everyone in the restaurant would be glad that a “good guy with a gun” was eating with us that day.
All the other scenarios I came up with involving that gun had either unpredictable or decidedly bad outcomes. The man might draw his weapon to respond to criminal activity, and the resulting “fire fight” might save or cost lives. He also might be mentally unstable himself and turn the gun on innocent victims, or someone with evil intent could snatch it away from him and start shooting up the place.
After thinking it through I realized it was impossible to know whether the presence of a loaded weapon in the room made me more or less safe. There were simply too many variables involving unpredictable human behavior to say for sure.
That complexity is, of course, ignored in the public debate over gun control in our country. As is the case with most controversial subjects, the discussion is dominated by extremists on the left and right.
Liberals want new laws to restrict gun rights even though we aren’t able to enforce the ones we currently have on the books. Conservatives seem to oppose any sort of new gun control legislation no matter what it entails.
For those of us who seek the sensible center, it would be great if we had some well-researched facts regarding the prevalence of gun violence and the effect various gun control laws have had on that violence. But that information is hard to come by, thanks in part to something Congress passed in 1996 called the Dickey Amendment, which forbids the CDC from using funds allocated to it for injury prevention activities to be used to advocate for any sort of gun control.
The Dickey Amendment was passed in response to heavy lobbying from the NRA following a series of studies in the early '90s that indicated the presence of a firearm in a home significantly increased the risk of a homicide or suicide occurring in that home. The threat to pull funding over such studies has put a virtual gag order on the CDC’s injury prevention function when it comes to gun violence.
Later in life, the man who this amendment was named for (Arkansas congressman Jay Dickey) said he regretted it had the effect of putting an end to research on gun violence and how it might be prevented. It would be nice if those currently serving in Congress took a cue from him and allowed the CDC to research gun violence and publish the results for all of us to evaluate without the threat of retribution if the NRA doesn’t like the outcome.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins.