I killed my first living creature when I was nine years old. The murder weapon was a BB gun and the victim was a pigeon. I remember lining up the sights, pulling the trigger, and being surprised as hell when the bird fell from its power line perch.
Of course, BB rifles aren’t very robust when it comes to penetration power. The brief rush of adrenaline when the bird fell gave way to sick regret as it thrashed around on the ground, still living, but gravely injured. I walked over and, feeling a wave of nausea, pointed the BB gun, intending to put the poor thing out of its misery. But when I pulled the trigger, the thrashing only became more frantic, so I shot again. And again. And again.
In total, it took seven BBs to shuffle that pigeon off this mortal coil, and when it was over, I ran inside, found my grandmother, and cried my eyes out, vowing never to shoot anything else as long as I lived.
Eventually, I broke that vow, and learned to hunt. But that sick feeling that came from killing something and watching the life leave its body never went away.
A good hunter always goes for a clean kill shot. It is easier to retrieve one’s prey if it dies where it’s shot, instead of frantically dashing through the woods before succumbing. Also, a frightened, wounded animal releases acids into the muscles that makes the meat less desirable.
For me, the purpose for a quick kill is to avoid the heartache of watching an animal die a slow, wretched death, and knowing that I caused it.
I enjoy nearly everything else about hunting. The crisp air in the early-morning forest. The challenge of tracking and getting into position for a shot without giving myself away. And especially the delicious meat that comes from a successful outing.
It’s actually my taste for said delicious meat that compelled me to come to terms with the taking of life. I’ve always believed that if you can’t handle what it takes to get a creature’s flesh onto your dinner plate, you should look into veganism.
In my experience, however, most people would have a hard time decapitating a farm chicken, much less shooting a wild creature. This is actually a good thing.
It speaks to a natural empathy towards living things, present in most people—even if they aren’t fully aware of it. And it shows that humanity has evolved to the point where we are no longer natural killers.
It is for this reason that the idea that a well-armed populace equates to a safer society misses some fundamental components of human nature in the modern age. It is difficult enough to draw down on a wild animal and pull the trigger. It took me well over a decade to get a handle on the emotions that come with that.
But to pull the trigger on a human being? More easily imagined than done, even in cases of self-defense.
And unlike a hunting excursion, there is no time to plan and prepare. No time to justify things to yourself with intricate bullshit about the moral obligation of meat-eaters.
Once you pull that thing out, you’d better be ready to use it. Because if you hesitate, whatever threat caused you to draw your weapon will almost certainly try to prevent you from pulling the trigger—possibly by pulling a trigger of their own.
But you’d also better be right about your decision. Because if you’re wrong, and you kill some unarmed drunk making idle threats, you will probably do time for it.
And you’d especially better be accurate. Because if your bullets miss the target and kill a bystander, you are responsible. And unless you’re NYPD, you’ll probably do time for that one as well.
All of this doesn’t even take into account the chaos of most situations that have escalated to gun violence. Keeping your head in such circumstances is a tough order. Even some people who have gone through intensive military training aren’t able to keep it together when the sound and fury happens.
The data backs this up. A study commissioned by the US Conference Of Mayors showed a strong correlation between using a handgun for defense against crime and experiencing bodily harm. In other words, you are more likely to get hurt with a gun than without one. The most effective method of self-defense, according to the study, was verbal resistance.
Furthermore, research conducted by the University Of Pennsylvania revealed that people who kept guns in the home were far more likely to be fatally shot.
None of this is to suggest that law-abiding citizens should be prevented or discouraged from owning weapons. Aside from hunting purposes, there is something to be said for the idea that an armed citizenry can act as a check against totalitarian ambitions of those in power.
But once we let go of the false notion that carrying a weapon automatically equates to increased safety, we may be able to have a conversation about reasonable firearm regulation. And just maybe, the next James Holmes won’t find it so easy to purchase multiple assault rifles and 6,000 rounds of ammunition after having been identified with dangerous mental issues.