US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Let's do shots!

By Kevin Clarke | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Booze and bullets are a lethal cocktail no matter how you shake it.  

Lovers of freedom suffered a temporary setback in May when Tennessee Govenor Phil Bredesen vetoed a bill that would allow the state's 270,000 gun permit holders to carry firearms into bars, nightclubs, restaurants, and other establishments that serve alcohol. Bredesen described his decision as a victory for common sense, arguing that guns and booze are not the wisest of mixes, a proposition even the National Rifle Association in a previously less insane incarnation would hardly challenge.

This is the second time in two years that Bredesen has vetoed a "guns in bars" bill. The Tennessee legislature quickly voted to override this latest veto, as it had his last, and now the matter will go again before the courts.

Tennessee residents, showing a better grasp of everyday reality than their legislators, by large majorities oppose this bill, so it's hard to understand the legislators' keen interest in getting guns and liquor into closer proximity. We're not talking chocolate and peanut butter after all.

Supporters say that the gun-shy should not fear the new law since it requires that gun wranglers refrain from drinking when they bring their weapons into these establishments, that, um, serve drinks.

The right-to-carry movement has been gathering steam in recent years and what better place to blow some of that off than a bar? Folks seem to want to carry weapons with them wherever they go: to church, to Starbucks, even political rallies hosted by President Obama seem an appropriate occasion to brandish an AK-47 or two. It's apparently really, really dangerous out there.

According to the National Rifle Association, there are 40 right-to-carry states with varying degrees of restrictions from none at all to requirements that bearers obtain permits to conceal their weapons. Only a handful of states still maintain significant barriers to carrying weapons, particularly of the concealed variety, including socialist communes such as New York, New Jersey, California, and Illinois.

Decades ago good old Archie Bunker opined that U.S. society would be completely safe if everyone carried a gun. These days that argument is no longer parody; it's fast becoming the received wisdom of Second Amendment maximalists who haven't met an assault rifle they didn't like or a gun regulation they could tolerate. Studies that buttress the "more guns, less crime thesis" are routinely cited in defense of the armed-to-the-teeth culture gun fetishists propose, but repeating this meme doesn't make it true, anymore than starting out with a belief and finding a collection of statistics to confirm it makes good sociology.

The facts are pretty clear: Owing to our gun-happy ways, Americans are uniquely vulnerable to gun violence with gun mortality and injury at rates as much as 30 times higher than other advanced Western democracies. That doesn't necessarily mean that the U.S. is uniquely violent compared to other societies. It just means that our easy access to more lethal weaponry makes our occasional encounters with the violent, the thief, or the deranged more dangerous. Guns may not kill people, but fewer people would succeed in killing people were they armed with spatulas instead of Glocks.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms studies have long confirmed that it is the vast reservoir of legal guns, perhaps as many as 300 million, in the United States that feed the handgun supply for America's criminal class and likely our homegrown terrorist fringe. Reducing rather than enlarging that reservoir would be a rational step toward a society that is actually safer. Instead of promoting a culture where everyone is armed for the struck-by-lightning possibility of a terrorist or homicidal maniac's attack, why not prevent attacks before they occur by making it more difficult for those bent on violence from acquiring guns in the first place?

The whole point of living as humans do, together in community-this thing we call civilization-is to step away from the rule of the jungle, to share a collective responsibility for the well-being of others. For Christians the responsibility to help build a peaceable community together is especially great. The armed society inverts the purpose of community, promoting intimidation, fear, and a radical individualism that in this instance is actually a physical danger to others. Most people just don't want to live this way; why are we surrendering to the loud minority that insists otherwise? 

This article appeared in the August 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 8, page 39).

Image: Tom Wright