The Illusion of Invincibility

safety_pin_crp1When my daughter was little, my husband and I tried to safeguard her against people who might do her harm. “It’s OK to kick and scream,” we told Emma. “You don’t have to be nice if someone tries to hurt you. Not everyone is a good person.”

“Those bad guys better watch out!” Emma replied. “I’m gonna have safety pins with me, and if they try to get me, I’m just gonna take out my pins and stab them!”

I loved my daughter’s confidence in her strength, her ability to quell her fears by standing up to danger. No matter that her plan for protection was childish folly.

We’re now seeing a similar impulse play out on a national scale.

The New York Times reports that in the wake of the latest mass shootings here and in Paris, Americans are rushing to arm themselves. When something frightening happens, people want to feel safe and in control. Their fear of becoming a victim is transformed by the illusion of invincibility.

The gun lobby and its political minions masterfully exploit this psychological dynamic by stoking fear, then offering a reassuring (though false) “solution” like the one promulgated after 20 six-year-olds were gunned down at Sandy Hook three years ago today. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” proclaimed NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre in response to that horrific massacre.

This sentiment has been echoed by the Republican Presidential contenders in response to more recent mass shootings. The day after the San Bernardino massacre, Ted Cruz proclaimed at a gun rights rally, “you don’t stop bad guys by taking away our guns, you stop bad guys by using our guns.” A couple of months before, Ben Carson essentially blamed the victims of a heavily armed gunman at Umpqua Community College by saying, “I would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”

If only it were that easy!

Yet the research—not to mention law enforcement and military personnel–overwhelmingly contradict this simplistic notion. “Good guys” unloading their weapons against an active shooter in a public space would likely result in greater mayhem and casualties. Guns on alcohol-infused campuses are a recipe for disaster.  The risk of gun deaths from homicide, suicide, or accidental shootings is much higher when there’s a gun in the home. And guns, in the heat of the moment, can turn a “good guy” into a killer instantaneously. More guns mean more gun deaths.

Yet reason doesn’t seem to stand a chance against fear and its exploitation. In the three years since Sandy Hook, Congress has done nothing to enact gun-safety legislation. Although some states have tightened restrictions on guns, many more have actually made it easier to purchase and carry guns.

It’s one thing for my young daughter to fantasize about wielding her safety-pins for protection. But it’s quite another to arm ourselves to stay safe from gun violence. As adults, we should know better.

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Had enough? One of the reasons we have failed to enact more common-sense gun-safety laws is that those who support such measures don’t speak out. You can bet gun- rights advocates don’t make that mistake. Contact your representatives. Rally. Sign petitions. Vote your principles. And check out these organizations that are working hard to make a difference:

Everytown for Gun Safety

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America

Newtown Action Alliance

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