Skip to main content

Gun extremists' alternate reality

By Paul Waldman, Special to CNN
February 1, 2013 -- Updated 0109 GMT (0909 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Waldman: OK if I drive around with a machine gun on my roof? I live in dangerous city
  • He says Gayle Trotter gun testimony about needing assault weapons is just as irrational
  • He says women face gun death from abusive partners. Home invasion rare as lightning strike
  • Waldman: Hadiya Pendleton's shooting shows we need fewer guns, not more assault weapons

Editor's note: Paul Waldman is a contributing editor at the American Prospect and the author of "Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success." Follow him on his blog and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Let me explain to you why it's important that I have a .50-caliber machine gun capable of firing 500 rounds per minute bolted to the top of my Corolla. I live in Washington. You do know that this is a dangerous city, right? A guy I know got mugged last month.

Not only that, it's entirely possible that while going around the Beltway, a commando team of Taliban fighters could come up behind me on their way to murder the president, and the only thing standing between them and disaster will be me. Not to mention that this one time, after I cut a guy off because he was in my blind spot, he gave me a really dirty look. If had had my .50-cal, you can bet he would have stayed a good distance back.

Paul Waldman
Paul Waldman

If you consider this reasoning rational, then you were probably also persuaded by the testimony Gayle Trotter of the Independent Women's Forum gave Wednesday to a Senate committee discussing potential legislation to place some relatively modest limits on guns.

Opinion: Why the NRA fights for gun rights

Trotter argued that women need to have the biggest, baddest weapons they can get their hands on. Why? For "the peace of mind that a woman has as she's facing three, four, five violent attackers, intruders in her home, with her children screaming in the background, the peace of mind that she has knowing that she has a scary-looking gun gives her more courage when she's fighting hardened, violent criminals. If we ban these types of assault weapons, you are putting women at a great disadvantage."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



So we can't limit the most dangerous weapons, because somewhere there might be a woman who needs one to fight the five violent attackers who have invaded her home. And we can't limit the rounds a magazine can hold, because what if that frightened housewife needs to engage in an hourlong firefight? You don't expect her to reload, do you?

Your average gun owner may think that's crazy, but it's the world some extreme gun advocates -- including those with great influence in Congress -- inhabit, where laws should be written not with the reality of Americans' lives and deaths in mind, but according to the most horrible fantasies anyone can conjure. Now, let's talk about some reality. The sad fact is that what women most have to fear is abusive partners, not home invaders.

Gabrielle Giffords: We must do something
Sen. Feinstein rejects arming everyone
Victim's dad: "we don't need those" guns
CNN's Joe Johns on today's gun hearing

According to one analysis of FBI data from 2010, 94% of female homicide victims knew their killers, and most of those killers were husbands or boyfriends. And as you've probably heard, a gun in your home is many times more likely to be used to kill one of the people in that home, be used in a suicide, or result in an accidental death than it is to be wielded against an intruder.

What gun advocates say is that we all need to put ourselves and our families in danger to prepare for the home invasion that is the equivalent of being struck by lightning. According to the FBI, in the entire country in 2011 there were just 201 justifiable homicides committed with guns by private citizens. There are over 300 million guns in America, which means that about 1 out of every 1.5 million guns was actually used for lethal self-defense. According to the National Weather Service, your chance of being hit by lightning this year is a mere 1 in 1 million.

Opinion: Americans, even NRA members, want gun controls

Nevertheless, people still have the right to own as many guns as they want. What we're debating is which kind of guns they can get and what procedures they'll have to follow to get them. Perhaps Gayle Trotter believes that having a few handguns and rifles just isn't enough to protect herself; she needs the kind of weaponry that Seal Team Six carries if she's going to feel secure in her home.

That could be what Nancy Lanza thought as she amassed the arsenal her son Adam would use to commit his horrific crime in Newtown. That may seem like an inflammatory comparison -- after all, what are the odds that someone in your family is going to go crazy and kill a bunch of people? Perhaps lower than the odds of a heavily armed band of escaped convicts invading your home. But not by much.

Let's have one final dose of reality, the story of Hadiya Pendleton. A 15-year-old honors student from Chicago, she recenlty performed with her school's band at President Barack Obama's inauguration. Four years ago, as an elementary school student, she appeared in a public service video imploring kids to stay away from gangs and violence. This Tuesday, she was in a park with friends when someone came up and started shooting. She was shot in the back and died at a local hospital.

Hadiya Pendleton's tragic death wasn't someone's paranoid fantasy, and it wasn't lighting striking. It was one of the many real faces of gun violence in America today. She had the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but it was a tragically common place to be. Just since the Newtown massacre, 1,463 Americans have been killed with guns.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Waldman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT