Bullets & Lighters

I came home from my swim this morning and as I was walking by my front patio, I noticed that I’d left a lighter sitting on the table. It’s fairly common practice for me. Although I usually carry a Zippo in the coin pocket of my jeans, I usually work from home and sometimes I’m wearing house clothes when I go out for a smoke break. The lighter is a convenience for me.

I do live in a fairly safe neighborhood. There’s a gate around my apartment complex. But there are children and it’s summer. The children yell and scream and make noise but they’re out playing, just as I used to when I was younger. An exposed lighter, unprotected, visible, unattended, not locked up… it’s… a liability.

For decades in the US, people left firearms out around their homes. They also wore them on their hips and carried them in their vehicles (or on their horses, I guess). In parts of this state, people still do. The other day, I saw a guy at the gas station with a 1911 on his hip. It seems to me now that for a while it was a fashion statement as much as anything else. If you were a male of a certain age, you’d almost be expected to have a single six on your hip. If you were a female alone in your home, people might thing you odd for meeting a visitor without a rifle in hand.

We didn’t collect all sorts of skewed statistics on gun, “violence,” back then. I’m going to venture a guess that there wasn’t some enormous spat of mass shootings that broke out occasionally or a great deal of suicide-by-gun. More firearms, less shooting. It happened. It doesn’t seem to work that way anymore.

What changed? Society changed. The, “guns don’t kill people, people (or bullets) kill people,” argument may be cliche but it’s as true as ever. The firearm was there, just like my lighter is there. It’s an inanimate object. Design flaws aside — firearms were less reliable mechanically 200 years ago in general — a firearm doesn’t fire on its own. Properly kept, unloaded a lot of the time, and pointed in a safe direction, a rifle will never shoot a person accidentally. (I’ve heard arguments to the contrary but I’ve yet to see a single credible example of a case where a firearm accident wasn’t due to user error.) My lighter is much more likely to start a fire on its own.

But what changed? I suspect that someone may one day try to make a case that having my lighter sitting around where a neighborhood could pick it up and use it to start a fire, would be my fault. At least, I may be partially culpable. After all, said child’s mother knows that their child is a good kid and wouldn’t ever do something like that. It must be someone else’s fault. Similarly, when someone shoots someone else, it’s because there are too many firearms around. Or it’s because firearm manufacturers are irresponsible in selling their products. Or because people are allowed to have firearms. Anything but the fact that someone did something wrong, stupid, immoral, and illegal: they shot someone.

Texas recently signed a bill preventing preemption of local laws in the state from barring people from carrying edged tools, like knives and swords. I heard some discussion about how this violates public safety, that it makes our streets more dangerous. Nowhere in that discussion did the point come up that parents should teach their children that knives are tools that can be dangerous. Swords are… well… if you see an adult carrying a sword, you should probably take a moment to survey where you are and how you got there. A friend of mine was told this on her first driving lesson from her parents: there are tons of metal around you and you’re in control of it, so be careful. I was never taught that as a young driver and I learned it the hard way. I was, however, guided through lessons on sharp objects, hot things, using my words carefully, and other hazards.

There’s a bill in the legislature that specifies self defense as a legitimate use of firearms, with respect to the Second Amendment. I laud the effort; somewhere, society brainwashed itself into using, “sporting purposes,” as the sole criterion as to whether a firearm should be legal for ownership in the US. This is somewhat like legislating that lighters should be able to be used for lighting things on fire, like cigarettes. Guns were invented to shoot things, mostly living things like animals while hunting and people when necessary to defend oneself, such as during war or when cornered. By all rights, we should require legislation that specifies causing heart disease is a legitimate use of french fries. It’s almost the same thing.