For those who frame the gun control debate as a matter of your personal freedoms, let’s look at that argument from another angle:
When I was young, in the 1960s and 70s, I did not have a choice about breathing cigarette smoke. I never smoked myself, but many people around me did (including my parents), and they could do so in public spaces: restaurants, planes, offices, etc. Over the following decades, the health risks of breathing secondhand smoke came to be seen as large enough to warrant legislation to protect those who do not choose to smoke. Smoking is still legal, but the right to smoke in shared spaces is now sharply curbed, so I can easily avoid exposing myself. Most of us think this is a good thing, a pragmatic matter of public health and personal choice.
In 1989, I took my infant daughter for her first checkup at the Yale New Haven health center. The pediatrician asked me a long list of questions about health and safety factors in the environment my daughter would be growing up in: did you bring her here in a car seat? does your apartment have any old lead paint? And: do you have a gun in the home, or do you visit the home of anyone who does? This brought into sharp focus a problem I hadn’t realized I would face as a parent. I can decide not to have a gun in my own home, but I can’t know whether every other environment my daughter is ever in (say, a friend’s house) may contain guns, or whether they are secured properly against curious little children.
US law gives me the choice to protect myself from cigarette smoke, but not to protect myself from the more immediately deadly risk of gunshot wounds. And I don’t mean “protect myself” by having my own gun at the ready. Since I am not trained to it, the odds of me successfully defending myself with a gun, against a gun, are very slim. This goes for you, too. Unless you are current or former military or police, or otherwise have extensive and constantly-reinforced training – not only with guns but in crisis situations – you are also not likely to be effective in using a gun in a sudden attack.
Yes, guns are sometimes used successfully in self-defense. But does the number of those successes outweigh the number of deaths that could otherwise be avoided by having fewer guns in the homes and hands of ordinary, untrained citizens?
Having guns in your home actually increases the risk that someone in your family will get hurt. Massacres committed by mentally ill people get attention, but they account for far fewer deaths (and injuries) than the accidents, suicides, and heat-of-the-moment murders that can happen so easily when a gun is readily to hand – and these account for many of the 30,000 gun deaths that occur in America EVERY YEAR.
I would like to have a choice about whether to expose myself to the risk of injury or death from flying bullets. You can choose to own a gun, and in many states you can choose to carry it into the public spaces that I also use. I do not have any choice about whether to be in your line of fire when you lose your temper, or think you’re gonna be a hero when something goes down. And, frankly, even if you’re the good guy, in the heat of the moment I don’t trust you to hit the bad guy rather than me. Some might keep their heads sufficiently to do exactly the right thing, but most won’t.
So, gun control is a matter of protecting freedom: my freedom to choose the risks to which I expose myself and my family. Your carrying a gun infringes on my right to be safe from your bullets. Even if we start from the premise that your right to be armed is as important as my right to be safe, there are pragmatic public health reasons for my right, in this case, to be given more weight.