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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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

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