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
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT