One Against the Gun

If a button could keep a kid from being shot, would you put one on?

Sandy Hingston One Against The Gun Pins

Photograph By Claudia Gavin

It seemed like such a reasonable argument.

“The fact is,” the column on the back page of the December issue of Guns & Ammo magazine stated, “all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be. Freedom of speech is regulated. You cannot falsely and deliberately shout, ‘Fire!’ in a crowded theater. Freedom of religion is regulated. A church cannot practice human sacrifice.”

But longtime G&A contributor Dick Metcalf went and touched the third rail:

“The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ Note carefully: Those last four words say ‘shall not be infringed.’ They do not say ‘shall not be regulated.’ ‘Well regulated’ is, in fact, the initial criterion of the amendment itself.” Metcalf then laid out an argument for responsible gun use, and for the United States to enact regulations requiring adequate training for those who own guns.

Within a week, in response to a torrent of social-media hatred from readers, Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette abjectly apologized for running the piece, saying, “I thought it would generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights. I miscalculated, pure and simple. I was wrong, and I ask your forgiveness.” He then announced that he had fired Metcalf and that he himself had resigned, effective immediately.

December 14th was the first anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut—a tragedy in which a young man shot and killed his mother, then shot and killed 20 first-graders and six more adults before turning a gun on himself. It was a crime so unimaginable, so horrific, that afterward a lot of people, myself included, thought surely it would mark the beginning of the end for America’s gun madness.

It didn’t. It hasn’t, as the swift and severe repercussions of Metcalf’s audacious rationality showed. In Newtown’s wake, Congress failed to enact even the most modest of gun regulations—a bill with bipartisan support that would have required background checks for gun purchases made at gun shows and online. The bill’s failure meant back to business as usual for the National Rifle Association and its cronies, several of which promptly got to work planning to commemorate the first anniversary of Newtown by declaring December 14th “Guns Save Lives Day.”

Haven’t you had enough?

As “Guns Save Lives Day” approached, I called Shira Goodman, the executive director of the Center City-based anti-gun-violence group CeaseFirePA, to ask: Why the hell hadn’t the massacre of 20 innocent children been enough to get gun-control legislation passed? Goodman, a lawyer who started at CeaseFirePA just six weeks before Sandy Hook, talks really quickly, because when it comes to gun control, she’s got a lot to say. One of the things she said was that over the past few decades, the gun lobby “has created the perception that it’s monolithic and all-powerful.” Another thing she said was that anti-gun people tend to care about a lot of different issues: the environment, health care, gay rights. Gun people only care about guns, and as a result, “There’s a gap in intensity.”

There’s also fear among anti-gun people, because, well, the other side has guns. (Of course, there are many responsible gun owners, yadayadayada, disclaimer, whatever.) And gun control is one of those issues we don’t talk about. It’s like abortion—you just never know. Maybe Dustin from Accounting is packing. Maybe your barber has a .38 tucked in his belt. The fear, combined with that intensity, stifles discussion. Meantime, the pro-gun among us own a “staggering” number of guns apiece, according to Goodman, and nag their legislators all the time.

So I’ve been thinking: What if those of us who don’t want to live in an America where guns are a leading cause of death for kids, where 300 million guns are in circulation, and where the sum costs of gun violence top $174 billion per year could identify kindred spirits?

Those are “One Against the Gun” pins there in the opening photo. They actually exist. I had a bunch of them made (in four colors!). You can put one on your lapel, on your hat or on your bag. You can wear it on the bus, at work, at basketball games, at the grocery store. They’re free. I’ll give you one, if you ask.

The pin makes it clear that you’re in favor of regulating guns, and of taking as many as possible out of circulation. You’re in favor of requiring the manufacturers of guns to make them childproof (the technology exists), and of background checks for anyone who wants to buy one, to make sure he or she doesn’t have a criminal record, a restraining order, or a history of mental illness. Oh, I hear you, you Dick Metcalf haters: None of that would have stopped Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook! You know what? It could stop the next mass murderer, and that’s enough for me.

But that’s not all a “One Against the Gun” pin will say about you. Here’s what else you’re revealing when you put one on.

1. You’re smart.

The more educated you are, the less likely you are to own a gun, and to oppose banning handguns. Duh! And if you do have a gun in your home, you’re more likely to kill yourself with it than to kill anybody else. Suicides make up six out of 10 firearm deaths, and have outnumbered gun homicides since at least 1981. Duh duh, Darwinism! Which gun owners also don’t believe in, I guess.

2. You’re a true American.

I know, I know; the pro-gun image is of a rugged, patriotic frontiersman. But probe a little deeper, and you’ll find the anti-gun-control argument hinges on the belief that Americans are inherently more evil and depraved than citizens of other lands. Great Britain, for example, enacted sturdy anti-gun laws following a school mass killing in 1996. You know how many gun murders Great Britain had in 2010? Fifty-eight. America had 8,775.

So, what made the difference? Not guns, say NRA fans, who insist that if we Americans didn’t have them, we’d off people with baseball bats, or our bare hands. They actually argue that we’re more bloodthirsty than people in other countries—that even accounting for the population differential, Americans are 30 times more murderous than the British. What patriot believes such a thing?

3. You’re not a fanatic.

Gun proponents, Shira Goodman says, are single-issue voters. They’ll support a Democrat if he has a strong pro-gun record, and they’ll ditch a Republican who speaks out in favor of gun control. They’re ruthless that way. So billionaire outgoing New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has created a super PAC that supports pro-gun-control candidates running against NRA-supported candidates. His message: We don’t care what party you’re in; support gun control or we’ll vote you out. And he’s backing it up by contributing big bucks to the opponents of Democrats who voted against the background-check bill.

Will more-liberal voters whose attention is divided among different causes be willing to zero in on this one issue and be as hard-core as the NRA? Bloomberg is betting we will—and he may be right. Here in Pennsylvania, the state with the country’s second-highest concentration of NRA members, Republican Senator Pat Toomey’s approval ratings soared to record highs after he co-sponsored the background-check bill.

4. You’re not a loser.

In election year 2012, the NRA backed candidates in 16 U.S. Senate races. Know how many of those candidates won? Three. Last year, the New Republic quoted Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy as saying, “The NRA is just all mythology. The NRA does not win elections anymore.” Shira Goodman agrees: “We’re finding that the silent majority isn’t so silent anymore. People need to realize, we are making progress. Even in Pennsylvania.” And she laughs! Things are looking up.

And proponents of gun control are getting smarter. “We try to steal a page from the Obama campaign,” Goodman says, by utilizing social media like Facebook and Twitter. Gun-control advocates are learning from gay-rights activists, too, who “built coalitions, made gay marriage a mainstream issue, got people talking about it.” Who would have imagined in 1996, when President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, that gay marriage would be legal in 16 states today?

5. You’re not old, fat and white.

Gun fanciers have an acronym they use to describe themselves on their Internet forums: OFWGs, for “old fat white guys.” As gun fan Dan Baum, author of the book Gun Guys, put it in an article in Harper’s, “Young adults buy markedly fewer guns than old people. They want to be urban and digital, and guns are the opposite of that.” OFWGs feel they’re under siege. In 2012, more white people died in the U.S. than were born—the first-ever shrinkage in the nation’s dominant racial group. The rejuvenation of cities has brought a decrease in rural populations. Multi-racials are the fastest-growing U.S. demographic. That circle of OFWG wagons is getting smaller all the time. Do you really want to hang out there?

6. You can count.

There were 16 mass murders in the United States between Newtown and October of 2013, according to the FBI’s definition of “mass murder”—an incident in which four or more victims are killed by a single perpetrator in a single event. But there have been hundreds of mass shootings—incidents in which four or more people got splattered with bullets. In fact, on average, there’s a mass shooting in America every single day. A subreddit with the tongue-in-cheek name Guns Are Cool keeps a running tab of every mass shooting in the country. As the home page says, “The gun lobby benefits from our ability to save those who would otherwise die.” These shootings may not get the news coverage of an Aurora, but they alter lives just the same. Your “One Against the Gun” pin says you won’t discount victims who have the bad manners not to die.

7. You’re not an idiot.

Remember the NRA’s response to Sandy Hook? It called for arming teachers—an idea so dumb that police groups nationwide fell over themselves to say, “Yo! That’s dumb!”

8. You’re not racist.

A recent study looked at what sociologists call “symbolic racism”—not the overt kind, but the ingrained kind that affects your stance on issues perceived to have a racial component, like welfare and the death penalty. Researchers created a scale to measure symbolic racism that included questions like “How well does the word ‘violent’ describe most blacks?” They found that for each one point increase on that scale, the odds a respondent had a gun at home went up 50 percent.

In case you haven’t heard, gun violence affects blacks disproportionately. It’s only logical, then, that while 53 percent of whites favor protecting the right to own guns, only 24 percent of blacks do. White people want guns because they’re afraid of blacks. This actually leads back to “You’re smart,” since white men—just 30 percent of the U.S. population—make up 60 percent of all American adults with guns, and they’re far more likely to kill themselves with those guns than to be killed by anybody else. You know that timeworn “It’s for self-protection” claim? Even Dan Baum says the number of Americans murdered in home invasions each year is infinitesimal, and that you have a better chance of being killed by bees. Bees.

9. You’re sane.

A Pew Research poll conducted just a month after the Newtown shootings contained a fascinating nugget: Eighty percent of those polled supported preventing people with mental illness from buying guns. You realize what that means? There are a helluva lot of people out there in favor of letting crazy people buy guns.

Keep this in mind whenever you read any sort of gun-control poll. For instance, the same survey showed that 51 percent of Americans say it’s more important to control gun ownership than to protect the right to own guns; 45 percent say protecting the right to own guns is more important. It’s the sanity of that 45 percent that worries me.

10. You’re not in Congress.

My editor, Tom McGrath, scoffed when I brought up the idea of a “One Against the Gun” pin. It will never catch on, he said. People don’t care. The failure to pass gun-control legislation in the wake of Newtown proves that. But I couldn’t let it go. I have this image in my mind of a candidate for Congress shaking a long line of hands at a meet-and-greet—and everyone attached to those hands has on a pin that says “One Against the Gun.”

The NRA claims to have four million members, a figure Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones effectively debunked by showing how, among other things, the organization inflates it with dead people. (Zombies with guns!) But let’s take them at their word. That’s still just 1.27 percent of the U.S. population. In every line of 100 folks waiting to shake the hand of a politician, 99 don’t belong to the NRA. Why don’t we tell the politicians that?

Maybe you don’t want a pin because you’re scared it would show you aren’t packing, and make you a crime target. Let’s think about that for a minute. Is this what it’s come to in this country—that we’re more afraid to say we don’t have a gun than to say we do? You have stickers on your car that tell total strangers your son plays hockey, your daughter is a cheerleader, you listen to NPR, you’ve run a marathon, you went to Penn, you love your Weimaraner and you summer on Long Beach Island, but you’re not willing to share that you don’t like guns?

You know what you should do, then? Run for Congress. You’d fit right in, since it’s 67 percent old fat white guys. But watch out. “In the 2014 races,” Shira Goodman warns, “people are going to have to get on the record and say where they stand” on gun rights. And what about my pins? “It’s something to think about. But it’s hard to get everybody to do one thing.”

So maybe I’ll be the only “One Against the Gun” pin-wearer, and this box of them will sit in my office forever. That’s okay. I don’t mind looking foolish or naive if there’s any chance at all it could spare one parent a lifetime of grief, and the future of one child.

If you’d like a pin, though, just fill out this form. And thanks! I’ll see you around.

Would You Like a Free One Against the Gun Button?

If you have any questions about your pin, please email