Sympathy for Nancy Lanza

Lindsay Beyerstein

Amanda has an excellent post about why Nancy Lanza deserves as much sympathy as any of the victims of the Newtown shooting, even though her guns were used in the massacre.

We should grieve for Nancy. We should also publicize the fact that she and 26 other people were killed with her guns. It’s a cliche to say that gun ownership is a responsibility. Let’s act like that’s true. If you bring guns into your home for self-defense, you are making a safety calculus, not just for yourself, but for everyone around you. You’re betting that you’re making yourself safer and you’re asking other people to accept the risk if your gun gets out of control.

It’s not your fault if you do everything right and your gun still ends up hurting an innocent person. It’s the criminal’s fault. But you do bear some responsiblity for you decision to keep a gun around. Self-defense guns are supposed to be for rare exigencies. So, prospective gun owners should be responsible for taking all the remote possibilities into account: Guns get stolen, gun lockers get broken into, family members learn the codes to the gun locker…

When it’s convenient, gun control opponents like to point out how many crimes are committed by people who got their guns illegally. Knowing that, they still act like legal gun owners bear no responsiblity for what happens when their guns fall into the wrong hands.

Thefts of guns are common. Opportunities to use a gun in self-defense are rare. People who choose to own guns should know that there’s a better chance that they’ll end up arming a criminal than defending themselves.

If you want to exercise your right to keep a gun, you don’t get a complete moral pass if your gun gets stolen and used on someone else. If you gambled and lost, you should be judged accordingly. It should weigh on you.

That doesn’t mean you deserve to be victimized, or that people shouldn’t feel sorry for you if you are killed by your own guns.

Nancy thought she was protecting herself, but she wasn’t. When people decide whether to get a gun, they tend to overrate the chances that they’ll be able to use it to fend off an attacker and overlook the much larger risk of that gun falling into the wrong hands.

People are rushing to buy guns in the wake of the Newtown shooting because it’s easy for them to imagine protecting themselves. They’re not thinking about the risks of being shot with their own weapons. It’s going to take a lot more education to remind people that having a gun isn’t an unmitigated boon to personal safety. There are costs involved, too.

When stolen guns kill innocent people, we seldom find out who the original owner was. If your house gets broken into and your gun gets stolen, you probably never know, much less get blamed, when that gun is used to shoot a kid you’ve never met in a city you’ve never been to.

This time we know where the guns came from, and we should treat that as an opportunity to educate people about the under-discussed risks of gun ownership.

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Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.
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