Guns of Convenience

The Supreme Court thinks convenience is an argument against gun control. Actually, it’s an argument for it.

The Supreme Court has discovered a constitutional right to convenience. In District of Columbia v. Heller, which strikes down D.C.’s handgun ban, Justice Antonin Scalia * writes,

It is no answer to say, as petitioners do, that it is permissible to ban the possession of handguns so long as the possession of other firearms (i.e., long guns) is allowed. It is enough to note, as we have observed, that the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upper-body strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police; it can be twirled around the index finger like Lee Marvin did in Seven Men From Now. Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.

OK, I added the clause about twirling it on your finger (and anyway, John Wayne had no difficulty twirling an 18.5-inch Winchester rifle in Stagecoach). My point is that a handgun’s convenience when put to good uses is heavily outweighed by its convenience when put to bad ones. A handgun can be concealed easily, and it can be tossed down a sewer drain without attracting much notice. The barrel can be used to break a snitch’s jaw. (There’s no such thing as “rifle whipping.”) If it’s easier for a woman to handle (I presume that’s the meaning of Scalia’s gallant reference to upper-body strength), imagine how much easier it is for a 4-year-old child. It can be twirled on a table when you want to play Russian roulette. It can be used to caress a woman, as various witnesses attested in Phil Spector’s murder trial (which, despite this testimony, ended in a hung jury; a retrial commences Sept. 29). Because of its light weight, it can be accessed immediately after your wife tells you she’s been sleeping with your best friend, but well before she heads out the door with a suitcase. Because of its small size, it can be used to shoot a cop dead before the chump even realizes you’ve got it in your hand.

It’s this second set of conveniences that led the District of Columbia to ban handguns. Granted, in jurisdictions where gun ownership is permitted, criminals seldom obtain their guns legally. But illegal guns begin life as legal ones. Glock, Beretta, and other handgun manufacturers are not illegal enterprises; rather, they manufacture a legal product that is subsequently stolen and fenced by criminals. More legal guns therefore mean more illegal guns. More illegal guns mean more people get killed. The inconvenience this poses to the dead and their families, and to society at large, does not concern Scalia.

Correction, June 26, 2008: This column originally misstated Justice Scalia’s first name. It’s Antonin, not Anthony. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

[Update, 4 p.m. EDT: At the request of several readers, I should clarify that while there’s no such term as “rifle-whipping,” it’s fairly common to use rifle butts as a club. The term of art is the misleadingly pornographic phrase “butt stroking,” the butt in this instance referring to the flat end of a rifle. Sometimes it’s called “clubbing,” which is similarly misleading because it connotes dancing and drinking. (If someone tells you We went clubbing, and I picked up this chick, and we went back to her place for some really fine butt stroking, do not respond “You dawg!” Instead, phone the police.) It would be far preferable to call this activity “rifle-whipping,” but that term has virtually no currency.]