Intersections: How do guns make us better off?

A gun show was held in Glendale last weekend, what may be the last one in the city as the City Council gets ready to vote on banning gun shows on city property after the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary shooting tragedy shook the United States during the holiday season.

The banning of gun shows after last year's tragedy, in which 26 people, most of them children, were gunned down, isn't unique to Glendale. In Maryland, Prince George's County has banned gun shows indefinitely. Closer to home in Del Mar, the City Council has urged the banning of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show, held in the city the last 22 years.

At the local gun show — which annually contributes $54,000 in facility rental fees to city coffers, according to a report Sunday in the Glendale News-Press — promoters expected around 4,000 attendees. But they were also met with groups of sign-wielding citizens on each side of the gun debate.

As I browsed through photos of Saturday's gun show, one sign stuck out to me among all the others. It read, “Good people with guns don't cause tragedies.”

I thought about Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympian who fatally and, as he claims, accidentally, shot his girlfriend to death on Valentine's Day, mistaking her for an intruder. I thought about the dozens of news reports I've seen and read about kids finding guns in their houses and accidentally ending up hurting themselves or others. I even thought about a recent story out of Florida about a dog that accidentally kicked a gun and ended up shooting his owner in the leg.

Then another clichéd catchphrase you might find on a pro-gun sign came to mind: “Guns don't kill people, people kill people.”

That statement has never made any sense to me. For all intents and purposes, the very reason a gun exists is to cause harm or inflict damage, whether you're going out to shoot a helpless deer or a human. You're not going to put flowers in the barrel, you are going to use it, plainly and simply, to kill.

I am positive there are millions of people in the United States, good people, whose purpose for owning a gun is not to cause tragedies. However, when we have the highest gun homicide rate of any nation and are paired only with Yemen on a list of countries whose residents think owning guns is a basic right, something needs to be reexamined, not least of which includes the terrible phrases on signs during protests, or the paltry attention we give to mental health problems in this country.

The Sandy Hook tragedy and the Aurora, Colo. theater shooting are terrible, media-soaked blots on the history of the United States. But gun violence is an everyday occurrence in this country. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports, 561 children were killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010. It is embedded in our world, not as an anomaly, but as something normal — and that's frightening.

Is banning gun shows the answer to this emerging debate? No, not the whole answer, perhaps. Will stricter gun controls curb violence? It's certainly worked in Japan, where all forms of firearm ownership are forbidden, leading to as few as two gun-related deaths per year.

There was once a time when the idea of going to a shooting range appealed to me. I thought it would be a great experience, a way to get a glimpse inside a new world. The thought of holding a gun and firing it intrigued me.

Now, the thought disgusts me. It dredges up images of events I am forced to remember the same way generations before me remember the 1969 moon landing. And no number of protest signs can change those feelings. I’ve always thought that as people who are part of a large, complex society, a core obligation we have is to evolve, to know better, to be better.

When it comes to guns and their ownership, Sandy Hook, Columbine, and the fact that Chicago homicides outnumbered U.S. troop killings in Afghanistan in 2012, I have to ask myself, how are we better off?


LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at

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