Fear can drive bad decisions

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Write a column on why it’s a bad idea to keep a gun in the house and you’ll get letters from people telling you how guns keep them safe from violence. Someone could break into my home, I could get beaten, my wife could be raped. They’ll tell you they were able to walk home safely on a dark country road only because they had a gun — no, they didn’t kill anyone, no they didn’t shoot at anyone, no they didn’t even let anyone know they had a gun. But it was the gun that got them home.

No matter that the chance of your wife being raped by an intruder is less than the chance of getting bit by a rattlesnake and hit by lightning on the same day. No matter that the chance of you being attacked walking home on a dark road is less than the chance you’ll get hit by a car there. They have the fear, and the fear breeds more fear until nothing looks safe.

Where does this fear come from? We read in the newspaper, see on TV, look at the Internet, hear on the radio of terrible things happening to people. The people are just like us, aren’t they? We hear about these terrible murders, rapes, not thinking how very rare they are, at least here where we live. They seem real to us. And we see movies where ordinary folks like us are hurt and then get justice only by taking a gun and shooting, by killing the “bad guys.” Only those are fantasies, fantasies that provoke us to violence.

The fear comes, too, from feeling powerless. I lost my job — what can I do? My kids are crazy with bad talk and drugs — what can I do? Someone cut me off in traffic — what can I do? The mortgage I got was for way too much and my house isn’t worth it anymore — what can I do? They’re teaching kids all the wrong stuff in school — what can I do?

We feel powerless. So we fear more and more. Yet fear generates only more fear. Get a gun to stop the fear? If I am more powerful, people will fear me. But that doesn’t lessen your fear. It keeps you constantly on edge, waiting for the chance to show your power, to use your gun. Now I have to be afraid of you.

These fears should pale next to the one great fear we should teach ourselves, our neighbors, our children: the fear of killing. The fear to kill another man or woman, the fear to harm another. If we take this as the great fear, it turns us to love and compassion, which casts out all other fears. With love and caring we can join with others, not afraid but trusting. Yes, we are sometimes wrong, we trust someone we shouldn’t. But to live without trust, to live without caring, we should fear that worse than fearing death.

And trusting, caring, we can join together. We are no longer powerless when we join the union, when we organize activities for kids to keep them from drugs, when we go to the school board about what’s taught in the schools, when we take to the streets in a demonstration to force the banks to give up their illegal profits and give us back our homes. We feel power, and we are not afraid. And with our fear goes our need to be powerful with a gun.

They’re not like you and me. Their great fear is what can happen to them. Our great fear is what we can do to others. We live by the creed: Do No Harm.

Arf, formerly known as Dr. Richard L. Epstein, is the author and publisher of books on reasoning and is head of the Advanced Reasoning Forum in Socorro.