Doubling Down on Guns

December 21, 2012
Posted by Jay Livingston

Addiction is what happens when your solution to a problem is the same thing that caused the problem in the first place. 

This defintion is not original with me, and I can’t remember where I heard it.  But I was reminded of it again when I heard the NRA’s official response to the massacre in Newtown. 

Decades ago, I spent a lot of time hanging around compulsive gamblers.  For most of them, gambling had started as something that was exciting and fun and often social.  The trouble began when losses started to mount up.  Instead of cutting back, these gamblers would bet even more.  They would, to use the currently popular phrase, double down.  

From a distance, it might seem irrational – man who earns $1,000 a week betting $5,000 on a football game when he’s already $5,000 in debt.  But for the gambler in that situation, the bet is perfectly logical and rational.  For one thing, he knows that winning is always possible.  He knows this from his own experience – even losing gamblers win some of their bets.  In fact, if only he had bet the Falcons last week, as he had been thinking of doing, rather than the Giants, he wouldn’t be in this mess. Besides, given his salary and expenses, there’s no other way to get out of the hole.  So betting several thousand on the games this week is a logical solution to the problem caused by his betting in previous weeks. 

The US has the highest rate of gun death of any industrialized country.  The NRA’s solution to this problem is more guns.  The logic is clear.  As their statement said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  More guns – unrestricted manufacture and sale of them – means more good guys with guns.  Just as the gambler looks at all debts from his past gambling losses, America looks at all the guns piled up from its past gun policies – guns so available that bad guys have no trouble getting them.  And just as the gambler sees the solution as more gambling, the NRA sees the solution as more guns.  After all, you can’t make 300 million guns disappear.  What else is there except for everyone to carry gun? 

I remember the gambler who one afternoon tried to coax me into lending him $2 so he could make a bet at the track.  He told me he had been laid off from his job, he had family difficulties (a child with serious medical problems), and he was deeply in debt.   But with $2 to bet on a horse – and he knew how to handicap the horses, he was certain of that – when the horse won, he’d have a little more capital to bet on the next race, maybe an exacta, and so on. I questioned his logic and the likelihood of that happening.  “What else can I do?” he said.       

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