By Peter Oliver

Shortly after four Michigan high schoolers were killed by a teenage gunman on November 30, 2021, U.S. Representatives Thomas Massie and Lauren Boebert posted family Christmas cards on Twitter with their kids, some very young, cradling guns. And not sporting rifles or air guns – the kids smilingly held assault weapons, with Massie adding the caption, “Santa, please send more ammo.”



To call these posts insensitive would be absurd understatement and using your own young children as props to make a political statement goes beyond tastelessness. What Massie and Boebert did wasn’t gun advocacy; it was gun fetishism. It was grotesquery.

Many people across the country, including in the state of Vermont, support what Massie and Boebert seem to imply via their crass messages: Not only do Americans have a right to own guns but guns make the country a safer, better place. Perhaps they are right. Vermont, with perhaps the laxest gun laws in the country, also has the lowest rate of violent crime of any state in the country, according to the National Crime Survey. But is there really a syllogistic connection between more guns and less mayhem?

Simply – statistically – put, more guns in the hands of ordinary citizens equates to widespread carnage. (And guns in the hands of children is a prelude to tragedy, as the Michigan shooting demonstrated.) The oft-cited comparison between the U.S., with its more than 300 million guns in circulation, and countries with strict gun-control laws shows that U.S. gun deaths are astronomically higher than in, say, western Europe.

Reducing per-capita gun ownership in the U.S. to European levels is, of course, impractical to the point of impossibility. Yet it seems something could or should be done to lessen the national bloodbath. So, consider permissive U.S. gun laws in light of the three major reasons for allowing ordinary citizens to carry arms and how they might influence any gun-control policies.


First is the anti-tyranny argument – that an armed citizenry is assurance against a government becoming too powerful. This argument is attractive philosophically but absurd in reality. What chance would a well-armed citizen militia stand against the fighter planes, missiles and nuclear weapons at the U.S. military’s disposal?

Even Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court’s greatest Second Amendment advocate of the last half century, wrote: “No amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks.” So, until U.S. law allows citizens to own powerful military weaponry, the anti-tyranny argument is moot at best.

Second is an argument that all citizens have a right – perhaps a need – to defend themselves. That, too, is appealing in theory, but a raft of statistics indicates that gun ownership results in far more self-harm than self-defense.

According to the Violence Policy Center, the annual number of justifiable homicides using guns – i.e., shootings in self-defense – is fewer than 300. That’s less than 1% of the roughly 30,000 annual gun deaths, most resulting from homicide, accident or suicide, which accounts for more than two-thirds of those deaths. Studies of gun ownership by state show that states with higher percentages of households owning guns have a higher rate of gun suicides or accidents.

Gun advocates argue that the widespread presence of guns, whether fired or not, represents a line of defense to discourage attacks. That is undoubtedly true at times, but statistically impossible to quantify. One statistic sometimes cited – “lives saved” – has it that, for every life taken in self-defense, 63 lives are saved because the presence of a gun was a deterrent to a crime. Unfortunately, such a statistical calculation is inherently hypothetical. Actual gun deaths – suicides, etc. – are a much more verifiable statistical touchstone.

American belief in the right to self-defense is so powerful that the idea of removing guns from households is a nonstarter. But based on statistics alone, gun ownership is an irrational endangerment of self and family. The national debate could divide this way: gun ownership as self-defense vs. gun control as self-protection. Gun advocates sometimes tout responsible gun ownership – e.g., proper gun and ammo storage – as a middle ground. Fair enough, but responsibility at home is certainly not practiced by a great many gun owners and is all but impossible to regulate.

Hunting and sport represent the third rationale for gun ownership. Hardcore gun advocates often rely on the scare tactic that any gun-control measure is a slippery-slope first step toward eliminating all guns, including deer rifles and target-shooting pistols. While a miniscule percent of gun-controllers might want all guns banned, the great gun-control majority isn’t opposed to sporting guns. That is especially true given that long guns such as deer rifles are rarely involved in crimes or suicides.

What heartwarming Christmas message are Massie and Boebert sending out to the world? That arming children with assault weapons is an assurance that they will grow up in a happier, safer America? Statistics and recent events suggest otherwise.

Oliver lives in Warren.