WSJ Story on Gun Training for Senior Citizens Cites Harvard Prof Who Called Gun Owners 'Wimps'

March 31st, 2016 5:18 PM

In an otherwise decent story about senior citizens taking up shooting lessons for self-defense, the Wall Street Journal's James R. Hagerty devoted two paragraphs of his March 30 story to an anti-gun researcher by the name of Dr. David Hemenway who essentially argued that it's a bad idea for senior citizens to keep guns in their houses. Of course, Hagerty left out how the Harvard researcher has previously sneered that gun owners are "wimps" who essentially are trying to compensate for a lack of brains and/or brawn.

Hagerty opened his Austintown, Ohio-datelined story by following "a dozen people in their 60s and 70s" from the town's senior city center who "bundled into a van and several cars and headed to the nearby American Range shooting gallery." 

From there Hagerty quoted firearms instructors and students about the growing phenomenon of senior citizens buying guns for home protection and taking up range time to sharpen their proficiency in shooting, pausing briefly for Hemenway's splash of cold water: 

Some say those buyers may also be misguided. David Hemenway, a professor of health policy at Harvard University, said “the evidence is pretty strong that [owning a gun] isn’t going to help you.” Having a gun at home increases the risks for suicide and accidental shootings, he said, and it is hard to shoot an intruder or assailant: “Your heart starts beating like crazy,” he said. “If they’re running at you, you have half a second or something.”

So what can worried seniors do? “Get a dog, get a good lock, get good neighbors, get a cellphone,” Prof. Hemenway said.

Here's a crazy idea: maybe these senior citizens know the risks and, weighed against the benefits, decide they want to own a firearm. And maybe, just maybe, they also know neighbors go on vacation, cell phones lose battery power – and cops are minutes away when you need them in seconds – and dogs can be shot or otherwise neutralized by home invaders.

But that aside, it is worth keeping in mind that Hemenway has a remarkably condescending view of gun owners themselves and of gun ownership. He views the former as buffoons and the latter as an activity which he hopes will become as socially unacceptable in the near future as drunk driving is now.

Here are the relevant comments from a January 2013 chat with the New Public Health blog rim by the liberal Robert Wood Johnson Foundation:

Tell the Truth 2016

I want to see foundations step up.  I want to see Congressional hearings about guns. I want to see real national commissions to look at what we know and what we should know and why we don’t know it and what we’re doing.

And I’d also like to see this lead to all different groups saying enough’s enough, we’re all going to get involved in all different ways, from women’s groups to school groups to clergy.

But a big thing is to change social norms. We’ve already had some of those successes. When I was a kid drinking and driving was fine. Now it’s not fine. And it’s not just because of the law because the law was always there. It has a lot to do with social norms. This is not acceptable behavior anymore.

Another area we talk about where social norms have changed is smoking. What a magnificent change we’ve had in smoking in the United States. We need to see a social norm change on gun violence. Instead of it being the mark of a real man that you can shoot somebody at 50 feet and kill them with a gun, the mark of a real man is that you would never do anything like that. You’d show that you were stronger than they were and smarter and not just that you had some weapon. The gun is a great equalizer because it makes wimps as dangerous as people who really have skill and bravery and so I’d like to have this notion that anyone using a gun is a wuss. They aren’t anybody to be looked up to. They’re somebody to look down at because they couldn’t defend themselves or couldn’t protect others without using a gun.

NPH: How does that happen?

Dr. Hemenway: Well, in the United States, it wasn’t that long ago that dueling was common and what a stupid practice that was. But everybody felt like they had to – if you were insulted you had to duel. The same way that too often among inner city minority youth if somebody disses you, you feel that you have to respond in a certain way. That’s not the way you have to respond, but it is if that’s the culture.