Amy Dickinson is an advice columnist who, according to the company that syndicates her work, “combines storytelling with advice that is rooted with honesty and trust.” “Ask Amy” appears in newspapers that include The Baltimore Sun, The Chicago Tribune, The Lost Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. She is also billed as an “expert on relationships.”
Dickinson may be good at telling stories, but she is hardly honest, trustworthy, or expert in matters of firearms, which she nevertheless feels free to opine on, including in an article published this week that encourages an overwrought father to evict his adult daughter for owning a pistol.
A man identified only as “DUMBFOUNDED FATHER” (who we’ll refer to as “DUMB” for short) wrote Amy to breathlessly report:
This week I discovered that my intelligent, hard-working, responsible 24-year-old daughter (who lives with me) is a gun owner! And it’s not a normal gun either — it is a .40-caliber semi-automatic, and she has hollow point bullets to go with it.
DUMB believes the handgun to be “the kind of weapon a criminal would possess!” He dismisses his daughter’s choice to keep the gun “for emergencies,” arguing that there have been “only two” home invasions in their neighborhood during the last 11 years.
DUMB goes on to tell Amy that he has ordered his daughter to relinquish the gun or move out of his house in three weeks. He admits, “I love my daughter and would be so sad for her to move into a place that she would hardly be able to afford,” but insists, “I have to lock my bedroom door at night because I don’t know what she’s going to do.”
DUMB complains that his daughter now says he doesn’t trust her and will barely speak to him, “How,” he asks Amy, “can I convince her to stop endangering us?”
Needless to say, DUMB’s question embodies a number of false assumptions, as well as a remarkably condescending attitude toward women and firearms.
First, there is nothing “not … normal” about a .40 cal. semi-automatic handgun. Semi-automatic handguns are in fact the most popular category of firearm in America today.
The .40 caliber S&W cartridge, meanwhile, was developed specifically for law enforcement use, following the FBI’s determination in the mid-1980s to replace their standard-issue .38 special revolvers with semi-automatic pistols.
Pistols chambered in the round went on to become a popular choice with law enforcement agencies across the United States, with civilians adopting them in large numbers during the Clinton “assault weapon” ban in effect from 1994 to 2004, which also imposed limits on magazine capacity.
Putting aside the technicalities, however, there is no evidence that the round – which is somewhat more expensive than other common handgun rounds – is especially popular with criminals.
Moreover, DUMB provides no information that would justify his need to lock himself into his bedroom at night to protect himself from his daughter or her firearm. That seems like a gross overreaction to a daughter he says he loves possessing a lawful and constitutionally protected firearm for emergency use. Indeed, in the event such an emergency arises, DUMB’s daughter will likely be the one protecting him.
Finally, DUMB is so irrationally fearful and controlling that he threatens to evict his daughter in three weeks unless she gets rid of the firearm, including by giving it to him. Why he thinks he is any safer with it than her is not explained, especially given his evident unfamiliarity with handguns.
DUMB’s letter is so over-the-top, in fact, that it comes across more like a parody of a narrow-minded, irrational, gun-phobic control freak than a serious question from a concerned parent.
Amy, however, not only takes the letter at face value, she ups the ante with additional misinformation and emotionalism of her own.
The very first sentence of her reply states, “According to my research, possessing hollow point bullets is illegal in 11 states; is it legal in your state to own this sort of exploding ammunition?”
Actually, only one state – New Jersey – and one city – San Francisco – bans the possession of hollow point ammunition. Amy’s “research” is completely erroneous.
And, needless to say, hollow point bullets do not “explode.” Rather, they are designed to stay intact and expand upon impact, which actually protects the safety and property of bystanders by reducing the tendency of the round to penetrate through the intended target and hit something else.
If anything, Amy’s faulty statistic would still suggest an 78% probability that the ammunition DUMB’s daughter possesses is legal. But is Amy suggesting that DUMB should solve his “problem” by seeking to have his own daughter arrested?
Next, Amy cites additional “research” which she claims shows that since 1980, the number of guns has risen in America, while the percentage of households with a firearm has fallen, concentrating the guns into fewer homes. “Why,” she asks irrelevantly, “must your household be one of them?”
Amy then starts casting aspersions on the daughter. “Where did your daughter get this weapon and ammunition?” she asks. “Is she perhaps engaged in another activity outside of your household that exposes her to increased risks and makes her believe she needs to have a weapon?”
Rather than chide DUMB for overreacting to the common, presumptively lawful, and constitutionally protected conduct of his daughter, Amy tries to terrify him even further with a single, non-representative anecdote. “I have news for you,” she warns. “A locked bedroom door is no match for this weaponry; as I write this, just five days ago a father in South Carolina tragically shot and killed his own 23-year-old daughter through a closed door — when he mistook her for an intruder.”
Of course, family members have also been known to tragically back over each other with their cars.
But those highly unusual and infrequent events do not suggest an intelligent and responsible 24-year-old woman cannot handle a firearm (or automobile) safely.
Ultimately, Amy encourages DUMB to enforce his “ultimatum,’ adding, “I also weep that there is yet another (likely unsafe) gun owner in this country.”
Again, DUMB’s letter provides absolutely no reason to suggest his daughter is an unsafe gun owner. Like DUMB himself, Amy apparently just assumes that a young woman – even an intelligent and responsible one – is incompetent to handle a firearm.
For an “expert” on relationships, Amy also seems unusually quick to suggest a father throw a beloved daughter out of his home for taking the responsible, adult step of seeing to her own protection. Worse, she advocates this potentially life-altering course of action based on poor research, false assumptions, and faulty reasoning.
Indeed, the advice Amy gives to DUMB is startlingly at odds with the advice she typically gives to family members who disagree with their relatives’ lifestyle and choices; more often she counsels empathy and tolerance, rather than condemnation and alienation.
The irony here is that bad advice delivered by an incompetent researcher with no appreciation of her own ignorance or bias is the only real danger in this situation.
But we’re told DUMB’s daughter is intelligent, hardworking, responsible … and well-armed.
Something tells us she’ll do just fine on her own.