"I have, like, 10 of them."
This is my friend talking. My good friend. And he's telling me about the high-capacity magazines he owns for his guns. The kind that holds 20 or 50 rounds of ammunition.
It's only a few days after Connecticut when he says it.
"Guns aren't the problem," he claims. "This crazy [expletive] society that's gone to hell is the problem."
I've heard these words a lot lately, especially since my recent column arguing for more gun control. Like banning the assault rifle and high-capacity mags. Longer waiting periods. Stricter than strict background checks. No gun show loopholes.
"You sound as if guns have a mind of their own," one reader emailed. "We need to deal with people problems."
At its purest, this argument boils down to seven simple words: Guns don't kill people. People kill people.
"Your article might reach more people in a positive light if it had been about the failure and moral decay of today's society," one reader said.
Failure. Moral decay. Our society, in a hand basket. Evil, made in America and personified by school shooters.
So are guns in America an antidote and answer to this?
Or a cause?
In the days following the Connecticut shooting, many of us scrambled for solutions. NBC anchor Ann Curry challenged people to commit daily acts of kindness equal to the number of murdered Connecticut kids. (Her tweet has gone viral).
One man in Philadelphia is fasting for 27 days.
"One day for each life lost in Newton -- including the gunman's," Dr. Charles Howard, chaplain at University of Pennsylvania, wrote on Huffington Post.
For some, firearms are part of the solution. An armed America is a better America.
My friend, the one with the big clips, believes guns make his family safer and more self-reliant. I trust him with anything under the sun, so I listen -- genuinely -- when he tells me this.
"If my vote becomes more and more meaningless, and my country completely moves away from me, or if government fails completely, how might I protect myself and my family, and the way of life to which I have become accustomed?" another friend emailed.
For part of my life, guns were not uncommon. I've owned them, shot them, hunted with them. Half of me understands that guns do not kill others. People -- depraved, tragic, lost -- do.
But guns are not neutral objects. Guns -- 300 million of them in private ownership in America -- have an effect on the spirit and psychology of our nation.
And I do not believe it is a good one.
Possessing a 10-gun personal arsenal distorts the psychology of a person. Carrying a handgun wherever you go changes the way you see the world.
The only gospel preached through gun show culture is an isolating one. An over-armed citizenry tends to fuel itself on self-crippling paranoia and nativism, neither of which are integral to the creation of what Lincoln called "a more perfect union."
No other object -- not even the Bible -- is clutched as tightly in the American grip as our weapons. No other object -- certainly not a bald eagle -- is as suited to symbolize our society as a firearm. It's as if we cannot be Americans without our guns.
"I think our nation would be a much more dangerous place with all its law-abiding citizenry unarmed," said one reader.
I don't disagree.
But imagine instead if we were talking about spades, shovels and garden hoes. Not Bushmasters, but blueberry bushes. Imagine if each of us owned seed collections as voraciously as we owned gun collections.
Or if the NRA disappeared, and in its place arose an organization devoted to the promotion and defense of, say, breast-feeding. Imagine what America would be like if we cared as much about maternal care and breast-feeding as we do firearms.
Or childhood education. Or clean water. Or civic education.
Yes, there is crime to protect against. Gun ownership is a right. Guns can be fun to shoot. And without question, the most serious problem we face comes when immorality drives the bus and ethical foundations turn to rot.
But guns are such a ... reaction.
This week, so many of us will sing hymns about peace on earth. Goodwill toward men and women. Joy to the world.
I never picture firearms as part of the map for reaching that land.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...