Friday, January 14, 2011

On Gun Nuttery and Responsibility

Several weeks ago, I engaged in a messy debate with James Kelly, at "SCOT goes POP".  He insists that Freedom from Fear is the One Goal that we must all achieve, and that banning guns is the way to achieve it.

In the debate, I tried to say that I didn't want to be "free from fear", but that I wanted to be responsible, and when members of society choose to be responsible, "freedom from fear" was a mere side effect.

I don't think I explained myself very well; indeed, what I needed to say probably hadn't congealed properly.  I now understand what I need to say, and how to say it.  I will do so, by explaining how I became a so-called "Gun Nut".

For the first part of my life, I was completely unaware of guns--sure, I'd know of a person or two who owned them, including my grandpa; and I enjoyed rifle shooting and archery at Scout Camp--but beyond these experiences, I didn't think about guns all that much.  I didn't even think about it when I got mugged while walking the streets of Birmingham, England, or when an Englishman made the comment to the effect that it's ridiculous to think that Great Britain was gun free.  (These experiences occurred in the years of 1997 to 1999, some time after pistols were completely banned.)

What got me to think about guns was "More Guns, Less Crime" by John Lott.  I first heard about this book on the radio, and when I read it, I found John Lott to be very thorough in his statistical analysis; indeed, the was book boring and interesting at the same time because of this.  Being a mathematician with a couple of Statistics classes under my belt, I found the book rather convincing.  And I found it amusing how enemies of gun rights dismissed--and not just dismissed, but outright fought--Lott's conclusions, without even looking at them!

In the book, John Lott concluded that certain crime rates go down when it is legal for honest citizens to carry guns.  As a result, I decided it would be a good idea for me to get a concealed carry permit, and carry a gun.  I didn't act on that idea, though, in part because of lack of funds, but also in part because I was planning on going to New York soon, and I was aware that gun laws in that State were overbearing.

It was while in New York State, however, that my conversion to gun nuttery became complete:  I read an essay called A Nation of Cowards, by Jeff Snyder, and I discovered that carrying weapons isn't just a right, it's a responsibility:
One who values his life and takes seriously his responsibilities to his family and community will possess and cultivate the means of fighting back, and will retaliate when threatened with death or grievous injury to himself or a loved one. He will never be content to rely solely on others for his safety, or to think he has done all that is possible by being aware of his surroundings and taking measures of avoidance. Let's not mince words: He will be armed, will be trained in the use of his weapon, and will defend himself when faced with lethal violence.
Thus, I learned that it was my duty to carry a gun, and be prepared to use it when life and limb are unjustly threatened.  To the extent that I don't carry a gun, I fail at my responsibility.

This overwhelming desire to carry a gun, then, is not at all based on fear.  Indeed, in some exchanges with James Kelly, I decided to look up statistics for Vermont, and compare them to England--and I learned that Vermont, with lax gun laws, had seven murders in 2009, out of a population of 490,000.  Are we really expected to believe that banning guns will eliminate those seven deaths?

Similarly, Great Britain had something like 1,700 murders--I won't try again look up the exact number, and I don't know what year it was for--out of a population of about 57 million.  Even if getting rid of gun laws will increase murders by a factor of ten--to 17,000--is it really all that reasonable to fear death by gun?  For that matter, is it all that reasonable to expect the murder rate to jump like that, when guns are legalized?

Ultimately, in one sense, it doesn't matter if guns are legal or not:  the criminal element will still remain a tiny fraction of the entirety of society, and we will always be relatively safe.  In another sense, however, it's a matter of grave importance.  Society needs responsible citizens in order to be mature and peaceful, and by banning guns, we prevent citizens from being responsible, by forbidding the very tools they need to protect themselves, and their loved ones, from immediate danger to life and limb posed by criminal elements.

I value freedom and responsibility--and I value it far more than being vaguely "free from fear".

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