A thoughtful UNL Polisci Major responds to my most recent post — about a rifle that was stolen from an unlocked car here in Lincoln, Nebraska — and raises a couple of points that warrant further discussion since, admittedly, I was a bit flippant in my earlier post.
Here’s the first point:
Sure, there are bad people in the world will use a gun for evil purposes, but it’s not a coincidence that a lot of times the targets of violent crimes are areas where weapons are prohibited, because in those circumstances the potential attackers will expect less resistance. If more of the people attending Gabrielle Gifford’s constituent meeting at a Tuscon supermarket had a gun, would Jared have been able to kill six people? Probably not.
An armed population means any potential aggressor will think twice before acting. The Jared Loughner case taught us that we must work to curb gun purchases and gun access for violent criminals, the mentally ill, and children, while ensuring that that very right of every eligible citizen is guaranteed. This quote from Ron Paul’s new book, Liberty Defined, sums up the debate on the issue in and rightly defends the importance of the 2nd Amendment:
Gun-control advocates tell us that removing guns from society makes us safer. But that is simply an impossibility. The fact is that firearm technology exists. It cannot be uninvented. As long as there is metalworking and welding capability, it matters not what gun laws are imposed upon law-abiding people. Those who wish to have guns, and disregard the law, will have guns. Paradoxically, gun control clears a path for violence and makes aggression more likely, whether the aggressor is a terrorist or a government.(p 144-145)
While the statistic that households with guns are more likely to fall victim to gun-related crimes is a persuasive, emotional argument for disarming the public, it doesn’t change that fact that when people with guns come across those without, and a violent exchange takes place, those with the guns will typically come out alive while sadly, the same can’t be said for the unarmed.
I’ll begin by saying that earlier this year, as several states were considering whether or not weapons ought to be carried on college campuses, I wrote a short post on the matter. It’s relevant to this point, so I’ll take the liberty of quoting myself:
At last, we’ll be able to answer the pressing question, will students’ long national nightmare of not being able to bring a Glock to my office hours finally be over?
You know, for protection.
One thing I know for sure is that we ought not to listen to Anthony Daykin, the police chief at the University of Arizona. That turkey said that “his officers would be at a loss if they arrived at a shooting scene in a lecture hall holding hundreds of students and found scores of people pointing, and possibly shooting, weapons at one another.”
But, honestly, what does he know about situations like these?
You know who we ought to listen to? I’d recommend Ashlyn Lucero, “a political science student at Arizona State University who has served in the Marine Corps, is the daughter of a sheriff and grew up hunting”:
“I think that every person has the right to bear arms no matter what the circumstances” … Ms. Lucero carries her Glock pistol whenever possible and would carry it on campus if she could. “If I’m going out to eat somewhere, I usually have a gun with me always,” she said. “It’s just one of those things that you never know what’s going to happen.”
Going out for dinner is dangerous, yes. But far less dangerous would be a restaurant where everyone is armed to the teeth. I think we can agree on that.
It seems like a bizarre line of argument that if everyone had a gun and could wave it around, criminals would definitely think twice about their bad behavior. After all, criminals break into homes all the time, completely unaware of whether or not the homeowner is armed. Criminals rob convenience stores too, despite the popular portrayal in film and television of shotgun-wielding convenience store owners. How can this be? My suggestion, here, is that it’s probably not the case that a “potential aggressor will think twice before acting.”
But more likely the stronger argument runs in a different direction; that is, that criminals will always be up to their nefarious actions, but that a well-armed citizenry can stop them in the act by shooting them. First of all, let me say that it seems an unfair rhetorical strategy to assert that things would have been better if only there had been more guns, not fewer guns, at the rally where Representative Giffords was shot. We have no way to demonstrate the veracity of this hypothetical claim, so we might just as well assert that things would have been much, much worse. We might all be safer if everyone was carrying a weapon or we might be a good deal less safe. Hard to say.
But let’s presume, as the Polisci Major does, that more people carrying guns at a political meet-and-greet outside of a supermarket would mean fewer people shot by Jared Loughner. What this assertion presumes is excellent marksmanship from all of our run-of-the-mill gun-toting citizens; it suggests that, upon seeing Loughner’s gun, at least one citizen would pull out a gun of his/her own and shoot Loughner, thus preventing the deaths of innocent bystanders. But I wonder why we should make this assumption, rather than the assumption that a shoot-out would ensue that would take the lives of more people, that aiming at Loughner isn’t the same as hitting him, or that the police would be able to sort out which gun-wielder is the criminal and which the helpful vigilante. I wonder also, why we presume that it’s as easy to fire a weapon accurately as it is to own a weapon? Or perhaps we’re presuming that every gun owner also spends the incredible amount of time it would take to hone the craft of marksmanship? Personally, I presume none of these things. I’m like the police chief at the University of Arizona, quoted above.
Now, to the second point:
Despite the unfortunate reality that sometimes bad people get weapons, we mustn’t forget why our country’s founders considered the individual’s right to bear arms so basic and essential that they made it the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights. If you let fear get into the debate, one way or the other - whether the government is taking away our guns or making them overly available - you are a participant in the demagoguery; missing the point entirely that an armed population is more capable of defending itself than an unarmed one.
I wholeheartedly agree: 2nd Amendment 4 Life! Just not in the same, sardonic manner. The problem is bad people, not bad policy. The right to gun ownership ought to be considered a fundamental human right because the right to life is the most essential, and without adequate defenses people succumb to tyrants, both foreign and domestic. Even Hobbes, a big proponent of the supremacy of the sovereign, argued that individuals entering into a social contact retain a few rights, such as the right to self-defense and “the use of fire, water, free air, and a place to live in, and … all things necessary for life (Walzer, Membership p. 43).” And this is all coming from me, someone who chooses not to own a gun, but believes that people should know their rights, exercise them at will, and understand their underlying foundation(s).
My response is a straightforward one: I don’t propose changing or removing the Second Amendment, nor do I think that Americans don’t have a right to own a gun if they so choose. I might suggest that those Americans who want to exercise that right should necessarily also enroll in a local militia, as that’s a critically important part of the Second Amendment too.
After all, I think it’s a mistake to suggest that simply owning a weapon makes a person safe from tyranny (as Ron Paul seems to suggest in the quote above). If we’re really concerned about our government — and it seems that the Polisci Major and Ron Paul is indeed concerned — then joining up with other concerned citizens is probably our best bet. And probably most in line with the intentions of our Founders (who were also, of course, pretty concerned — and rightly so — that the British might come back).
I’m simply not someone who’s concerned that I’ll be tyrannized by my government, at least not to the point where I’ll need to take up arms against them. Indeed, I’m far more concerned about the people in this country who believe that they might need to take up arms against the government (or the British, or whomever). While our various elected officials might make policy choices with which I vociferously disagree, I prefer to exercise my rights to speak and vote rather than my right to bear arms, as I think that organizing the ouster of those who vote against my interests is likely both more reasonable and more effective than threatening them with violence. This is a democratic republic, after all, and I presume that my elected officials are accountable to me because I vote, not because I own guns.
But I suppose reasonable people can disagree about this point and I suppose it’s perfectly acceptable to argue both that gun ownership is preserved in our Constitution and that having a gun somehow ensures that one will be kept safe from violence. I agree with the former, but am skeptical of the latter … especially if one keeps one’s gun in an unlocked car. People like the gun owner in the article I referenced are irresponsible; they make the country less safe through the exercise of their right to bear arms and we can reasonable, I think, insist on restricting their exercise of that right for that reason.