An armed society isn’t free — or even a society

Guns are for emotional cripples. They help weak people feel strong. They help fearful people feel safe. They offer lonely people the reassuring sensation of cold steel. They protect the freedom of people who don’t enjoy freedom.

Anyone who thinks that owning a gun has something to do with being a real American has confused patriotism with dedication to self-preservation, since no ones gun can protect this country; at most it might protect the guy with his finger on the trigger.

Firmin DeBrabander writes: [A]n armed society — especially as we prosecute it at the moment in this country — is the opposite of a civil society.

The Newtown shootings occurred at a peculiar time in gun rights history in this nation. On one hand, since the mid 1970s, fewer households each year on average have had a gun. Gun control advocates should be cheered by that news, but it is eclipsed by a flurry of contrary developments. As has been well publicized, gun sales have steadily risen over the past few years, and spiked with each of Obama’s election victories.

Furthermore, of the weapons that proliferate amongst the armed public, an increasing number are high caliber weapons (the weapon of choice in the goriest shootings in recent years). Then there is the legal landscape, which looks bleak for the gun control crowd.

Every state except for Illinois has a law allowing the carrying of concealed weapons — and just last week, a federal court struck down Illinois’ ban. States are now lining up to allow guns on college campuses. In September, Colorado joined four other states in such a move, and statehouses across the country are preparing similar legislation. And of course, there was Oklahoma’s ominous Open Carry Law approved by voters this election day — the fifteenth of its kind, in fact — which, as the name suggests, allows those with a special permit to carry weapons in the open, with a holster on their hip.

Individual gun ownership — and gun violence — has long been a distinctive feature of American society, setting us apart from the other industrialized democracies of the world. Recent legislative developments, however, are progressively bringing guns out of the private domain, with the ultimate aim of enshrining them in public life. Indeed, the N.R.A. strives for a day when the open carry of powerful weapons might be normal, a fixture even, of any visit to the coffee shop or grocery store — or classroom.

As N.R.A. president Wayne LaPierre expressed in a recent statement on the organization’s Web site, more guns equal more safety, by their account. A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.

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Comments

  1. This blog is one of my favorites but this posting is the least favorite of any that I have read.

    I can tell you do not own a gun and are not comfortable with its use as a tool, under the appropriate circumstances.

    I can tell you do not live in the rural American West, where the population density can be very low and the nearest law enforcement may be fifty or more miles away.

    I can tell you do not hunt. Someone can provide meat for his or her family for a year at the cost of a weekend or two in the woods. Humans having eliminated most of the large predators, hunting may play an important ecological role in culling certain animal populations.

    Brandishing a gun in public is a quick route to jail and the loss of one’s concealed or open carry permit. Concealed carry permit holders not only commit crimes at a lower rate than the average but lower than the rate at which police commit crimes. They are less, not more likely to escalate a confrontation.

    Forty five percent of burglaries in Great Britain occur when the home is occupied and only thirteen percent in the US. American burglars fear confronting an armed homeowner.

    None of the gun owners I know are emotional cripples. How many gun owners do you know personally?

    I support strong regulation of firearms including the prohibition of large magazines and a limitation on how many weapons an individual can purchase in a period of time. The survivalists and militia types who stockpile weapons scare me. The average gun owner does not.

  2. Enon – The commentary I generally offer on this site may sometimes be provocative, but I don’t often engage in polemics. This is an exception and I said what I said, knowing perfectly well that I would offend some hunters.

    I have lived in rural America (the Appalachians) for the last decade and have had hunters for neighbors and met them with some frequency on mountain trails. I guess the most memorable experience I’ve had with gun use so far was when I heard bullets whizzing over my porch and rapid fire coming from nearby. I soon learned that a neighbor who perhaps didn’t own a ladder or saw, was in the process of shooting a branch of a tree.

    I am indeed not a gun owner but I don’t begrudge others the ability to own guns and hunt. The issue is: how should gun ownership be regulated?

    Americans regard the right to drive as a fundamental freedom for anyone living here — but it isn’t a right enshrined in the Constitution. Drivers are required to be licensed, insured and their vehicles roadworthy. They aren’t allowed to drink and drive and most states require seat belts and prohibit text messaging. There is as far as I’m aware, no civil liberties movement campaigning for the right of Americans to drive without regulations. Cars aren’t designed to kill but because they can do so, they’re use is appropriately regulated. Why shouldn’t we expect the use of devises which are designed to kill to be even more tightly regulated?

    I don’t know about the statistics you are citing on burglaries in Great Britain. The numbers I’ve found don’t differentiate between occupied and unoccupied buildings or between residential and non-residential burglaries. However, the totals are not strikingly different. In 2010 in the U.S. there were 696 per 100,000. In England and Wales, 946. In Scotland, 479. The differences in the rate of burglaries most likely have vastly more to do with population density than home owners’ gun ownership.

    The statistic that is much more worthy of attention is the difference between the number of homicides caused by firearms. In 2009 there were 41 firearms homicides in England and Wales. The same year in the U.S. there were 10,300. If the difference in population size is factored in then England and Wales would have had 231. That means the U.S. had 45 times the number of firearms homicides!

    The gun rights movement is in retreat right now — witness the way the NRA went into hiding — and the fact is that even as gun sales go up, fewer Americans are buying them. Whether they are survivalists, militia types or simple gun fanatics, gun hoarders are on the rise.

    Maybe the smart thing for the average gun owner to do is to support the gun control movement and isolate the fanatics — in this respect, I think we might be on the same page.

  3. “Maybe the smart thing for the average gun owner to do is to support the gun control movement and isolate the fanatics — in this respect, I think we might be on the same page.”

    Yes. I am not a member of the NRA but neither can I support those who would prohibit me from having a handgun in my own home or car (e.g. DC before the Supreme Court ruling). Surely there is some middle ground we can find. Castigating all gun owners as ‘emotional cripples’ is not helpful in finding that middle ground.

    The comparative figures on ‘hot’ burglaries (those of occupied homes) come from the research of Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State.

    I don’t think there was anything in my post that argued against strict regulation. I think the proper handling of firearms should be part of everybody’s education. The first two rules of gun safety: always assume a gun is loaded and handle it appropriately, never point a gun at any person or anything you don’t intend to shoot. Too many people buy guns without the proper education and training. We make people take tests before they can drive, why not guns? (At least the training requirements for getting a concealed carry permit in my state are quite strict.)

    Yes, American homicide rates are horrific. We have been and continue to be a violent, brute-force culture. It doesn’t have to be that way. Switzerland and Israel have very high rates of gun ownership yet have homicide rates much lower than ours. Something about taking a ‘well regulated militia’ extremely seriously seems to be a factor in those countries.

    Your neighbor is an idiot and should have been cited for his dangerous discharge of a firearm. Appalachia is not the West, where the population really thins out in a lot of places, and the states of which, as a practical political matter, have representation in the Senate disproportional to their population. Westerners also own guns at high rates; calling them emotional cripples is not going to gain their cooperation in finding practical compromises on stricter firearm regulation.

  4. I seriously doubt that gun control can work in the present tense. One issue being that this country wages war all over the world, which requires humans to participate in. They are trained in the use of such weapons, so whether or not they choose to own them after military service, is their choice. I might also add that I believe the amount of guns available today, does have a deterrent effect, that being a prevention of the Government turning on its own citizens, which on one can dispute with all the loss of civil rights since 9/11. One other thing I believe is heavely involved here, that’s the video games that just about every kid plays from a few years of age up through adulthood. Killing or destroying people, monsters, etc., only to have them reappear in the game time after time, doesn’t register as being reality. Now, we have civilian/military personnel sitting in some box somewhere, controlling drones, killing innocent civilians without any emotion, giving the impression it’s not real. I could go on, but won’t, as I don’t think what I believe, will matter to those who think eliminating guns will stop the killing of innocents.

  5. This being a blog, I realize that I expect too much when I hope that readers will read what I’ve written with as much care that I took when choosing my words. Nevertheless, I was not quite as blunt as to suggest that all gun owners are emotional cripples. What I was driving at was what guns seem to signify to those particular gun owners who protest too much about the threat from gun control. Obviously, there are lots of gun owners who are not in the NRA and who do not necessarily regard gun ownership as the foundation of American identity.

    The political drive right now will inevitably be somewhat limited in its scope. Obama rarely takes the risk of setting the bar too high. I on the other hand, in spite of being able to exert only a miniscule amount of influence, have a greater interest in challenging the gun culture — not simply the specifics of the law. Political change isn’t just about figuring out what can make its way through Congress; it’s about trying to change the way people think.

    Regulation won’t simply depend on crafting new laws the right way; it also demands that guns in some way become divested of their nation-founding mythological trappings.

    BTW – when I called the sherrifs’ dept to complain about my neighbor, they offered to come and talk to me — not the neighbor. I think they intended that as a friendly offer to help me understand local customs.

  6. Norman mentions something that Americans should consider really frightening…that many of the high velocity, large magazine, automatic weapons are bought by people who believe they need them as protection ‘from’ the government. This is an indication of the sickness of the society, especially when these beliefs are common among otherwise reasonable and socially responsible people.

    I blame the corporate culture for what amounts to the brain washing of decent people to convince them through a constant media barrage that government is wicked while corporations are benign upholders of ‘freedom’. What the US needs first is freedom from corporate lies and those who spread them.

  7. It was hard for me not to read “Guns are for emotional cripples” as a general condemnation of gun owners but accept your explanation that it was not intended so.

    I like my guns in the same way I like other well designed, powerful machines. I don’t love them. Happiness is not a warm gun.

    Neither is gun ownership central to my identity as an American. That has more to do with trying to change the way people think and helping, in some small ways, the arc of the universe to bend toward justice. Why do you think I read this blog (carefully too!)?

  8. Paul
    “It must follow that what applies to the children murdered in Newtown by a deranged young man also applies to the children murdered in Muslim counties by a somber, Time Man of the Year American president. These children are just as important, just as real, just as deserving of the world’s concern.” from the Guardian

    ‘They are not ‘bug splats’ and these tragedies ‘also’ must end and to end them President and his foreign policies need to change’ from a commenter in Yemen.

    You mention that being able to exert only a miniscule amount of influence, in the gun control issue- likewise with the murder of children by the Obama/Bush foreign policies the same-what needs to be done, as you attest, is keep trying to change the way people think in that matter also. However, Rep. Dennis Kucinich’s bill, H.Res. 819 is up for consideration in congress soon. There is a petition.
    http://www.warcosts.com/accountability_for_u_s_drone_strikes

  9. This is interesting. The British press often covers the US better than the American press does.

    What I learned from my gun show tour
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/18/what-max-blumenthal-learned-from-gun-show-tour

  10. This has been a useful exchange. The more that gun owners who support gun control speak up, the better. That way, the boundaries of the debate will be better defined and gun nuts — of the kind Max Blumenthal filmed in his gun show video — appropriately marginalized.