Two sweeping moral visions of guns

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Ross Douthat notes that mass shootings aren’t leading to legislative action, because we have a chasm between two sweeping moral visions of guns that is too wide to be bridged by incrementalism:

The anti-gun moral vision regards America’s relationship to gun ownership as a kind of collective moral madness, a love affair with violence, a sickness unto death. Liberals increasingly write about gun ownership the way social conservatives write about abortion and euthanasia — it’s a culture of death, a Moloch devouring our children, a blood sacrifice to selfish individualism.

The pro-gun moral vision, meanwhile, links arms and the citizen, treating self-defense as an essential civic good, a means of maintaining Americans as free people rather than wards (or prisoners) of the state.

The pro-gun vision is linked, of course, to practical concerns — support for gun ownership is higher in rural areas where the police are far away. But it’s essentially a moral-political picture in which the fullness of citizenship includes the capacity to protect and defend, to step in when the state fails and resist when it imposes illegitimately.

If you asked me to defend only one of these moral pictures I would defend the pro-gun vision. I am not a gun owner but I can imagine many situations and political dispensations in which a morally responsible citizen should own a weapon; I have encountered many communities where “gun culture” seems healthy and responsible rather than a bloodthirsty cult. And the claim, often urged on anti-abortion writers like myself, that guns and abortion should both be opposed on “life” grounds seems like a category error, since every abortion kills but guns sit harmless in millions of households and many deter violence or turn back evil men.

Naturally the New York Times includes a photo of “high-capacity clips” to adorn the article. (They are regular-capacity AR magazines.)

Douthat is not a gun guy, but he takes a stab at gun regulations that would not apply to every gun owner, but instead would be imposed on the young and removed with age:

Let 18-year-olds own hunting rifles. Make revolvers available at 21. Semiautomatic pistols, at 25. And semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 could be sold to 30-year-olds but no one younger.

Again, he’s not a gun guy, and he doesn’t seem aware that standard practice already works a bit like this, with long guns (rifles and shotguns) available at 18 and handguns at 21. The legal right to carry a handgun (concealed) generally requires a more thorough background check and a modicum of “training” — you have to sit through a class and not scare the instructor too badly when you go to shoot your gun at the range. Simply requiring paperwork seems to weed out most irresponsible people.

Of course, a system designed to keep guns away from criminals and ordinary hotheads might do very little to keep guns away from quiet loners with a nihilistic obsession.


  1. Kirk says:

    By far the largest killer of innocents over the last few centuries have been the same groups that the gun controllers want to give a monopoly on armed force — the governments. One or two nutters with guns I can deal with, but when the government is taken over by them, and then weaponized against a disarmed population…?

    It’s no accident that the first step any tyrant in history has taken was to first disarm the populace. Genghis Khan did it, Lenin and Stalin did it, followed by Hitler, et alia. The list is pretty lengthy, and it is a damning one. The man wanting to take your arms is not your friend; he has an ulterior motive, and that is to enable control over you.

    Free men go armed; slaves do not. Bear that in mind, when they are talking about “common sense gun control”: what they are really talking about is ultimately their control over you. Don’t like the path that government is taking? Well, sweetie, if you don’t have the means to resist when the government’s agents come calling, you’re going to die. Ask the Cambodians, or the Jews who were hauled off to the camps…

    Oh, wait… That’s right: You can’t. They’re dead, and dead at the hands of their own governments…

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    There are two “gun” problems. The first is the insane. We need to reestablish a system of psychiatric hospitals, and we need to make it much easier to institutionalize the insane. Right now it is almost impossible. In the Connecticut shootings, the state repeatedly denied the mother’s request to institutionalize her son. This would also require a substantial relaxation of physcian-patient confidentiality.

    As a byproduct, you would greatly reduce the homeless problem, as a large majority of them are mentally ill men. A generation ago these men were institutionalized.

    But the crazies are only a small fraction of the problem. Most gun crime, most violient crime, most interracial hate crime is committed by young black ghetto males. They need severe policing, stop and frisk, frequent home searches and much higher rates of incarceration. There are only a few million of such perps as most, so they are a solvable problem.

    Unfortunately, neither problem can even be addressed, so there is no solution to either.

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