On this the anniversary of the Virginia Tech shooting, I thought I would share a few simple and scattered thoughts on gun control.
As many know, there are two very differing views on the subject. Unfortunately, both sides often revert to shock tactics and shouting matches (or the visual equivalent) rather than rational, reasoned discussion. As such, it is difficult for one side to understand, much less find common ground with, the other.
But there truly is common ground. Both sides want a peaceful, secure society, where violence (especially violent crime) is kept to a minimum. Of course, each side approaches this differently.
For many gun control advocates, this is viewed as a supply issue. If the supply is restricted or limited (both sale and manufacture) by x amount of guns via regulations, fees, and laws, then x amount of guns are removed from situations where tragic accidents or crime could result in the loss of life. Many also favor government tracking of weapons, so that when a crime is committed, the firearm (if registered) can be traced to a specific purchase location. From this perspective, guns are seen as offensive weapons primarily.
The other side would like a repeal of at least some gun laws. From this perspective, guns are used primarily as defensive, rather than offensive, weapons. For instance, considering the example above, if x guns are removed from the market, then x less options are available for free citizens to protect and defend themselves and their families. This may sound perilously dangerous, but the reasoning often goes something like this: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Removing guns may remove the weapon of choice, but as long as aggressive and violent tendencies persist, violent crimes will occur. Guns can therefore be utilized by law-abiding individuals to defend themselves from a violent attack or infringement (i.e. burglary, sexual assault, etc.). Further, a burdensome and expensive registration process makes it that much more difficult to procure a weapon.
These diverging philosophies yield completely different responses to a gun-related tragedy. For instance, after the Virginia Tech shooting, gun control advocates were in favor of stricter gun control laws. By making it harder to get guns legally, such tragic crimes would be less frequent.
So-called “gun rights” advocates have myriad reasons to support repeal of at least some gun control laws. When they see a tragic massacre as in Virginia Tech, they wonder how many would have died had there been individuals armed in self-defense at the time of confrontation? They see gun control laws as taking away the right to defend oneself, rather than restricing one’s ability to harm another. With regards to gun-related tragedies perpetuated by criminals, they may reason thusly: criminals by definition do not obey laws; this includes gun laws. Thus, by restricting legal access to guns, legal and legitimate options of self-defense for law-abiding citizens from criminals are restricted. Ron Paul has used this line of reasoning to suggest that if the airlines were responsible for the safety of passengers on their flights, rather than the government, the 9-11 attacks may have been prevented, as armed, trained pilots are much harder to kill than unarmed ones.
Additionally, certain levels of regulation or prohibition may encourage a black market to develop, resulting in more violent crime related to simply the sale and distribution of weapons apart from the end user. (From a libertarian perspective, this is similar to how such violence surrounds other black markets.)
What are the implications on human nature? For gun control advocates, individuals are depraved and not to be trusted with guns. Or, we may say there are enough individuals untrustworthy with respect to guns that gun control laws are justified, even on those who are trustworthy. (How do we know that gun laws and regulations ferret out the untrustworthy from the trustworthy?) For gun rights advocates, individuals may still be depraved, but they have a right to defend oneself. As in the market, competing interests benefit individuals and the whole. If an individual knows that someone else is likely to be armed, they are less likely to attack, simply in the interest of self-preservation. Or, if an individual is generally good (most gun rights advocates, I believe, would say that most people are good), they would therefore utilize guns for defense only.
If individuals (i.e. law-abiding citizens) are depraved, thus not to be trusted with guns, and therefore gun control laws are necessary, as some gun control advocates would so say, why are law enforcement officials to be trusted over other law-abiding citizens? By what mechanism do they transcend such depravity? For gun rights advocates, however, there is no monopoly granted to law enforcement personnel when it comes to bearing arms. Nor do they have to rely on police response time (a few minutes) to defend themselves from an imminent threat (a few seconds).
It’s obvious where my sympathies lie. No, I am not planning to stockpile a set of AK-47 assault rifles anytime soon. Nor am I asking you to join the NRA and hail Charlton Heston as your personal hero. (He certainly isn’t mine.) But I invite you to ask yourself: are individuals good? Are they to be trusted with guns? Are they too inept to figure out how to use them safely without the guiding hand of government? Many so believe. But the utility and effectiveness of gun control laws and legislation, and more importantly, the moral implications that follow from such legislation (i.e. the state knows best), is one area we should re-think.