I’m writing this mostly just to satisfy the part of my brain that starts ranting and raving every time I encounter a gun debate online.
I spent many years advocating for gun rights. I don’t do much of that anymore. Obviously I am capable of changing over time. These are just some things I believe as of May 2018.
You’ll probably disagree with some of these no matter what your political background. And if the first few points either make you nod or raise your hackles, please read all the way to the end. And then, if you want to debate points, feel free to yell your arguments into a paper bag. I promise I’ll be listening.
- Gun ownership is one (of many) bulwarks against tyranny. I still believe this.
- Long rifles are (still) an effective deterrent to abuse of state power. Yes, even in the age of stealth bombers. Anyone who has paid attention to Iraq for the last couple decades knows that you don’t need much more than long rifles, explosives, and local sympathy to mount an effective insurgency. Also, I don’t buy arguments that our military is so powerful that small arms would be useless in deterring a determined tyrant. The US has a professional, volunteer, diverse army trained to think for themselves and uphold the constitution, and conditioned to never operate on US soil. Any threats to liberty for the foreseeable future are not going to involve squadrons of Abrams tanks rolling across the heartland. They are much more likely to involve either armed mobs of private citizens, or paramilitary, secret-police style forces loyal to the would-be despot. Rifles are effective against these kinds of threats. They ensure, if nothing else, that malcontents can’t be silently “disappeared”.
- Choosing pervasive gun ownership to ward off tyranny is the choice to sacrifice children for liberty. The most intellectually honest advocates for gun rights admit this: that no safety regulations can be perfectly enforced, and so they are choosing to accept a certain number of negligent accidents and criminal homicides per year in order to maintain a bulwark against tyranny. I can understand and respect this philosophical position, even if I no longer agree with it and will fight it with my votes. Holding this position requires a belief in certain invariants of human society: that we are as at-risk today of emerging tyranny as we were at the dawn of the American revolution. These days I believe, based on my observation of the history of democracy—especially in Western Europe where it has existed the longest—that societies do evolve and progress.
- Unfettered, unlicensed gun ownership isn’t necessary to ward off totalitarianism. Stop talking about how licensing is the first step to confiscation. They won’t need to see your license to know you have guns. They’ll know you have guns because you’re a fucking American.
- Privately-owned guns prevent crime daily. Most skeptical treatments I’ve seen of this argument consider only cases where a gun was actually fired. When you consider how many times simply displaying, brandishing, or aiming a gun has prevented a crime, things look very different. There are no hard stats on using guns as a deterrent, because there’s no requirement to report it, and plenty of incentive not to report it (even if you are totally within your rights, who wants to deal with the paperwork?). But conservative estimates I’ve seen put it at 500,000+ incidents per year of gun possession deterring a crime.
- Guns can empower the powerless. There’s a reason the first US gun laws were aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of blacks in an era of lynching. Guns can have a leveling effect: a bullet fired by a weakling in a wheelchair will kill you just as dead as one fired by a linebacker.
- Guns are fun. I enjoy shooting them. I even had the pleasure of shooting an AR-15 once, and I understand why enthusiasts love them. It was like driving a Porsche when you’re used to Toyotas.
- In rural America, the police really are a long way off. Of course, for the most part so are the criminals. That said, for the folks living in the parts of the country where gun support is strongest, there’s truth to the old saw that “when seconds count, the police are minutes away”. On the other hand, in the population centers where most citizens live, this argument carries less weight.
- As horrific as mass shootings are, the bulk of gun violence occurs in other forms. 2/3 of US gun deaths—12,000 Americans a year—are suicides. Most of the rest are homicides, disproportionately of young men, and disproportionately young black men. Most of these deaths are inflicted by handguns, not assault rifles.
- Guns make suicide too easy. As a teenager I lost my best friend this way. Sure, there are lots of ways a person can kill themselves. But pills are as likely to make you puke up your guts as kill you. Carbon monoxide gives you lots of time to reconsider. So does bleeding out. It’s a long walk to a high bridge, and a big decision to jump. A gun is the one tool that makes self-ending as easy as flipping a switch.
- Guns kill people the same way cars transport people and phones connect people. They are a tool, yes; but a tool created to end lives more accessibly, reliably, and conveniently than any other tool.
- More guns means more death. The US has conclusively tested the “more guns, less crime” conjecture. We have saturated our society with guns. We have more guns per capita than any other country on earth. There comes a point where you can’t keep saying “yes but if we add even more guns, things will improve”. Countries that have imposed stiff gun control have seen homicide drop markedly. Countries where guns are hard to acquire, like Japan, almost all of Western Europe, etc. have homicide rates 4-5 times lower than the US. That’s not a small variance you can hand-wave away as statistical noise.
- More guns means more access. No matter how many laws you have on the books, there will always be a percentage of people who are negligent or unscrupulous. The more total guns in a society, the more availability there will be to children, violent criminals, and the mentally unfit. Saying “let’s enforce the laws on the books” isn’t going to change this.
- The only defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a carefully scouted defensible position, a flack jacket, an unobstructed field of fire, counter-sniper training, a scoped rifle, and a sign that says “I’m not the bad guy”. As the Las Vegas massacre (among many other incidents) has shown, the old “good guy with a gun” formulation just doesn’t hold up.
- Guns make cops paranoid and violent. If you were raised in the US, this difference won’t hit home until you start to explore other countries where guns are rare. The difference in how people relate to police is marked. In an environment where literally anyone can become a deadly threat in seconds, the incredibly high rate of shots fired by cops in the US starts to make sense. As does the hostility and siege mentality demonstrated by police.
- Invoking Israel or Switzerland in arguing for widespread gun ownership is an argument for strict licensing and regulation. Seriously, go look it up. I used to parrot the line “it works in Israel and Switzerland” that I learned from other gun rights advocates, without actually studying how those countries license and control firearms use. If you’re actually arguing we should adopt the Swiss or Israeli model in the US, I’m all for it!
- Gun control advocates are often misguided and uneducated. For instance, the singular focus on assault-styled rifles when most gun violence is committed with handguns seems, to me, to play into the caricature of gun-control advocates as clueless.
- Gun rights advocates are often ignorant. In retrospect, it’s astonishing how many gun rights advocates have no idea just how much lower the level of violence is in other countries. I remember constantly reading paper-thin justifications in pro-gun literature that made absurd false equivalences like “well, in the UK, stabbings are up this year” as if this somehow made it OK that we have five times as many homicides.
- Gun rights advocates are often willfully obtuse. I can’t believe how many times I’ve seen large-capacity magazines defended because “a skillful shooter can switch mags so fast that it doesn’t matter whether he has large-capacity ones or not”. You know damn well that most mass shooters aren’t that well-trained. It’s not about keeping John Wick from committing mass murder. It’s about limiting the number of kids a maladjusted teenager can kill before someone tackles him.
- Saying gun control won’t work here is saying that Americans are a uniquely violent people. I don’t believe this to be true.
Finally, I believe that American gun culture is irretrievably sick. I didn’t use to. I grew up believing in responsible gun ownership and positive gun culture.
But I can see the sickness in the “tactical shooter” magazines on display at Walmart, selling an image of militant machismo in the name of sport and self-defense. I can see it in the NRA giving away free military-styled duffle bags, as if the link between private gun ownership and wanting to “play soldier” is so obvious that of course that’s the perk a new member would want. I’ve seen it in the willingness to embrace obvious racists because they are on the “right side” of gun rights. I’ve seen it in the reflexive defense of conflict-seeking, wife-beating scumbags like George Zimmerman. I’ve seen it in the willingness to metaphorically die on the most stupid of hills. I’ve seen it in the NRA’s rejection of facts and embrace of terrorize-old-people propaganda. I’ve seen it in the fact that the NRA is willing to have Oliver Fucking North be their public face.
In retrospect, I see it as a kid, watching my dad’s responsible, safe, law-abiding gun-owner friend describe in giddy detail the damage that a .45 ACP round will do to a human body.
American gun culture is lost in testosterone-drenched, paramilitary fantasies of violence and power. And the “responsible gun owners” have abdicated their responsibility to rein any of this in.
I wanted to believe in an American gun culture where a group of responsible friends goes to a man’s house and says “Bob, we’re your friends and we love you. Ever since you got laid off and your wife left, you’ve been saying crazy paranoid shit and threatening people. Our kids have heard that your kids keep finding your guns unsecured. We’re here to put your guns somewhere safe while you get through this difficult time. We’re here for you.”
Instead, what we have is an American gun culture where Bob’s pals respect his rights so much that even though everyone at the range would vote Bob “most likely to snap”, they smile and nod at his paranoid ramblings and look the other way. And seriously, if you hang out with gun owners and you don’t know a Bob, you’re lying to yourself.
In short, American gun culture is complicit, and no longer deserves to have nice things.
Comments are disabled for hopefully obvious reasons. If you want to argue this stuff with me over a beer that’s fine. If you’re not in a position to do so… I’m sure someone else on the internet would be happy to argue with you.