So, after I put up a quick post expressing my contempt for David Niewert’s wave of the bloody shirt, I find that the usual cast of clowns from the left netroots – starting with “screw ‘em” Kos himself are running with his claims and laying mass murder at the feet of their conservative opponents.
The quality of thinking is definitely juicebox, and the claims would be laughable if they were not so contemptible (note that fellow liberal Tommy Christopher sums up why) and if we did not have an endless new round of New York and Los Angeles Times editorials excoriating gun ownership to look forward to (it would be fun if once – just once – either of those papers’ editorial staffs could point to a firearms restriction they opposed).
But in spite of the contemptible (I keep using that word for a reason…) political thinking of Kos, Willis, Niewert and the rest of the Juicebox thinkers, the reality is that events like this prompt me – as a gun owner and supporter of people’s rights to own guns – to examine my own positions yet again.It’s not because I get letters like this one (from Blythe Withers) with the subject line: “Woo Woo: Gun nuts cream jeans from joy! More dead by guns! Hurray hurray! Dead women, dead children. dead liberals, dead immigrants!” – get help, Blythe!
Because, on the surface, my positions – that most kinds of guns ought to be generally available – have costs, and those costs were just made completely clear by the events of the last month. Crazy, evil people used guns to murder police officers in Oakland and Pittsburgh, to murder helpless innocents in Alabama, North Carolina, California, New York, and Washington states.
So in the face of this – why don’t I support laws to massively restrict people’s rights to buy and own guns? Why do I support changing laws to make it somewhat easier for law-abiding citizens to carry guns?
To be honest, I struggle with that question when I read the news sometimes. And my response is really threefold.
First, and foremost, I believe – as a matter of values – that people need the freedom to do things that have the risk of going horribly wrong. From eating bacon to riding motorcycles to doing home chemistry experiments, as we try and take the risk out of life, we wind up raising people who are less and less capable of responsibly managing risk themselves. And that as we try and restrict people’s freedoms more and more that we build a state that looks more and more like “Brazil” – or contemporary England, where police officers intervene to stop people from being rescued from a fire.
Next – I think that many of the gun regulations we’ve put in place – and that the folks publicly rending their garments above really want to see – are flatly counterproductive. They leave us with places like Washington DC and Chicago, where the worst get all the guns they want and the best are trained to submit. I can’t emphasize this issue enough; the issue is not just that there are bad people ready to do violence to the innocent, but that all of us are largely conditioned to stand by.
If I could change one thing, it would be to turn the dial away from passivity, and to try and get us – our society – to understand that each of us must every day bear some responsibility for our safety and the safety of others around us.
Finally, again as a matter of values – I’m an empiricist on matters of policy. There’s an immense gap between passing laws and changing the world; that’s a gap I think far too few of my friends understand (but we all live it when we drive 80 on a freeway with a speed limit of 55). In spite of my value beliefs above, if someone came to me and presented gun regulation policies that really, truly might prevent mass killing like these, I’d at the very least think hard about them, if not support them. But the gun regulations I see everywhere are really ‘feel-good’ photo-ops for ambitious politicians or policy hucksters looking to raise money and cover their overhead.
The reality is that there are more than enough guns in America today to arm all the crazies and all the criminals. And that as the arbiters of culture push to make gun ownership distasteful to the average American, we’ll wind up with two Americas – one that believes in the utility of violence, and one that’s horrified at the mention of the word “violence” (unless it’s in a really cool movie…).
And nothing is going to change that anytime soon while leaving us as any kind of country that we’d recognize. If we stopped selling guns and ammunition today, there is more than enough sitting on people’s shelves to last the criminals and crazies fifty or a hundred years. So to impact gun crime by impacting the average person’s possession of guns, we’d have to go house to house, mount checkpoints at public places, search cars, and place our Constitutional protections in the shredder. Because after all, citizen, if you don’t have any illegal goods, why would you object to our searching your home?
We are left with the choice between the tragedy of funerals we have today and the tragic farce of placing our face quietly under Orwell’s eternal boot. And the tragedy – the real tragedy of that choice – is that it isn’t a choice; because what we would get at the end of choosing it, I believe, is the worst of both worlds where law abiding citizens place themselves at the mercy of both an intrusive and useless state and of violent criminals the state cannot control.
Why do Kos and Niewert and my letter-writers feel so strongly about this? Because they want clean hands; the morality that matters to them is not the morality that comes from taking responsibility for what goes on in society, but in standing apart from it, holding your hands high and showing everyone that you, personally, are pure.
Sartre had an answer for that…
You cling so tightly to your purity, my lad! How terrified you are of sullying your hands. Well, go ahead then, stay pure! What good will it do, and why even bother coming here among us? Purity is a concept of fakirs and friars. But you, the intellectuals, the bourgeois anarchists, you invoke purity as your rationalization for doing nothing. Do nothing, don’t move, wrap your arms tight around your body, put on your gloves. As for myself, my hands are dirty. I have plunged my arms up to the elbows in excrement and blood. And what else should one do? Do you suppose that it is possible to govern innocently?
If you believe in a social morality (as I do), then as an American, I carry a share of the tragedies of the last months – a larger share because I own guns and support the freedom to do so; so do Kos, Willis, and Niewert. They just refuse to admit it.