Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On guns, character and America

Two recent reports have highlighted aspects of the current gun-control debate in the USA in interesting ways.

The first is from the iconoclastic Fred Reed.  He titles it 'Gun Control and the Changing American Character'.  Here's an excerpt.

A staple of American self-esteem is that we Yanks are brave, free, independent, self-reliant, ruggedly individual, and disinclined to accept abuse from anyone. This was largely true in, say, 1930. People lived, a great many of them, on farms where they planted their own crops, built their own barns, repaired their own trucks, and protected their own property. They were literate but not educated, knew little of the world beyond the local, but in their homes and fields they were supreme.

. . .

Things then changed. The country increasingly urbanized. So much for rugged.

It became ever more a nation of employees. As Walmart and shopping centers and factories moved in, the farmers sold their land to real-estate developers at what they thought mind-boggling prices, and went to work as security guards and truck drivers. Employees are not free. They fear the boss, fear dismissal, and become prisoners of the retirement system.  So much for Marlboro Man.

Self-reliance went. Few any longer can fix a car or the plumbing, grow food, hunt, bait a hook or install a new roof. Or defend themselves. To overstate barely, everyone depends on someone else, often the government, for everything. Thus we became the Hive.

. . .

Thus much of the country morphed into helpless flowers, narcissistic, easily frightened, profoundly ignorant video-game twiddlers and Facebook Argonauts. As every known poll shows, even what purport to be college graduates do not know  who fought in World War One, or that there was a Mexican-American war, or where Indochina is.

Serving as little more than cubicle fodder, they could not survive a serious crisis like the first Depression. And they look to the collective, the hive, for protection. The notion of individual self-defense, whether with a fist or a Sig 9, is, you know, like scary, or, well, just wrong or macho or something. I mean, if you find an intruder in your house at night, shouldn’t you, like, call a caring adult?

. . .

Many who grew up in the former America, and a good many today in the South and west, substantially adhere to the old values. They won’t last. We live in the day of the Hive, and in the long run there is no point fighting it.

. . .

This is not an unimportant part of the dispute over guns—wanting to be left alone. Nobody in America, ever again, is going to be left alone. Not ever.

There's more at the link. Go read the whole thing - it's worth it. I wish I could disagree with Fred . . . but sadly, I can't.

The second article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, and has aroused some ire in the blogosphere and gun-owning circles.  Here's an excerpt.

Gun guys look at the most strident advocates of gun control and say, "You know nothing about what it means to handle guns, but you presume to make judgments about my ability to do so."

. . .

But my fellow gun guys have plenty to answer for, too. We don't live in a vacuum. Our guns affect everybody, and the non-gun-owning public has a right to expect things to improve. More than ever, after the transformative horror of Sandy Hook, the old defensive crouch is inadequate. If gun culture is to survive, gun guys need to get in the game. If we want to hold on to our guns, we need to be part of the solution.

. . .

As individuals, the majority of gun guys are achingly responsible with their guns. As a community, though, they are lethal—so focused on criminals and government as the villains that they have failed to examine how they themselves might help to reduce the number of gun fatalities.

. . .

To the legislatures of 27 states and the District of Columbia, the solution ... seems obvious: Require guns to be locked up, trigger-locked, stored separately from their ammunition, or some combination of the three. A lot of gun guys hate these laws. They argue that a gun separated from its ammunition, disabled or locked away is useless in an emergency.

. . .

Neither do they want to be ordered to report a stolen gun to the police. Lots of gun guys consider it tyranny to have to tell the police anything about their guns, and they have kept most jurisdictions from passing stolen-gun laws. Only seven states and the District of Columbia make reporting a stolen gun mandatory.

But if we gun guys are the paragons of civic virtue that we claim to be, why do we have to be ordered to lock up our guns or report a gun theft? Wouldn't a responsible citizen do that anyway?

We gun guys are operating under a double standard. We want to be left alone to buy, use and carry guns because, we say, we understand firearms better than any bureaucrat. But at the same time, enough of us behave so carelessly that thousands of people are needlessly killed, injured or victimized every year by guns left lying around.

. . .

Gun guys are right to object to government officials who propose sweeping gun controls without understanding guns. But until they take responsibility for the gun violence that so frightens their fellow citizens, they're setting themselves up for more regulation. Taking collective responsibility for social problems is not the same thing as knuckling under to a tyrannical government. In fact, it's the opposite.

Again, more at the link.

I can't help but agree with some of the author's points.  I do take trouble to lock up most of my firearms when they're not in use;  but I keep one or two available for immediate use in case of need.  I do secure most of my ammunition separately from my guns;  but I keep a couple of the latter loaded and ready, because if someone tries to break into my home, or assault me, there won't be time for me to go back to my gun safe, get out a gun, unlock my ammunition storage, and load my gun.  To suggest otherwise is ludicrous.  The author claims that a simple fast-access safe can get around that problem, but I don't agree - it's still too far away to deal with an intruder who may be on top of you in seconds.  A simple Internet search will reveal scores of incidents where reaction time was extremely limited.

Furthermore, I think the key defect in the author's argument is to be found in the last paragraph cited above.  He speaks of a 'collective responsibility for social problems'.  The right to keep and bear arms is not collective, but individual - the Supreme Court has ruled conclusively on that issue.  Therefore, the problems associated with the exercise of that right are also not collective, but individual.  The fact that there are, indeed, irresponsible, careless and reckless individuals does not mean that other individuals must be made to suffer restrictions of their rights due to the formers' misconduct.  To use an analogy, we don't restrict the rights of all drivers just because some drivers operate their vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  We punish the guilty drivers when we catch them - but we don't try to punish or restrict or impede all drivers because of their misdeeds.  If the law recognizes the impossibility of the latter, why should laws trying to do the same things to gun owners be any different?

I agree with both authors on one point.  There's a gaping, perhaps unbridgeable divide between those who adhere to an individual approach to life, responsibility and personal security, and those who retreat into a collective approach to such things, one that denies individuals the freedom to choose (and act) otherwise.  I'm firmly in the former camp, and I presume most of my readers are too.  I will not, repeat, will not allow others to dictate to me how I should order my life and my conscience.  The collectivist camp, on the other hand, insist that they know better than I do, and insist on their right to impose control upon me and those like me, whether I like it or not.

The outcome isn't going to be pretty, because we're not about to allow them to do that.



Wraith said...

Ah, the Collective continues its relentless march.

In the immortal words of Lt. Worf: "Assimilate THIS."

PeterW. said...

Peter.... The other problem with calls for "responsible" gun storage is that there does not appear to be any good evidence that mandatory secure storage laws actually do anything.

The laws in my own country - Australia - produced no change to the trends in either violent crime or accidental deaths following a severe tightening of storage laws, including mandatory inspection by police. Or you can go further back to the work done on Englsih Firearms crime by Inspector Colin Greenwood, in which he could find no positive effects on crime through safe-storage laws, either.

B said...

I'd like to see some real info to substantiate the claim that " behave so carelessly that thousands of people are needlessly killed, injured or victimized every year by guns left lying around"

does it happen? Yes. But thousands? Sorry, that made my bullshit meter peg the needle.

Dirk said...


Many thanks for re-introducing me to Fred. I'd read him years ago, but lost track of his site when the only computer that had a link had to be returned to my former employer in a great big hurry.

perlhaqr said...

To use an analogy, we don't restrict the rights of all drivers just because some drivers operate their vehicles while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Not the best analogy, unfortunately. Even leaving aside the rather unique (as far as I know) attempt to legislate breathalyzer interlocks for all cars in the State of New Mexico, it's definitely at least a rub up against infringements of the rights of all drivers to subject them to DUI checkpoints.