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OSD 172: Gun ownership as optimism
Self-defense is civic engagement.
On both sides of a discussion about mass shootings, there’s often an idea that gun ownership is a bet against progress. The idea is that guns are the take-your-ball-and-go-home position, where instead of trying to make society better, you give up on it. “Society is going to fail to keep me safe, so I’m just going to look out for myself.” We even described a framework that could be interpreted that way in “OSD 109: Sooner or later, help will not arrive”:
If someone’s trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them.
That’s it, that’s the whole thing. Interestingly, this is something that essentially everybody believes, at least when applying it to themselves. So when you hear people disagree about gun rights, it’s rare that they truly reject the underlying premise. It’s more that they’re processing their gut reaction to actually taking the idea seriously.
There’s a school of thought that goes something like this: “Yes, agreed, totally. If someone is trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them. But taking that seriously means that people have to be allowed the tools to forcibly stop an attack. They’ll get the power to decide, all on their own. And some people will misuse that power. So instead, how about this: if someone is trying to hurt you, society will do its best to stop them immediately, and to stop the patterns that led to that. That preserves your right to not be hurt, without all the messy implications of letting you personally control your right.”
It’s subtle, but without realizing it, the well-meaning people who hold that view are skipping the central premise. Yes, society will do its best to stop people from hurting you. But gun rights ask a simple question: “What happens when that fails?”
Sometimes it fails because society tried hard to stop anyone from hurting you, but hey, shit happens. Sometimes it fails because society is incompetent or indifferent. And sometimes, for some groups and some people, it fails because society is the one who wants to hurt you.
Most of the time, help is close enough to, well, help. But we’re all just one stroke of bad luck away from a situation where nobody’s coming.
There’s an apparent tension there. On one hand, it’s true, you can wind up needing be your own last resort. But on the other, the better society gets, the less likely that should be.
But to see a tension there is to misunderstand the perspective of someone who owns a gun for self-defense. “Don’t you want society to function well and to have your back?” Yes, the gun owner would say. Far from withdrawing from societal trust, gun ownership is about strengthening a well-functioning society. It’s the idea that if society drops the ball for a second and isn’t able to have your back, you’re ready to do your part and have society’s back, filling the gap for yourself until help arrives.
That’s a (perhaps surprisingly) pro-social worldview, which makes it a useful lever for spreading gun rights. You don’t have the burden of arguing for a necessary evil, you have the privilege of training people in an action they can take in their everyday life to make society incrementally better. Gun ownership isn’t the only thing on that list, nor is it at the top of the list. But it’s absolutely on there, so always remember to approach it with an attitude that reflects that constructiveness and pro-sociality.
This week’s links
An estimated 2.9% of U.S. adults (7.5 million) became new gun owners from 1 January 2019 to 26 April 2021. Most (5.4 million) had lived in homes without guns, collectively exposing, in addition to themselves, over 11 million persons to household firearms, including more than 5 million children. Approximately half of all new gun owners were female (50% in 2019 and 47% in 2020 to 2021), 20% were Black (21% in 2019 and in 2020–2021), and 20% were Hispanic (20% in 2019 and 19% in 2020–2021).
These numbers are close to the NSSF’s numbers despite a very different methodology for estimating them.
Lessons on poorly drafted laws.
This also includes a push to ban realistic-looking fake guns (including airsoft) and magazines holding more than five rounds.
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