OSD 85: Guns are applied philosophy

Guns are to philosophy as engineering is to science.

When people want to make a point about guns, the natural tendency is to go right to statistics. That’s the angle that the gun control orgs work on, and it’s foolish to let those stats 101 misconceptions go uncorrected, so people whip out the numbers — correlation doesn’t equal causation, even the correlations are vanishingly thin, and so on. But as deep down that rabbit hole as you care to go (and you should go pretty deep), that doesn’t tell the whole story.

If you were making an argument for free speech, would you base the entire argument on statistics? On epidemiological data about various health and safety statistics in a few dozen jurisdictions, plotted against their their speech freedom score on the y-axis? There are things about the idea of free speech — the most important things about it — that live in the realm of philosophy and of one’s approach to life. Only using stats here would be like using a ruler to study a painting; you’ll learn something about the painting, and maybe even some details that would be impossible to see another way — but to stop there is to miss the whole idea of the painting.

So, we found this research paper pretty interesting: “The Future of the Second Amendment in a Time of Lawless Violence” by law professor Nelson Lund. From the abstract:

The most practically important Second Amendment issue that is ripe for Supreme Court resolution concerns the scope of the constitutional right to bear arms in public. The Constitution’s text and history offer little direct guidance, and the Justices will inevitably have to decide how to resolve the conflict of interests that occur when governments seek to promote public safety by depriving individuals of the means to protect themselves.

In performing this obligation, the Court should give no weight to fears of an armed citizenry, which frequently inspire useless or counterproductive infringement on individual liberty. Nor should regulations enjoy a presumption of constitutionality merely because they may promote a net reduction in deaths and physical injuries. The deepest principles on which our legal and constitutional institutions rest, which are reflected in the Second Amendment, are at odds with this kind of narrow cost-benefit calculation.

The right to keep and bear arms, and to use them when appropriate, is a vital element of the liberal order that our Founders handed down to us. They understood that those who hold political power will always be tempted to reduce the freedom of those they rule, and that many of the ruled will be tempted to trade their liberty for promises of security.

The title is more news-cycle-y than we’d like, but the point of the paper is to skip the stats and go straight to the point arms ownership. Guns are to philosophy as engineering is to science. They’re applied philosophy.

We talked about this in an essay a few months back, “Guns are specifically designed to kill: the logic error behind the whole gun debate”. The point is that that begging-the-question fallacy misses the point of gun ownership. Guns are weapons. That’s the point. The idea (from the gun rights perspective) is that that’s good. Pardon the long excerpt, but the end of the essay sums it up neatly:

[consider] the Fourth Amendment. Imagine there were a group of nonprofits and university research labs producing studies on how if you require warrants, you’ll make crimes easier to commit and harder to solve.

The studies would find that warrants have a lot of problems! And forget about the researchers’ potential biases. If they start out loving police searches, then yes, sure, they’ll find a ton of problems. But here’s the more dangerous part: even if it’s painstakingly even-handed, research that is focused on all the harms of warrants will see — naturally — the harms of warrants.

Crimes go unsolved because police can’t (in theory) stop whomever they like for no reason, or search every apartment in a building they saw a suspect visit. That all unquestionably causes measurable harms. And if you spend $x00 million studying the harms, you’re going to publish some nice papers.

But in the warrant context, we all intuit that to stop the analysis there is to miss the other side of the scale. And the other side holds the entire reason to require warrants in the first place: because your personhood as an individual has value. Even if it’s hard to quantify.

The key difficulty, mapping this back to guns, is the “we all intuit” part. On warrants, people (mostly) share a gut feeling. But on guns, that intuition isn’t just not universal, it’s in fact the core of the disagreement. Some people think the discussion is “guns are noxious so now what should we do about that”, whereas a lot of other people think the discussion is whether guns are noxious in the first place. The former are begging the question, and the latter are missing a chance to showcase the reality that, as Prof. Yamane puts it, guns are normal and normal people use guns.

It’s great to study harmful gun uses. But to stop there is to close the book on the first page — to beg the question. There are 423 million guns in the US. Each year, about 14,500 of them are used in a murder. Those are extensively studied, and that’s good. So now is a good time to start studying the other 99.9965721%.

Keep that in mind the next time you make the case for gun ownership. Stats are fine, and it’s important to know them. But ultimately this is about values. Paint a positive vision for an approach to life that people would want to sign up for. Then live that and just be cool. People will come along in their own time.


This week’s links

John Correia of Active Self Protection did a reddit AMA this week

Characteristically positive, actionable, culture-building content from John here. ASP isn’t really a gun channel, but it’s doing a lot to convert people. The ASP mindset is a fertile common ground, even for people who don’t (yet) have anything to do with guns.

We just found this optics review channel on YouTube

It’s called @C_DOES and if you want lots of detail on what it’s like to look through the glass of basically every optic out there, this is the channel for you. (Shoutout to @SuperSetCA, which has similar vibes and super-high production values.)

Cruiser ready: how to store a home defense shotgun

Lucky Gunner’s update to their oldie-but-goodie from a few years ago.

The guns of the American mountain man

The MeatEater crew breaks down the finest in early 1800s oper8or gear.

Massad Ayoob is the new president of the Second Amendment Foundation

They’ve got major VHS vibes, but Mas’s legal lectures on the judicious use of deadly force are still our go-to for advising newbies on the nuances of the law.


OSD Office Hours

If you’re a new gun owner, thinking about becoming one, or know someone who is, click here to come to OSD Office Hours. It’s a free 30-minute video call with an OSD team member to ask any and all your questions.

Come to office hours


Merch and coffee

We’ve got merch that you’ll want to wear. Check it out.

If you like this newsletter, you can donate to OSD instantly on our Buy Me a Coffee page. Donations aren’t our biggest funding mechanism, but they are a dead-simple way to kick in a few bucks to help us keep growing like crazy.