Why I Support Guns
I submit that there is a rational, human, apolitical argument for supporting gun ownership in America. No prominent supporter of gun use and ownership, nor the NRA, has ever publicly advanced this reasoning (to my knowledge). This argument supports gun ownership as a right, but is consistent with efforts, including strong ones, to regulate their use in order to minimize the inevitable horror and tragedy that they cause. This argument will sound deeply stupid and reductionist when you first hear it, so I beg that you stay with me as I flesh out the point, hopefully sounding less and less dumb as I go along.
Here's what I say about why we should have guns: "Guns are toys."
Why a lot of People Don't
A spate of articles in support of cultural and legislative efforts to reduce or remove the presence of guns in America have been published recently. Many of them advance interesting and rhetorically strong points. They mostly say this, which undergirds the reason that many people resist and abhor the widespread presence of guns: "if we have guns, people are going to die. Horribly."
They are right.
Why Some People I Disagree with also Support Guns
There has been a lot of bad arguing on the topic, both relating to the recent shootings and not.
The NRA, and anybody with whom I have ever fired guns with or been taught gun safety with (full disclosure: I have two guns, but will never aim them at anything with a heartbeat. They are behind lock and key, as are their ammunition and magazines, each in different places), have said this to me: "Guns are weapons; they are not toys."
The NRA and many gun owners, shooters and supporters have also said this to me: "It is our right to have guns because we deserve to have the means to protect ourselves and our families against intruders who would harm us."
Some of them have even said this to me: "I dare somebody to try to harm me. With my guns, I'll be ready."
I've never heard either of these things without getting the overwhelming sense that these people want somebody to put them in a position to use their guns in "defense".
Why I Don't Think The Constitution is Relevant (pick one)
1) The Three Fifths Compromise.
2) It's a piece of paper.
Why Some People Think Guns are Fundamentally Different from Other Things
In Europe, where I live half the time, and where civilian gun ownership (as well as police use without a court order) is, for all intents and purposes, banned, people say this to me: "There is a difference between guns and other things which can also do harm. Guns are made to harm. They are weapons. They have no other use."
Yes they do.
What I'd Say If You're Not Convinced
I readily admit that guns are made to do harm. There is a philosophy which thinks that things are, in the realest sense, defined by what they are intended to be when they are made. It's called Teleology. Some smart people like it. Like Aristotle and Michael Sandel. It's wrong.
Lot's of great things were invented as weapons. Like jets. And explosives. And Dressage. Hell, the human body is evolved in large part to be effective at doing harm to stay alive. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't use those things. It just means that we shouldn't use them to do things that we shouldn't do. Like bomb people. Everybody knows that.
Here's what I'd say to people who think we should ban things because they were created to kill people better: "I like jets."
Why Guns, Properly Used, Are Toys
I'm going to ask you for something I don't think I'll get: The Benefit of the Doubt. I'd like you to do your best to assume that I'm not being crass and using a silly or deflecting rhetorical trick. I'd like you to assume I'm trying to make a good argument from analogy. I'd like the benefit of the doubt because I'm about to try to convince you that we should allow the harm and horror that having guns, even with regulations, is going to keep causing. I'm going to do that by talking about swimming pools.
Swimming pools are, in a morally relevant way, like guns. Swimming pools are toys, leisure objects that we could well do without. I'll list the ways that they are like guns:
1) They are fun for many people, but not all. I happen to love playing with both.
2) Scenes involving them are considered by many to be classic pieces of American life. Think summer camp.
3) Though they are toys, they are unsafe and need to be treated with care and respect. The word "toy" does not mean something which can be treated carelessly.
4) They kill people. Lots of people. Even worse, these deaths are concentrated significantly on children.
4a) Horribly, a child has died from each of them since you started reading this article. According to the International Life Saving Federation:
"The best scientific evidence available has taught us that 1.2 million people around the world die by drowning every year, that is more than two persons per minute. From that more than 50 percent are children. There are perhaps eight to ten times that many who experience a drowning process but who reach safety alone or are rescued by their peers, by others or by lifesavers/lifeguards."
About one third of children who drown do so in and around the home. Even children with one or more swimming certificates may drown in emergencies."
5) For their purposes, military, rescue, and law enforcement personnel need to train with them to be effective. If we banned either thing, it would be prudent to still allow their use for those groups.
6) Many believe that they should only be used in clubs and/or under the supervision of trained safety personnel, in order to mitigate the risk of injury and death.
7) Enthusiasts of both things often support receiving training in the safety and efficacious use of them.
8) If I like either thing, and possess one, my neighbor's children are at increased risk, even if she does not have one herself, and disagrees that people should be allowed to.
9) It is the right thing to do to take steps to minimize the risks from both. Legislation must, and often does, compel owners of each to take action at their own expense to minimize the risk. It is a practical and moral imperative that:
a) Guns must be kept unloaded in locked safes when not being used, just as pools near children must be enclosed by a childproof fence. The use of coercive legislation and enforcement thereofmust be employed to ensure this happens.
b) Safety and proficiency courses should be taken before the use of either.
c) Through either negligent/irresponsible action, or through documented mental deficiency that would make having either impractically dangerous, people should lose the right to own and use either.
10) I have known someone whose life was cut short by the existence of each.
What This Argument Does that Others Don't
This argument allows us to overcome the best, but most politically/culturally based argument from either side. It replaces them with an argument based on values that all types of people across various cultural and political spectra espouse.
What This Argument Does Against Conservatives
The best pro-gun argument tends to rest on the idea that it is a right (read: something the government should not employ coercion to prevent) to own guns because it gives citizens the power to protect themselves. It's different from my argument fundamentally because it treats guns as weapons.
Here's what's good about being able to protect yourself: Personal safety is surely a noble thing to defend.
It's easy to overcome this argument, though. Here's what I say to people who make this argument: "It will almost certainly not increase the personal safety of you and your family." I think that those people should read the newspapers and take a free online statistics course.
(Sidebar: I won't even get into discussing the folks who think gun ownership is important to "keep the government afraid of its citizens." I think those people should go to The Intrepid Museum.)
What This Argument Does Against Liberals
The best Liberal (note the big L), anti-gun argument rests on the idea that protection from harm and death is a right (see definition above), and that guns give people violent power.
Here's what's bad about people with violent power: They kill people.
My argument, though not without overcoming moral and emotional intuitions through careful and slow thought, overcomes this. It shows that if we should get rid of guns because what's wrong with them is that they are used to kill people, then we have to get rid of morally analogous things too. It shows that we should get rid of pools too.
I think it's easy to agree that getting rid of pools is repugnant.
Here's what I wouldn't say to people who wanted to take away my pool: "You can have my pool when you pry it from my cold, pruned hands."
Here's what I would say to people who wanted to take away my pool:"This is something which I should be able to have because it's fun and I am free. Taking it away by force is illiberal." (note the little L)
Here's something else I would think those people should keep in mind: Some other people, for whatever reason, probably cultural and biological, have different moral intuitions than you. They are kinda paranoid. If you try to tell them that they are wrong for being worried about their safety and lack of defense, here's what you are telling them: "Your feelings don't matter. Your feelings are wrong." Bad husbands say that.
What's Not Going to Happen
1) Guns going away in America.
2) Polarized political sides.
What Might Happen in America
1) Certain issues getting less polarized because there are arguments that people haven't made, but that are based on shared values.
2) Everybody yelling a lot.
What I Would Say to You
If you're trustworthy and we're careful, do you want to go swimming and shooting with me? It's fun!