Gun Control is a frequent topic of discussion these days it seems. The recent shooting in Connecticut and the readiness of politicians and lobbyists to seize upon these events as impetus for their own agendas all but guarantees that it will be thrust upon us, and we, being the creatures of the media that we are, cannot help but discuss it.
I am not a politician. Making policies is not my job, neither is enforcing them. I dislike getting involved in political debates, mostly because most people who debate politics are not speaking original thoughts, or even thoughts at all. That which passes for debate these days is generally little more than repetition of party slogans. Party slogans are, by their very nature, divisive, polarizing, and unamenable to compromise or an understanding of the opponent’s views. Human debate cannot be reduced to sound bites and it seems most Americans cannot think in anything but sound bites.
The gun control debate seems to me to be divided between a small minority of vocal activists on extreme ends of the spectrum. On the extreme liberal end is the rhetoric of fear, exemplified by articles such as this one. These are people who do not understand guns, do not know how to use them, know nothing about them except what they have seen in movies, and are unwilling to learn. On the extreme conservative end are the gun manufacturers, sellers, and to a lesser extent, the enthusiasts who do not want any government control on weapons whatsoever. If they want to own machineguns and cannons, well, that’s their constitutional right!
As for myself, being the libertarian that I am, I tend (tend mind you, not reside) towards the more conservative side. I believe in minimal government and minimal governmental control of day to day life, and so it is no surprise that I resent the government telling me what kinds of guns I can and can’t own. I think of the fact that this country was settled from one end to the other by grown men and women who carried their own weapons, enforced their own laws, built their own homes, earned their own living by the sweat of their brows, defended themselves against marauders by their own wits and courage, and did not rely on the government to do anything for them that they could do for themselves. It sort of rubs me the wrong way to see that we Americans have, to some extent, chosen to relinquish our responsibilities as citizens, and chosen instead to be subjects, and this extends far beyond the gun control debate. The welfare state falls prey to the same criticism on an even greater level, as does socialized healthcare.
That being said, I do not ignore the benefits that come from having a strong government. Even the fact that I can drive from Puyallup to Lacey in 35 minutes, a distance of nearly 30 miles, would be impossible without a government that levied taxes and built roads. I am also acutely aware that the reason the drivers going from Lacey to Puyallup are doing so in their lane and not in mine is that a government has standardized driving and enforces the rules of the road. Whenever I drive my car out of my driveway I am interacting with other citizens, with potentially life shattering consequences, and those interactions are (rightly) coordinated by the government. If the government didn’t do it, (as is common in Asia) the citizens would find a way to do it themselves with greater or lesser degrees of messiness.
I like to consider myself a liberally educated conservative. I can appreciate benefits of the status quo, while maintaining the ability to examine it critically and independently. I can drive on the right side of the road and at the speed limit as long as things are the way they normally are, but in an emergency I can scrap those conventions and drive off road, or as fast as I need to in order to survive. This, I think is the mentality we need in regard to guns.
Since the whole debate is too large to go into here, I am going to limit my discussion to the issue of concealed weapon carry only. For an explanation of the “Assault Weapons” ban issue that rips that concept into shreds far more effectively than I ever could, go here.
In America we have a legal concept called the “Concealed Carry Permit.” It is a piece of paper issued by the state of residence licensing the holder to carry a pistol in such a manner as to be concealed from view. Each state determines its own requirements as far as what training (if any) is mandatory, where a pistol can be carried (federal offices are always off limits) and when and where and how it can be used. Some states hand out permits like candy. All you have to do is apply and as long as you don’t have a criminal or mental health record you will get it in 4-6 weeks. Other states allow “open carry” (carrying a pistol in plain view) without a license. Some states (including my home state of NY) do not allow anyone even to own a pistol without a permit, and permits are routinely difficult to acquire, especially for men. In most states it is illegal to carry in schools, banks, places of worship, or any establishment that serves alcohol. Most shootings in America, not surprisingly, take place in schools, banks, and places of worship. Why? Because from the point of view of a bad guy, these places offer a target rich environment with almost zero chance of meeting armed resistance.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not the government has any constitutional right to issue these licenses (it’s not an issue I am qualified to comment on) I want to examine the idea of concealed carry from the point of view of personal responsibility, rather than from the point of view of Governmental policy, mostly because I have no influence on government policy, but I can influence individuals in the exercise of their own personal responsibility.
I carry. When I am outside the house in civilian clothes I am 90% likely to have a gun. I carry a gun for the same reason I carry an emergency medical kit behind the passenger seat of my truck. I have been trained in the use of both of these things. I have the power to save lives in an emergency, and therefore, as far as I am concerned I have a responsibility to do so, and to take reasonable steps to ensure that I am able to do so. I am also not your average joe. I have dedicated my adult life to such training, albeit with a different focus. What about the typical citizen who does not have any such training? Should he be allowed to carry a pistol?
This is why personal responsibility is so important. I have no problem with any person carrying a pistol, so long as they are willing to accept the responsibility that entails. If you want to own a gun you should, at a minimum, know how to load it and fire it safely and accurately, and then clear it and store it safely. You should know the three rules of gun safety backwards and forwards and upside down. This goes for any gun, from an AR-15 to Grandpappy’s old hunting rifle.
If you want to carry a pistol around other people, with the intent of using it for self-defense, then you need to go beyond that. You need to increase your range time and learn some basic tactical shooting. In short you need to have a realistic assessment of your ability to engage a target accurately under stress with possible non-hostiles all around. Can I get my breathing under control? Can I make rational decisions under stress? Can I hit my target reliably at five feet when I am shaking and sweating bullets? Ten feet? Fifteen feet? Twenty? Twenty five? What if there are innocent people nearby? How close to them can I safely shoot? Can I remember to check what is behind my target?
Guns kill. Sometimes they kill animals, and sometimes people. That is what they are designed to do, and ignoring that fact does no one any good. Can I take a human life? Can I make moral decisions about whether it is right to kill someone? Can I tell when violence is justified and when it isn’t? Am I carrying in order to protect, or in order to give myself a false sense of security or power? (You see, carrying a gun is not a physical or tactical matter only. It is even more deeply a moral matter, concerning the health of your very soul.)
These are questions you need to face before you start carrying a gun on the street. They are not questions the government can ask for you. They are not covered in any CCP course. You, and you alone, bear the responsibility for your answers, and any actions you may take with a gun. This is why, from my perspective, Governmental regulation is superfluous, and only complicates things. My own personal training program and moral and ethical reasoning is much more in depth and responsive than any law or regulation could ever be.
This is personal responsibility.