Guns are both a potential problem and a potential solution, but what both sides of the debate seem not to realize (with some exceptions) is that they are only ever an immediate problem or an immediate solution. That is, a gun is only ever the threat in a very specific time and place when a tactical situation is threatened or ongoing. They are solutions only in the same kinds of situations that they are also problems.
First, guns as immediate problems. It is an internet trope by now, the person who says, “I left all my guns lying on the living room floor all day, and they never killed anyone.” It is flippant and simplistic, but it does illustrate a point which many anti-gun advocates simply do not understand, which is, that guns are only dangerous when someone is pointing them at you.
I don’t suppose anyone can fully understand this point unless you have lived in an armed society. I have. I was active duty military for over a decade. I walked around with guns, surrounded by men with guns, and didn’t get shot by them, and didn’t shoot any of them. I walked up and down the streets of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, with both American and Iraqi/Afghani forces, all armed, all looking for a fight or dreading a fight. We got into major arguments, fistfights, feuds, outright hatred sometimes, and yet we did not shoot each other. I was not worried about getting shot, unless someone pointed a gun at me.
Along with the unwillingness to acknowledge that we live in a dangerous world, comes the unwillingness to take responsibility for one’s own safety. It is the job of the police to protect me, the government’s job to protect me, the law, the lawyers, the media. Everyone else needs to keep the scary bad guys away, and people who won’t join me in pretending that we live in a safe world are mean. The ones who remind me of the fact that I might die today are bad guys themselves, just as bad as the mass murderers.
The people who adjust to combat the best are intelligent risk takers. They know they might die, and they accept that fact, even embrace it. They also want to live, and know that in order to live, paradoxically, they have to be willing to die. They are willing to die, if there is a good enough reason, e.g. to save their friends’ lives, but not for some BS politics or oil money. They think it’s just great when higher ups send us cool things like air support and artillery to help out, but they don’t count on it. They go in knowing that when it comes right down to it, no one can save us but ourselves. Even if help does come, we have to survive long enough for it to get here.
People fear what they do not understand. I have seen some people who almost have a panic attack just looking at a gun. I know a lot more who get uncomfortable and visibly nervous. This often seems to be the attitude behind gun control activism, fear writ large. We can’t keep bad guys from being bad guys, but they have guns and guns make me nervous, so get rid of guns.
By the same token, gun rights activists often fall into the opposite trap. They are comfortable taking care of themselves, and perhaps a bit too comfortable. They also want violent situations to end, but they expect to have to end them themselves, rather than cower in a corner and wait for the police to show up. This is a reasonable view of violent incidents. Any level of acceptance of personal responsibility to act is better than the futile, self-defeating complaint of “Why is this happening to me?”
It may even be stronger.
This is because violence begets violence. It is easiest to see in honor cultures, such as gangs or the tribal codes of the Middle East, where an act of violence calls forth reprisals, which calls forth further reprisals, which perpetuates and endless cycle of violence.
A subtler and more insidious version of this dynamic is at work in our society, where a mass shooting occurs and dominates the headlines for weeks. Others with similar desires and issues see this and are inspired to plan their own mass shooting. Meanwhile, anti-gun activists lash out in frustration, insinuating that gun rights activists are little better than accessories to mass murder. Gun rights activists lash back in fear of having their gun rights infringed upon and being left defenseless, accusing the other side of exploiting tragedies for political gain, and of attempting to disarm the population in preparation for government takeover. Anger begets anger, fear begets fear, violence begets violence.
A use of force, even of lethal force, is a justifiable means of ending a violent encounter in which one person is killing other people. I have no wish to diminish awareness of that fact. However, the point I am trying to make stands, that merely to focus on having the ability to end such an encounter, is to miss the larger issue entirely. The larger issue is the violence inherent in the hearts of men, and even a justified use of force may end the incident, but worsen that underlying situation.
The question for next time is: what can we do about it?