Is gun ownership detrimental to civil society?

Alan Jacobs at The American Conservative has a thoughtful piece on his opposition to the idea of teachers being armed in case of the next Sandy Hook incident. It’s worth reading.

He writes:

But what troubles me most about this suggestion — and the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.


And in so writing, he captures the essence of my own objection to the owning and use of firearms: it is detrimental to a civilized society. It undermines any sense of neighbor by presupposing that at any moment what peace exists will be broken by an armed intruder intent on stealing your possessions or worse. He continues,

Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.)

The understanding of many is framed by a romantic notion of an America where government is not needed because government by the people takes the form of an armed populace. In this sense of American, I am profoundly un-American and that part of me raised and formed in Great Britain takes over. I understand that I have given to the police the right to use lethal force to protect me. I wil, of course, l protect my family to the best of my ability. What I won’t do is arm myself for the minute chance that I will need to. Should I need to protect my family, I believe that there’s more to be said for deescalation, escape, and evasion than for the use of a firearm.

7 Replies to “Is gun ownership detrimental to civil society?”

  1. Police prevent some crime, but the vast majority of their effort goes into investigating crimes with the hope of finding a criminal and, with the help of the judiciary, removing them from the general population until they mature beyond their criminal behavior. Most crime is prevented by intended victims and their neighbors being aware of their surroundings. Many businesses hire guards, off-duty officers, or detectives because owners know that criminals need not fear police interrupting their activities on a regular basis. Police put up the yellow tape when your run and hide plan fails.


    1. Bob – I feel like you’re describing as normative something that is on the margins. You’re suggesting that I own a firearm on the basis that one an armed intruder may enter my home for the express purpose of killing me and my family?


      1. I make no suggestion at all concerning your firearm ownership. Do as you wish. I simply find your position on gun ownership sadly naive, and your position on the performance of police as overly optimistic. Certain functions of government are essential. Police, military, and judicial functions at the forefront of them. Unlike you, I see no reason to force my beliefs on others. Think and do as you will, but do not expect others to appreciate your efforts to force your beliefs on them. I wish you a Merry Christmas.


      2. Unfortunately, we’re both placed in a position of “forcing our opinion” on others. My view limits your ability to own military-style weapons. Assuming you believe that there ought to be no (or very few) limits on gun ownership, your position means that behind every door in my neighborhood could be a person with a small arsenal. All’s well assuming this person is doesn’t act in an irresponsible or criminal manner. It’ also assumes that a gun owner is unlikely to make a mistake and mis-identify a threat. Your belief in gun ownership assumes all the things about the gun owner that you believe to be missing in society. That’s a mistake.


  2. Oh, Jeff, just as you presume to know how each person “should” celebrate Christmas, you presume to know how other people will think about guns or act with guns. You have no idea about my assumption about gun owners, and your fear of gun owners next door is sad. If you live among bad people, then you had better rest assured that bad people will have guns whether you get your wish to take constitutional rights away from citizens or not. I do not believe that legal gun owners will be paragons any more than I believe that priests will be. However, I do believe that legal gunowners will be better for society than the people who will have guns if law abiding citizens cannot. I am not trying to convince you about guns. I am trying to help ;you learn to reason and escape the silly notion that you know better than the average citizens how to live their lives. No one died and made you Mommy. Stop trying to rule people’s lives. You are not prepared for the job.


    1. A couple of responses. The blog is a place where I express my opinion. If the blog is to work I have to presume that there is something I can bring to others that’s worthy of their consideration. I think I do this, even if you disagree.

      Secondly, I don’t believe that I have morally wicked neighbors. The truth is, it is difficult to put a bullet back in the chamber once it has be fired. The consequences of misreading a situation could be catastrophic both emotionally and legally.


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