This is my last post about gun control. I promise. However, I read an interesting piece on economist.com. Read it here.
The post got me re-thinking the vigor of my earlier posts arguing in favor of what many Americans would consider draconian regulation of gun ownership:
- “A concrete proposal for limiting gun ownership”
- “Is gun ownership detrimental to civil society?
- “Some thoughts on gun control”
Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment and point out three reasons why I could be wrong about wanting more stringent gun control laws.
- The United States Constitution appears to guarantee the right to own a firearm.
- Most Americans do not want great regulation of firearms.
- Gun control works for the world we wished we lived in rather than the real world.
Let me unpack these for a moment.
The Constitutional argument. I’m no expert in Constitutional law, but it in 2008 and 2010 the Supreme Court of the United States issued two landmark decisions regarding gun ownership. In District of Columbia v. Heller 554 US 570 (2008) the court ruled that the guarantee of the right to bear arms is not connected with the establishment of a militia. In McDonald v. Chicago 561 US 5031 (2010) the Court ruled that state and local governments are affected the same way by the Second Amendment is Federal government (i.e., local governments must not infringe on the right to bear arms). Together these decisions mean that the law of the land is that each American does have the right to bear arms and that right is not connected with forming or serving in a militia and cannot be infringed on my non-Federal authorities.
The democratic argument. Most Americans do not wish there to be more regulation of firearms. This has to be given more authority that I previously gave it credit for. They may be wrong, but in a democracy the majority governs and the majority clearly wishes to at least have the option to own firearms.
The real world argument. Is it practical to make owning a firearm illegal when there are already hundreds of thousands of guns already owned by private individuals? In a world with guns, many will think it safer or more prudent to themselves have a firearm to protect them.
One thing that I can say with certainty is that there is no “Christian” position on gun ownership. Some Christians will not wish to own them for theological reasons and others, for equally theological reasons, will wish to own them. In the end, our positions probably have more to say about how we read and understand the Constitution and the darkness of the human soul.
What do you think?
7 Replies to “Three reasons I might be wrong about gun control”
I don’t think you’re wrong. You offer a legal and a political argument against gun control, but these considerations are different from the moral/theological question. It’s perfectly true that the Constitution guarantees a right to bear arms, but that doesn’t mean that it should. The Constitution could be amended (unlikely) or reinterpreted (more probable) to restrict these rights. It’s also true that gun control measures have not enjoyed wide popularity. But that doesn’t mean the argument isn’t worth making. Wilberforce’s campaign against the slave trade was not popular, initially; it took a generation of focused activism to move public sentiment to the point where it was possible to outlaw slavery. It may take that long to get Americans to realize that our current gun control regime is both foolish and immoral, but it’s worth doing. This leads into your final conclusion, which we might paraphrase as: “controlling guns will be difficult.” Yes, but again: worth doing.
Finally, I think it’s a bit of a cop-out to state that “there’s no ‘Christian’ position on gun ownership.” If by this, you simply mean that there is a wide variety of views on this issue held by people who self-identify as Christian, then of course this is true–but this also means that there’s really no “Christian” position on anything, since Christians can be found who disagree on pretty much everything. (With more than two billion of us worldwide at present, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.) Reading your statement charitably, however, perhaps what you meant to say was something like this: Christian theology does not give a clear and simple answer to the question of gun ownership–like, “yes, buy all you want,” or “no, don’t buy any.” But Christian discipleship absolutely does transform the way we view violence, and this has real and tangible consequences for how we respond to threats from “those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” We may disagree about what these implications are, but it doesn’t follow that God is indifferent or that there’s no right answer; we just have to work harder to arrive at clarity and consensus.
Your blog is aimed at advancing such clarity and consensus, and your willingness to concede the legitimacy of views other than your own is commendable. However in this case, I think I’d like to acknowledge the generous spirit of this post while urging you to stick to your guns. (Bad pun fully and egregiously intended.)
David – Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting. I appreciate you challenging my writing because your reason well and write compellingly. I concede that my sentence “there is no ‘Christian’ position on gun control” was sloppy–thanks for calling me on that. I think your amended version captures what I was thinking quite nicely.
If you (by which I mean anyone reading) advocate for ‘gun control’ you are proposing a plan which is fundamentally based on guns (and clubs and tasers and cages) being used to achieve good in society. This is how state organised ‘gun control’ works in reality: brute force (including extreme violence) is used or threatened by the state in order to get things done.
The government enforces gun control by hiring men with guns to threaten everyone with being arrested, kidnapped and put inside a cage unless they surrender their guns. All laws are nothing more (or less) than the threat of force being used to achieve a specific aim.
Therefore if you are in favour of state controlled ‘gun control’ you are admitting that good can (and should) be achieved in society by allowing a bunch of (hopefully) ‘good guys’ in matching blue costumes to point guns at everyone on behalf of the government and order them about.
If that is the case then I would ask: why on earth are you advocating for the disarmament of law abiding citizens? Law abiding citizens are supposed to also be ‘good guys’, aren’t they? If guns can (and should) be used to achieve good (by protecting us from evil people waving guns about) then disarming law abiding citizens will only make society LESS able to achieve good because it will limit society’s ability to protect itself from evil people waving guns about.
Anyone willing to use guns to commit murder, robberies etc already has no regard for the law.
Just as with dugs and alcohol, these criminal types will get hold of guns (or hang on to the ones they already have) any way they can even if it means obtaining them illegally. A few more laws is hardly going to make much difference to them. All it will do is create scarcity in the gun marketplace, which will in turn create a highly profitable black market in guns – inevitably controlled by the most criminal types in society which will lead to even more violence (just as we see whenever dugs, alcohol or prostitution are made illegal).
All state controlled ‘gun control’ will do is reduce the percentage of gun owners in society who are law abiding ‘good guys’ and increase the percentage of gun owners who are criminals with no regard for the law (or human life). As a result they will be able to act with even more impunity, knowing the rest of the population is disarmed. This will make the rest of the public feel unsafe (which will be the truth) and they will end up demanding more ‘police state’ style protection from a government which (by all indications) the government will be only too pleased to provide at further cost to everyone’s wallets, liberties and national security.
A well armed police state overseeing a largely disarmed population is an open invitation for all kinds of tyranny.
One of the best tests for judging the morality and the practicality of any proposed policy is to imagine yourself acting out the policy in society in person (ie removing the third party agency of ‘government’ from the equation). Any time we advocate for the government to behave is certain ways ON OUR BEHALF we should be willing (at least in principle) to behave that way ourselves. This is especially true whenever we are petitioning the government to behave in certain ways towards OTHER PEOPLE (at home or abroad).
In the case of state controlled ‘gun control’ this means imagining *yourself* going door to door armed with guns, tasers, clubs and cages and threatening every household with being violently kidnapped and locked up inside a cage unless they hand over their weapons to you.
Imagine some people object to your demands – as we know many people do. They tell you that they wish to retain their guns for self defence, hunting, target practice (or whatever) and they challenge YOUR CLAIM that you have the right to just order them about by waving guns in their faces and making threats of violence against them unless they do what you say.
What would you do in real life? How would you deal with a family who refuse to hand over their guns to you? Would you beat the husband with a club or taser him before dragging him away from his family and putting him inside a cage as a punishment for disobeying you?
What if he politely asked you to get off his property and stop threatening him? What if he warned you that threatening him with violence would result in him defending himself and his family with equal force if necessary?
Would you shoot him?
How else are you going to enforce the law which you invented but which he objects to? In this situation, it looks like you are either going to have to back off and leave him in peace or else shoot him.
This is the reality of state enforced ‘gun control’, with all the euphemisms and fuzzy thinking stripped away.
Are you writing from UK?
Yes…… is that OK? 🙂
Well, I applaud your open-mindedness, but one point needs addressed:
“They may be wrong, but in a democracy the majority governs and the majority clearly wishes to at least have the option to own firearms.”
The United States of America is not a democracy. It is a Constitutional Republic. One of the key differences is that in a Constitutional Republic, individuals’ rights and freedoms are protected and guaranteed even when the majority dissents. Now I will be the first to admit that we have a long history of getting this wrong. Slavery, the Draft, Prohibition (both alcohol and other substances), the Death Penalty, the entirety of the NSA, but the distinction remains.
This means that if we had 300 million people who wanted gun control and one who wanted to own a gun, that 1 person should not have his natural rights infringed because of the will of the majority.
If we would actually follow this principle, we would actually be the great country we were supposed to be.
Thanks for commenting Wes.