Well-meaning people often express the wish there could be a grand compromise on the gun issue, and we all then could just get on with our lives. It will never happen, and today someone, writing under the nom de plume “Observer,” responding to an editorial in the New York Times, very succinctly summed up why. I have rarely seen the basic philosophical basis for anti-gun thinking better expressed, so I reproduce it here in full:
“All the statistics, emotional debates, etc. boil down to ‘good guys’ vs.’ bad guys’. The gun people have erected that characterization as an airtight justification for anything they do. Good guys with guns will protect themselves and other innocents from bad guys with guns. Bad people do bad things anyway, so the risk that they will do them with a gun legally obtained (not to mention illegally obtained) is outweighed by the need for a good guy to be armed to protect against the bad people. So we have to allow the good guys to have guns; more good guys with guns means more safety for the good people. This way of understanding the argument explains the genuine frustration expressed by otherwise rational gun people when they try to justify their position…”You just don’t get it, do you?”
“A more mature understanding of the world gives the lie to this argument, of course. People are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in and of themselves, but they do bad things sometimes. The good/bad characterization of the world needs to be discredited regularly and vigorously-it is the backbone of much of the right wing propaganda flying around these days.
“In meantime, can’t we please enact laws that make military weapons unavailable to people who have no business owning them—and that includes everybody who is not under the supervision of a command officer of a military or police unit -i.e. a ‘well-regulated militia’.”
Yep, that’s it in a nutshell. We who support the right to bear arms believe there are good and evil people, that the difference between them can be discerned, and that good should have the means to defeat evil. This is exactly why the “Armed Citizen” column in the American Rifleman magazine has been its most popular feature for decades. It illustrates the fact that good people, properly armed, can defeat evil.
If you simply reject the concept of good and evil, you are led inevitably to the British formulation, where all people are equally children of the state, and disagreements between them are to be solely arbitrated by the police, courts and social services agencies. If those bureaucracies fail in their duty and you are attacked by some other child of the state, well, lie back and think of England.
The notion that no one is entirely good or evil certainly makes for better novels or films, but it makes for bad public policy. If you’re breaking down my door at 2 a.m., I am unconcerned about your motivations, the marital status of your mother, the previous condition of servitude of your ancestors or the SAT scores of your fellow students. I am going to serve you lead, 230 grains at a time, until you stop.
Is that an oversimplified, Manichean, good vs. evil world view at work? Probably. It’s also the only world view that reliably works in that situation.
So, if you’re one of those who thinks there is some middle ground that can be reached between us and them, read again what “Observer” wrote. Is there really any compromise possible with that?