I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend. (J.R.R.Tolkien, The Two Towers)
The first question many people ask is: “Why guns?” Some ask more generally, “Why advocate ownership of weapons?” The answer is far from simple but it is logical. Read on.
We, humans, have the enviable position at the top of the food chain. Although individuals occasionally fall prey to wild beasts, as a species we are safe, except from ourselves. Being an omnivore of modest size, we got to this privileged position through our use of tools. Tools we use are not limited to guns: as a species, we are defined as tool makers and tool users.
It is also fortunate that most humans are disposed to cooperate with each other. However, the exceptions to that “most” are sufficient to make weapons ownership a necessity for the rest. Human aggression happens on two levels: individual and organized. Let’s consider them separately.
Becoming an adult involves learning to respect others and to take responsibility for our own actions. Most people learn those skills and appreciate the values on which peaceful coexistence is predicated. Unfortunately, a minority of people, fewer than 2%, decline to behave in a civilized manner. Civilized behavior, for the purpose of our discussion, could be described as acting humanely towards others even if no punishment would be incurred by acting meanly.
Some of the mean humans are not deterred from harming others by any considerations. Such people are, thankfully, very rare and generally make the news eventually. However, most mean individuals, including those we might consider crazy, behave rationally even if in pursuit of irrational goals. Such people weigh the costs and benefits of their actions and so try to pick victims who cannot fight back.
Here we come to the first benefit of weapons ownership. You may not be armed, but those who would harm you for wanton gratification or for profit have no way of knowing that. Over time, they run a real risk of accidentally attacking an armed person. In that way, general tradition of being able to resist evil affords you some protection by protective mimicry. In nature, a harmless animal would imitate a more formidable species and thus give pause to the would-be predators.
Similarly, predators who select victims based on the expected inability to resist, often desist when even a small number of the expected easy marks give them trouble. For example, where even a few women are known to be armed, all women benefit from the reduction in attempted rapes and other violent crimes. That no external differences indicate which person is defenseless and which isn’t makes all of us safer.
No one in their right mind, be they peaceful humans or predators, would enjoy a firefight. Safety of the humans is much improved whenever the predators have to endure combat in order to get what they want, with no guarantee of victory but with a serious risk to their hides. The concept of peace through ability to win a war might sound flippant, but the sentiment is based on reason.
Just as individual predators act in their self-interest, so do organizations and states. Historically, government actions against minority groups have been motivated by greed, religious or ethnic bigotry, need to find scapegoats and many other, equally unsavory reasons. Consequences to civilians who could not protect themselves, such as the Parisian Hugenots in 1572 or the Polish Jews in 1939 or the Cambodian intelligencia in 1975, have been invariably catastrophic. Considering the frequency and the increasing efficiency of genocides, outbreeding the casualties is impractical.
Some say that by the mere ability to resist evil we become the same evil we fight. That view equates initiation of aggression with defense of self and family. In my humble opinion, the two are not equal. Protection of innocents is a noble cause. Failure to plan or failure to act when necessary is not noble, merely irresponsible. It leads to extinction and encourages predators to victimize others besides us.
Being safe does not mean that we should all string barbed wire around our homes, mine the front lawn and sit behind sandbagged windows in anticipation of hostile hordes. Leading righteous, peaceful lives, being good to others, working to improve ourselves and the world would do much to improve our safety. Yet, just as good health doesn’t depend on plenty of excercise or a good diet, safety does not depend only on being armed or on being a decent human. Each is an essential component of the whole.
Being armed doesn’t mean that we fear our environment. Simply put, being prepared reduces criminal predation to a solved problem. After all, having soap in a bathroom doesn’t indicate a paranoid fear of germs, only the recognition of a problem and a ready solution to it. Similarly, carrying a handgun just in case is reasonable. Towing cannon behind your car would be excessive effort relative to the moderate risks we face.
In some minds, guns are linked to murder and other unlawful uses. Yet, they seldom view gasoline, matches, wire, kitchen knives or hobnailed boots as tools of violence. People are familiar with those everyday objects and know that they are not evil magic. The will to kill is the paramount ingredient in homicides. Absent that will, no weapon would lift itself to harm a human.
Conditioning by television or newspapers makes some view every gun as a tragedy in the making. Evening news often show a picture of a gun even when talking about a beating which involved feet and fists. Without a real-world basis for comparison, it is easy to assume that firearms are possessed of supernatural powers. After all, if our understanding of computers was based on Hollywood, wouldn’t we all live in fear of killer robots and rogue mainframes?
Judicious use of complex tools separates humans from all other species. To throw away one of our main evolutionary accomplishments out of misguided fear would be akin to wishing away the well-developed brain to make births easier. The loss of functionality to us as human beings would far exceed any potential gain from such a trade.