Thursday, January 13, 2011

Control Freaks (Not Normal People)

As the news cycles continue to spin absurd tangents off of the tragedy in Arizona, I'm venturing another opinion about an issue which I really think unrelated to the current events but which is the center of much discussion in the wake of them. The issue: gun control.

I'll keep this short.

I am not a member of the NRA. I do not own a gun. I have no inordinate love of guns.

Furthermore, I think that many of the defenders of gun rights give an absurd reading of the second amendment and present a figment of a constitutional right.

There is, however, a common sense approach to this matter which, if overlooked by gun advocates, is even more frequently missed by their opponents.

I have fired weapons in my lifetime. I've shot paper targets and tin cans. Perhaps, in my youth, I once or twice made sport of small birds and mammals with a carefully aimed bee-bee. [I do not doubt that this admission could itself form an inroad to a whole other controversy. Bring it on!] All in all, my experience with firing guns has been entertaining, a sporting affair - even when it was in the context of military training. In the back of my mind, I always prayed I would never have to use a weapon in earnest. I enjoyed the skill of marksmanship, learning my way around the weapons' intricacies, the thrill of the trigger pull after a controlled exhalation. And I've never shot anyone. Never even thought of it.

Now, sure, there's an argument to be made about defense of home and property that a person ought to be allowed a gun in the home. Most moderates (I consider myself, all in all, to be among that political class) will admit this. Ordinarily, the gun control argument gets hairy when someone drops this ballistic bombshell: "There's no reason that somebody needs a whole collection of guns or semi-automatic weapons in the home." And, as far as it goes, this argument is sound: there is, in the pragmatic way of looking at things, no reason. And, according to the same system of evaluation, there are many reasons indeed that such arsenals ought to be "controlled".

But - here's the rub - it all depends on what we regard as most reasonable. It all depends on what we consider to be the reasons - that is, the philosophical causes - that inform our day to day existence in the most profound ways. For me, those reasons are not ultimately the practical and the pragmatic. They are more holistic. In my ideal view of things, man's pleasure is often found in the things that don't have the immediate reason the rationalist looks for: stamp collections, idle walks, improvised whistling, falling in love, joining a political party, shooting a gun at inanimate objects.

Why does a man need a machine gun? I don't know that any man does. But I can think of why a man may want one. If a man likes shooting cans or paper targets, he might like shooting them in a variety of ways. With each weapon comes a different skill, a different pleasure, a different art - art, the quintessential pleasure of man, and what Dante calls the grandson of God. Indeed, there is much in our divinely imprinted nature that shines through in our ability to manipulate machinery to such precise ends, to aim and to cause reactions faster than our physical natures could ever cause without our artifaction.

There are some who will find this a weak argument for non-restriction of weaponry by device class, and I respect their concerns. The truth is that the effect of certain weapons can be very much more terrible when aimed at a living being than other weapons'. However, the aim is the most terrible part. And it is more causally, more philosophically, related to the effect which we all (of course) desire to avoid. The question is whether we want to cede control of a thing which may be used harmlessly and for pleasure because of the perverted individuals who use that thing for pernicion.

This relates, of course, to what I said in my last post about our propensity as a people to respond categorically to aberrations and to try to "control" every aspect of our lives; I've tagged this post with many labels, including subsidiarity, and there is the reason why. We are always and everywhere giving up ordinary freedoms and passing laws to restrict the liberties of normal individuals in order to control against those abnormal few who abuse the gifts of freedom and will. It is a strategy which perhaps is justified in a Kindergarten, but it has no place amongst the affairs of civilized men and women. I need not make any of the slippery slope arguments (which only may be fallacious) about how a restrictive society will continue in its rut; for, if you, dear reader, have not yet felt sympathy for my philosophical appeal, I don't know whether we'll ever come to agree on this.

For my part, I doubt I'll ever start a gun collection: it's cost prohibitive. But I'd like to know that I may do so if I choose - if I win the lottery or get my wits about me and get out of academia so that I can earn money. My aim in doing so, however, would not be to take life, but to give it: to live more vitally, more freely, more artfully, more pleasurably. To shoot with friends at things which there is no harm and all fun in shooting, to feel the rush that it gives, to respect the awful power it represents, to deplore the terrible violence that is its perversion. In short, to revel in controlling what is my right as a normal man to control, and what needs no other to control on my behalf.