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.


  1. As usual, a very reasonable, balanced analysis.

    My impulse is to have higher restrictions on semi-automatic weapons, but I don't know if that's really a solution. It's something I'd be willing to discuss.

    In our case, my husband has started collecting guns of various sizes, most of them with a purpose, and all of them, currently unloaded, until we get a biometrically locked safe for them. (Cost prohibitive indeed. I'm glad he's reasonable enough to put a family vacation and the floor for the baby's room ahead of it!)

    The reason various types of weapons are necessary for our home defense is we live on the edge of state protected wildlands. There are coyotes, fisher cats, and several other types of wild animals that wander into our yard. The fisher cats are new to the area, and particularly lethal to toddlers. We plan to have dogs in the next few years, so my husband wants to be able to defend the perimeter of our property from animals that may harm our kids or our dogs. He also takes pleasure in the art and marksmanship of shooting as a decorated military officer.

    My temptation to at least limit semi-automatic sales comes from the fact that in our inner cities (and in AZ) it is the semi-automatics that tend to take out the innocent bystanders, usually the weak: children, elderly, unarmed women. In the case of the inner city, however, most of these guns are likely obtained illegally ANYWAY so I doubt that greater restrictions are going to help that scenario.

    Also the original reason for the second amendment also had an almost symbolic power--an armed populace is one who is reminded and reminds the governing bodies that THEY precede the governors and governing bodies.

    Does that mean it should be legal for citizens to have missiles and nukes and tanks though? Chemical weapons? I mean it gets pretty hairy in this technological age, fairly quickly, far beyond what our founders had originally imagined.

  2. Guns are not for shooting tin cans, they're for self defense. And what ever is needed for self defense is what should be allowed.

    Subsidiarity isn't relevant because that is not how civil government in the America operates. The police do not act in defense of the defenseless. That is not what they do, their duty is limited to punishing those who have already committed crimes.

  3. Subsidiarity is never irrelevant. It might be inapplicable to a current state of affairs; but that, then, is a problem with that state of affairs. Subsidiarity is a cornerstone teaching of Catholic Social Doctrine. I'm not sure where the matter of police prudence comes in at all; I don't mention it in my post. It seems a non sequitur discussion. Nevertheless, I don't deny that you are right in terms of what the police are meant to do according to our laws. But my argument is that, philosophically, the whole point of positive law is securing freedom for the community. That's the whole point of certain acts being deemed criminal: they are injurious to the body politic. That police, as an arm of the law, don't have the obligation to protect, is a whole other matter. The police are not the law as such. The law, as such, certainly does have the obligation to protect and secure freedoms.


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