In my previous post, I discussed briefly how conservatives often misconstrue the right to bear arms for the right to pointlessly expend ammunition, even in unsafe and childish ways. Now I must confess, on behalf of the Right, that the liberals have got some things right about the gun control debate. As unpleasant as that may sound, take a knee, drink water, and approach this with an open mind.
Every time there’s a significant mass shooting – except when it’s politically inconvenient – the Left explodes with a series of objections to the private ownership of weapons. Some of these are asinine, but others have merit, of a type. One such objection is that a person does not ordinarily need an “assault weapon” (by which they mean a modern semi-automatic weapon.) Another objection is that when the Bill of Rights was authored, weaponry did not have the capacity to kill so many so quickly. I would like to briefly address these objections, and offer an opinion – based on little besides my experience, mind you – as to why various Americans can agree that these objections are valid, and yet disagree on a path forward.
First, it is true that a person does not ordinarily need a semi-automatic weapon with a large magazine capacity. There are two parts to this objection, however – first, that the Second Amendment is about a person’s need as defined by the government, and second, that the Second Amendment is about ordinary circumstances. I’ll address these in turn.
Now, the Second Amendment refers specifically to the necessity of an armed militia. The term “militia” appropriately refers to a State-established military and police force (these terms were not in common usage when the Bill of Rights was written.) It is BECAUSE of this “militia” that the right of the people to bear arms is specifically enumerated. So, already, the historical interpretation is that the government has already affirmed the need of the average citizen to be armed.
But why must these weapons be available to people in ordinary circumstances? There are many answers to that question. The first is that no weapon is ever needed ordinarily – it is only in extraordinary circumstances that civilized humans must do violence. But in the interim, in order to perform safely and effectively, it is necessary to train with those weapons – hence, the world of sport shooting – and to use weapons for legitimate purposes such as hunting and self-defense against the criminal element.
The second objection, that modern weapons are more destructive than those of the 18th century, is demonstrably and inarguably true. It is also inarguable that at the time the 2A was written, it referred to the common weapons of war – and we may rightly interpret a citizenry’s right to bear arms as the right to possess and field weapons that are ordinarily used by combat troops. On this point, many on the Left will argue that we simply must renegotiate the terms of the 2A.
Again, the internet is full of arguments and articles on this topic. But I want to examine something else – something that arose out of a series of classes I took on subconscious communication, taught by Dr. Steve Rhoads. In the class, we learned have to quickly categorize how people tend to think, so that we as police officers can build rapport and trust with victims, and detect deception in suspects. The important bit is that humans, I have seen, largely see the world in terms of risk and reward – or, I would argue, in terms of their own agency.
I think that people who tend to vote to the Left do so because of a desire for stability. Particularly on the issue of gun control, but in other spheres as well, I have noticed that the Liberals I know well tend to seek stability and security – or the perception of it – over their own freedom to choose. For instance, a friend of mine once explained that he had started voting Democrat because he felt that we ought to do something about poverty, but he did not believe that he or his church could effectively act. He decided, then, to give up the autonomy of choosing who and where his contributions went, and instead to ask his government to do it for him. Another friend wants all guns to be banned because she does not feel safe around them. Yet another friend simply cannot fathom how a person could accept the risk of capitalism, demanding equality of results over the equality of opportunity – even with the understanding that she and the rest of us together would be demonstrably poorer then we are now. I have also been told that to pay exorbitant healthcare premiums, and force others to do the same, is better than the alternative. In each case – and I know I’m relying on vague anecdotes – the priority is placed on security over choice.
Jean-Paul Sartre speaks about existential freedom, and also about bad faith, which is the refusal to choose in the face of radical choice. I have often considered America as a fundamentally existential nation – one that sees choice and the terror of real freedom as a part of its fabric. As a country and society, we have long embodied the sense that we – not another – govern our destiny, and we – not another – determine the meaning of our existence.
Yet in parts of America, we are beginning to succumb to a kind of passive nihilism – a rejection of freedom and the embrace of a sort of chosen fate. Some of us, it seems, have faced the reality that our choices could kill us, and instead of facing these choices, have concluded that such a choice should not be made. My perception is that the Left – and certain elements of the right, that lean towards authoritarianism – is comprised largely of those who are afraid to choose chaos, who are drawn to order at their own expense, and who desire security so strongly that they are willing to vote themselves into servitude.
For me, the debate surrounding gun control is but a symptom of the greater debate that is determining, even now, the future of America. It is the struggle between radical, existential freedom, and a passive, comfortable nihilism. Both sides recognize that to bear arms is to take one’s life and one’s nation into one’s own hands. The difference is whether or not they are willing to take the responsibility.