A Balanced Approach to Gun Control?

For the first time ever, I have read an article that attempts to start serious discussion on gun control.

Now, usually when someone says “It is time we have a serious discussion about social topic X”, what they really mean is “Sit down and shut up while I engage in moral preening and display my tribal markings.” There is no attempt to seriously engage the arguments and attitudes of the other side, no presumption of good faith disagreements, no suspicion that one may be wrong. We are all guilty of this to one degree or another.

This article however takes seriously the idea that an armed citizenry has been an essential part of the American order, that gun control laws may be unjustly applied, and that there are serious practical difficulties policing guns in a nation of three hundred million people.

Here is the author’s strongest assertion: An armed citizenry is not the same thing as an armed consumer public.

His point is that there is more to owning a gun than passing a background check and plunking down the cash to pay for it. It presumes good citizenship. If firearms are not simply a consumer good but a social responsibility, there needs to be a system of ensuring that responsibility.

He admits the weakness of this position: the government is not always to be trusted in deciding who is or is not a good citizen. If we have seen the IRS being used to persecute the political enemies of the party in power, we could also see government regulation tilted against gun owners of the wrong political opinions. Historically gun control laws have been used to keep blacks from owning firearms, making them easier to lynch. Practically, even the gun control laws we have are not well applied: Dylan Roof should never have been able to purchase a gun given the fact he had been previously arrested on drug charges, but the FBI committed a paperwork error.

There is in fact a very strong culture of responsible gun ownership in America. Out of the millions of legal gun owners, hardly any use one to commit a crime. That does not mean there are not creepy and isolated individuals who might be able to pass a background check. It also does not mean that there are not plenty of criminals carrying illegal guns as well.

The author suggests mandatory membership in gun clubs for gun owners, which would ensure they are socialized individuals. It is an idea. I would suggest public schools bring back rifle teams as a way of teaching the responsible use of firearms.

It does have to be acknowledged that while 60 years ago America had an intact culture where high rates of gun ownership coincided with low crime, that culture no longer exists. Urban culture is largely collapsed, and artificial suburban culture seems to create occasional monsters. The mores of small towns and rural backwaters where boys bring shotguns to school so they can go grouse hunting after class do not apply to large swaths of America.

Do we punish the decent people to make up for urban rot?

Of course, if someone really wants to see gun violence reduced, the best thing would be to end America’s ridiculous war on drugs, rather than start another impossible war on guns.

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