What is the purpose of guns? We can list a few. Hunting. Defense of our home. Defense of ourselves. Defense of our community against governmental tyranny. These are all reasons why America has a largely unique position on guns among today’s modernized nations. Piers Morgan (and probably Barack Obama) argues that it’s a mere vestige of our Wild West past, something to be discarded along with corsets and spurs. The police are minutes away and we all have cell phones and why worry that the warm fuzzy government is going to suddenly start taking away people’s rights? Oh, wait …!
Alexis de Toqueville observed another purpose. In trying to assess why democracy worked in America when it was an abject failure in his own country, he returned repeatedly to the difference between citizens and subjects. Subjects, he said, “are unconcerned with the fortunes of their village, the safety of their streets, the fate of their church and its vestry. They think that such thins have nothing to do with them, that they belong to a powerful stranger called ‘the government’. They enjoy these goods as tenants, without a sense of ownership, and never give a thought to how they might be improved.”
Thus, Toqueville observed, their response to calamity differed markedly from that of a citizen. A citizen first seeks to meet a challenge themselves, as a family or with their neighbors. A subject appeals to the external faceless authorities they rely on as the source for most things in life. The disarmed subjects living in Chicago, New York, and Washington DC call the police and beg for help, and are often victimized or even killed while waiting for the police to arrive. When my mom was faced with three rapists, she called the police, but she also got her gun. She stopped the crime before it could occur rather than call on some authority to clean up the aftermath.
Viewed through this lens, gun rights in the United States are essentially a reiteration of our belief in self-government. They may seem old-fashioned, but they are an acknowledgement of where the authority for government begins: with the citizen, not with power granted from on high. Removing guns from the ordinary citizen fundamentally alters the nature of our American understanding of human beings’ capacity for protecting ourselves from harm. Beyond the effect of increasing crime, as Jeffery Scott Shapiro, a prosecutor from Washington D.C. detailed in the Wall Street Journal today (see link below), such restrictions may transform the psychological makeup of a nation that has always vested our law and policy in the power of individuals to live the life we make for ourselves. If I am reduced by my government to cowering in my home behind locked doors or on the floor of a movie theater with no effective means to protect myself, am I still a citizen in control of my life or have I become a subject of the crown at the mercy of the whims of a greater authority?
Wait! Wasn’t the United States founded by “We the People”? Did that change recently? I don’t recall voting on that.
For DA Shapiro’s on-the-ground assessment of why DC’s total gun ban did not work: