On fewer gun control restrictions

The title’s a bit misleading (on purpose). I’m not going to discuss or recommend any kind of gun control policy (or the revocation thereof); rather, I want to consider a prevailing assumption of the argument promoting fewer gun control restrictions.

There are lots of sophisticated arguments promoting the right of gun ownership, but that’s not what motivates Americans supporting the permissibility of gun ownership. The argument that we not take away our right to gun ownership is far simpler than what these sophisticated arguments contend. It’s a wacky assumption, as I’m sure you’ll see, not held by all gun advocates or gun owners but by a vocal minority whose arguments have gained a stronghold among nearly 50% of Americans (anecdotally speaking).

(As an aside, I should mention that a recent blog post on three problems with the gun debate in America, here, motivated me to write this blog post. Massimo has very nicely summarized some of the biggest problems with the gun debate. First, at least one side rejects that there is a gun problem at all. Second, the two sides of the debate are represented by two overly simplified positions. Finally, Americans incorrectly assume that the gun debate is merely a discussion about gun laws. Interested readers should check out the post at Rationally Speaking. I thank Massimo for his insightful commentary and for prompting me to think about these issues.)

I fear that the underlying argument for fewer gun control restrictions comes from one assumption all Americans seemingly embrace in one form or another. The argument depends on the following claim: things were so much better 5, 10, 20… 50, 100 years ago. Call it nostalgia. Call it tradition. (Perhaps the favorite song of the movement is Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were”.) But whatever you’d like to call it, the assumption of the argument has it that how things should be now depend on the way things were in the past.

Here’s the underlying argument (a little bit more formally):

1. Guns were never controlled in the past, e.g., look at the old West — a great place to live, work, and play with the likes of John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Charlton Heston. (premise)

2. Therefore, I want that old West feel all the time, where guns were never controlled by any kind of governmental interference. (from 1)

According to this position, because people who lived long ago were permitted to own and carry guns and because those who lived long ago are just like me, I want unrestricted access to guns and the ability to carry guns (if I really want to). Even if an American doesn’t want a gun, they feel better that the government doesn’t restrict them from obtaining guns.

Tradition is very appealing for some Americans. “The way things were” is better than the way things are now. Gun advocates cling to this idea and believe that change — no matter what that change may include — is a very bad thing.

I believe that this is the crux of Massimo’s second point. What drives gun advocates to scream bloody, blue murder about any kinds of restrictions on their so-called unrestricted freedom to purchase or own a gun, i.e., gun control, is that such ownership rights were better yesterday.

No one seems to have challenged the assumption they seem to uphold, despite how unlikely their views reflect the way things actually were.

What kind of world are they thinking of, the actual world or the dreamy Hollywoodland world? Unfortunately, it’s the Hollywoodland world, a fictional world no more real than any Suessian fabrication. It’s a world where Ronald Reagan, actor/economist/Governor/Gun-slinger, is president. A world where Charlton Heston screams at gun restrictionists, “get your hands off my gun, you damn dirty liberal!” Heston and Reagan were real Americans, unlike commie pink-o’s, such as Alec Baldwin and Tim Robbins.

What makes the old West appealing are the films about the old West. Nothing more. Think here of pioneers, cowboys, and rebels popular among the Hollywood of the 1950s. People are enamored by living a lifestyle where a person is not responsible for anyone but themselves and (presumably) their own children.

Whenever congress proposes further gun restrictions than that already in place, opponents believe the proposed laws will lead to the complete destruction of the human race. Well, that’s the position anyway. How do we infer from gun restrictions to the destruction of the human race. Here is where life imitates art. Remember the cable commercials…

Fewer gun restrictions will enable people to protect themselves.

The nostalgia assumption among proponents of fewer gun restrictions resembles the environmentalists claim that the more pristine environment existed long ago. Now, according to some environmentalists, we have to return the environment to this pristine state. So, like environmentalists, gun advocates want to restore our current environment to the way things were in the past because the way things were is a lot better than the way things are now.

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