Hands off!

I think we all know what this blog post is about. It’s one of the most controversial topics in American history. We fight over it almost every day because it sparks outrage in some and fear in others. The argument stems from a fundamental difference in the way the various participants see the world, and it isn’t something that is likely to be resolved soon.

The debate over firearms is always going to start a huge argument when held in a forum where disagreement exists. The reason for this is self-evident: it is a life and death issue. Many of the things we argue about have some room for rational discussion and most people would be willing to at least listen to your side of the discussion because they have the capacity to think about things a different way, even if they ultimately don’t agree with you. Guns are a completely different animal. They are deadly weapons, and in the hands of the wrong person can result in the catastrophic loss of human life. The traditional argument on both sides hold no real value in terms of being objective because firearms inherently contain a fear component that many people simply can’t get over, regardless of how rational the arguments might be.

The conservative side holds to the idea that the Constitution endows us with the right to keep and bear firearms, and while that’s technically correct, it also contains provisions for changing the laws when enough people decide it needs to be changed. Holding to that argument is ultimately futile as more and more people grow up in a society where guns seem to be less and less necessary. Regardless of whether or not the claims of needing guns are valid, the argument is futile in the face of a growing population who is totally afraid of crazy people with guns.

The liberal argument is that we have police and military to protect us from danger, so the average person has no need for a firearm. On the surface, the argument makes sense, but when you start to pick it apart you begin to realize that no matter how much money we pour into government protection programs, they will never have the capability of preventing something bad from happening to you. The best we could hope for is that they find the person who hurt or killed you, but that will be little comfort to you or your family because the damage is already done. No matter how much you choose to place your faith in the system, you will never convince the other side to do the same.

We are at an impasse on this issue. Both sides have strong arguments that make sense from their point of view, but if the other side just can’t agree with that point of view, no amount of argument will lead to a resolution. A change in perspective on both sides is necessary if we’re going to reach a final decision on this issue. The reality is that it may be necessary to step back from the gun debate entirely to find the answer to it.

The fundamental disagreement of our time is which is sovereign: the individual or the government. We thought we had this all figured out when we extricated ourselves from the English crown more than 200 years ago and crafted a foundational document that specifically emphasized that we are a nation of individuals with rights that are not subject to control by the country’s leadership. Everything about the Constitution is laid out to prevent any one person or group from gaining control of our government and forcing the rest of us to bend to their will.

This attitude has slowly eroded over the life of our nation and people have forgotten why our country exists in the first place. Individual sovereignty is the primary reason America was created and it’s the reason why it has become the superpower that it is. We freely choose to work together for the betterment of our nation, and because we choose it and are not forced into it, we put in our best effort. From our individual right to choose we build a nation of people who want to work together in common cause.

If we begin from a position that individual rights are sovereign, then the answer to the question of gun control becomes clear. It is a very simple argument: if the individual has the right to choose, then no one has no right to bar us from choosing the methods we use to defend ourselves. When we accept that we are each responsible for our own security and stop believing in the fantasy that the government can completely protect us, it starts becoming much more reasonable to acquire the most effective means of self defense available.

The only exception to this is a method the represents a clear and present danger to others. Explosive or radioactive material in close proximity to others is a very real and imminent hazard, so some minimal limitations are called for because your right to self defense ends when it puts others in immediate danger. No matter how careful you are, a small mistake could result in serious loss of life and that is a direct infringement on the rights of those around you.

Barring examples like that, though, it is unreasonable to make the argument that any other method of self defense represents a clear and present danger to others. A firearm is a tool with a specific purpose, and much like a hammer or screwdriver, it only performs its function in the hands of a human being. It is the person who is responsible for what it does, not the firearm. In the hands of a responsible adult, it represents a threat only to those whom the threat is warranted: criminals with violent intent. It is bad actors who cause us problems, not guns. Taking them away won’t solve the issue. It just shifts how the violence happens.

Of course, the idea of completely removing guns from America is ridiculous from the start. There are so many firearms in America that even if the government somehow passed a complete ban, they would never get rid of even most of them. The moment such a law passed, those who disagree will find a way to hold on to what is a fundamental part of their lives. And the number of guns would probably see a massive spike as smugglers flood our country with illegal weapons. Much like the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s, the average American will rebel and find a way to hold on to the only means of self defense they can find.

So what do we do about this? We can argue about guns until we’re blue in the face and it will never resolve anything. The argument is really about personal rights. If we answer the question of how we feel about individual liberty, then the answer to the gun debate becomes self evident. I for one believe that each of us is responsible for our own lives, so that puts me squarely in the pro second amendment camp, not just because I like guns and want to have them, but because it is the logical conclusion of one of my fundamental beliefs, and as I stated in my very first blog, the logical outcome stems from your chosen starting point.

As Americans, we need to go back to the very beginning and figure out where our starting point is. Once we do, we’ll have a much better understanding of where we’re going. If we don’t, the aimless wandering of our government policy will continue to drain away our wealth and prestige, and hopelessly partisan arguments will hinder our ability to remain the most powerful nation on the planet. This post is a call to every person’s sense of reasonableness, and I hope that this attitude can become infectious and we can start forcing the more radical people on both sides of the debate back into the shadows…or even better bring them further into the light.

It is only with the light that we can expel the darkness.

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