In the wake of the Aurora mass shooting, the usual pattern is playing out with respect to gun control. People such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Piers Morgan and Bill Moyers are beating the drum to restrict firearm ownership, as others try to beat them back. One side says we’d be safer if guns were rarer; the other says that more guns equal less crime. One side says guns kill people, the other that people kill people. Facts and feelings are bandied back and forth (although one side specializes in the facts and the other in the feelings), but in all the commentary, some of which is very good, one point is universally missed.
For the sake of argument, let’s accept the supposition that outlawing firearms would save lives. Does it logically follow from this that guns should be restricted or banned?
Well, it would certainly save lives and countless injuries if people didn’t engage in mountain-climbing, hang-gliding, motorcycle-racing, trampolining, big-wave surfing, cave-diving, heli-skiing and a host of other dangerous activities. And, like guns, knives and baseball bats are common murder weapons. Does it logically follow that these items and activities should be banned?
The point is that we never treat saving lives as the only imperative when devising policy. If we did, we’d perhaps consider reducing speed limits on highways to 5 mph, since this might save most of the 43,000 lives lost on the road each year. Speaking of which, since 40 percent of those deaths are alcohol related, we can consider resurrecting Prohibition, too.
Now, since gun-control advocates think they have morality on their side, they may want to ponder a question: is it moral to sacrifice 43,000 lives just so we can be free to zip around at 55 or 65 mph? The answer here is that the safety imperative is balanced against an economic one, in that too much productivity would be lost with a five-mph speed limit.
But sometimes far more trivial things trump the safety imperative. No one needs to drink alcohol, go rock-climbing, or play baseball when doing so necessitates the availability of a dangerous weapon. So, imagine that, we’re actually placing fun and enjoyment ahead of saving lives. In fact, some among us will even tolerate death on a massive scale if we think the reason is good enough. An example is when the anti-gun left is willing to accept 1.2 million killings a year through abortion.
So if we’ll accept death through fun, should we question death through the gun? As with dangerous recreation, the enjoyment justification exists with firearms, too, in the form of target and sport shooting. As with driving, an economic justification exists in that revenue is collected from hunters and because some poorer rural Americans help feed themselves through hunting. But there is something here that is a true imperative, one that’s greater than most any other:
The apocryphal saying, “God made some men big and others small, but Samuel Colt made them equal,” gets at the point here. Whether it’s a smaller person or group, firearms tend to even the odds. They help create parity, and that’s not what criminals want—they want easy prey. Thus, like a predator in the wilds that generally won’t attack a creature more than half its size, even if a criminal is armed himself, he’ll be reluctant to tackle a target that can target him back.
Even more significantly, as Prohibition, prostitution and drugs have proven, illegal isn’t synonymous with unavailable. So, again, let’s assume a gun criminalization that left firearms in the hands of a few criminals did save lives overall. What should we conclude if those armed miscreants could nonetheless ply their dark trade with little resistance? What should we feel if good people were declawed and rendered powerless to thwart their evil?
A virtuous, justice-oriented person should find this intolerable to the point of outrage.
He should quote Emiliano Zapata and say, “It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” Yet better still is to live on your feet. And a gun in the hand makes that more likely.
As for debating the Second Amendment, there’s nothing wrong with using facts to refute the notion that more guns equal more deaths. But this should be only part of the debate, not the debate itself. Otherwise we miss some great principles, one of which is that life at all costs is too great a cost. Living is about more than just life, and whether the matter is sports that can kill, drink that can kill or guns that can kill, you can’t really live if you’re suffocated with a Big Brother bubble-wrap mentality.