On Guns in Private Hands

On Guns in Private Hands June 24, 2020

Shooting is a hobby, a means of self-defense, and a bastion against tyranny. Guns  also are misused and become part of crimes and horrible accidents. Of course, this misuse is small compared to the misuse of lethal power by the state! The Communist Party of China has a near monopoly on lethal power and the results are not pretty.

Liberty to do or own something comes with risk.

Christians want peace, but perfect peace is not possible in our present condition without human government becoming a tyranny. We must tolerate law . . . a thing that does violence to our liberty while remembering no human law is good in itself. Liberty, God’s good gift to humankind, is good in itself, while law is the compromise we make with our inability to be good and free and is only good when it maximizes human liberty and minimizes human vice. 

Nothing is so good that humans cannot mess it up and nothing is so bad that God cannot redeem it. If we don’t start with this simple truth when it comes to guns, then our discussion will go no place. Guns can easily kill, though they need not be used to kill. 

Killing can be murder and murder is immoral. Guns, therefore, like cars require thoughtful regulation in a fallen war. This is why both guns and cars are already regulated. Some critics will suggest there is no fundamental human right to own a gun. There is a fundamental right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Before guns existed, men were free and if all guns vanished men would still be free. 

If men were angels, then every man could own a gun. If men were devils, no man should own a gun. Since no person is either an angel or a demon, and since guns are so easy to abuse, we must measure what to do about them. 

Of course, gun regulations, which Americans already have, limit our liberty, but a limit on liberty need not make me a slave.  As a conservative, I recognize that this is pragmatic decision between liberty and law when we discuss gun regulation. Regulation reduces what it regulates, but it also infringes on my liberty. There is also the pragmatic question of whether more gun control will prevent any of the events, such as the horror of a school shooting. 

Sociology and science can help us answer some questions, but science cannot tell us what society Americans should want. We know what other societies are like, but we must decide if we wish to be like those societies. Regulation comes with a cost.

Turning to another easily abused hobby, media, makes this obvious. The scientific consensus is that consuming violent media, such as games, appears to increase the tendency to violence, at least a bit, but that agreement doesn’t tell us anything about we should do.  Christianity warns that Utopia isn’t coming with direct divine rule so no solution or decision will be perfect. 

The awesome liberty to play a first person shooter game means that unstable people can easily play a first person shooter game. Most Americans think the censorship of such media will not lead to a big enough decrease in violence to be worth our loss of liberty.  Christians know that giving the government power is necessary, but that all such power will be abused. Increasing government power over anything is always dangerous, though increasing my liberty is also dangerous! It is impossible to know when “tipping points” are reached, when liberty surely devolves into licentiousness or law to legalism. 

This means there an be no single Christian position on gun control. Christians can live peacefully in societies where there is not right to bear arms and in societies, such as ours, where there is such a civil right. We believe in liberty, morality, and law, but don’t know how to balance those goods.

That is the downside of the gift of God to humanity of free will. 

Pragmatically, as a citizen, I believe an armed citizenry matters enough to allow private ownership of some guns. I also believe that we have sufficient regulations in place and no new regulations, given the number of guns in the society already, are likely to be worth the cost of increased police power.* This is, however, merely a prudential judgment. If the Federal government decides to further limit magazine sizes in an act of therapeutic regulation, however the Republic will no more be in imminent peril, then if we decided to ban certain kinds of violent video games. We were free before Grand Theft Auto or more recent violent media and could be free without any violent games. We need not have that weapon to keep our right to keep and bear arms.

I hope we regulate neither, but only because I believe too much liberty and privacy has been lost. The American theme should be liberty.

*Officers mostly do good work, but all conservatives worry about police power.

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