So what would I suggest about guns?

So what would I suggest about guns? January 23, 2013

First, of course, I would suggest that it is perfectly true to say that the problem of violence lies in the human heart, not primarily (note that word, of which more anon) in the instruments by which we enact our violence. So yes, all the stuff the gun lobby says about the mystery of sin and evil and the fact that if you can’t find a gun you can still find a knife or a rock is true and, at the end of the day, violence is most effectively dealt with through repentance, faith in Christ, crucifixion of the old man and new creation in Christ. However, in addition to that, I note that the Church says Caesar has a role to play in limiting evil and does not recommend mystical passivity in the face of gun violence any more than she recommends it with any other form of crime.

Similarly, I would note that in addition to sin, we have to look at pathology, including our drug culture (both illicit and prescription) that appears to play a big role in people like the Aurora dude and others. But I would also recommend that we take steps to make it hard for drugged out lunatics to have access to the technology of mass slaughter.

I would also note that, though Sandy Hooks and related outrages get our attention, the 10,000 other murders each year (more than three 9/11s each year) are where the statistical heart of the matter is.

And I would note that, yes, there is no question that we are slowly morphing into a menacing national security state and have been for some time–often with the enthusiastic support of torture and war zealots whose monomaniacal obsession with “self-defense” has led them to cheer for the overreach of Leviathan and to practice a decade-long labor of sophistry in defending Caesar’s war crimes when Caesar was of the Correct Tribe–right up to the point Leviathan threatened their guns. Now those same “patriots” are mumbling about “secession” (aka civil war and mass bloodshed) due to the selfsame obsession with “self-defense”.

Which brings me to my next point. If the key to confronting violence in our culture is repentance and renewal in Christ, I think that one crucial point in doing that is to face the fact that an awful lot of gun rhetoric is marked by the smell of heresy.

What is heresy? Heresy is a single truth exaggerated to monstrous proportions and used as a weapon against the rest of the Church’s body of teaching. So Calvinism exaggerates the sovereignty of God and makes it the Only Truth. Abortion supporters exaggerate free will to the Only Truth. Communists exaggerate economic justice to the Only Truth. And gun zealotry, militarism, and torture enthusiasts often exaggerate the right to self-defense to the only truth.

The thing about heresy is that it then becomes hyper-sensitive to any attempt to situate its pet truth in the context of the common good. The Calvinist takes every assertion of human freedom as the negation of God’s power. The pro-abort darkly warns that the slightest attempt to assert that babies share in the common good masks a desire to enslave women and institute A Handmaid’s Tale theocratic fascist state. Commies routinely divided the world into Us and Them. And the self-defense heretic has, for the past month, indulged in massive amounts of HITLER!!!!!! hysteria when anybody has cleared their throat to suggest that some way should be explored to try to curb our massive gun violence rate and try to prevent future Sandy Hooks. In each case, the assertion of the common good is regarded by the heretic as the absolute and total negation of his pet truth.

So: one way of approaching evil in the human heart is to educate people on what “heresy” means–including the heresy that absolutizes the right to self-defense. That means learning what the Church means by the “common good” and “solidarity” (terms I will leave the reader to search out in the Catechism). Really internalizing the meaning of both terms will require putting to death an awful lot of the libertarian ideology that dominates discourse on the Right. But that’s okay, since the goal of life is to have the mind of Christ, not to prop up insane and destructive human ideologies past all reason.

As to questions of human law, my basic take is “The law (including the Constitution) was made for man, not man for the law”. So while I respect our institutions and don’t think they should be changed lightly, I also don’t lose sleep over the possibility of altering the Constitution (or our interpretation of it) should it get in the way of weightier matters like the protection of innocent life.

I am highly skeptical that mere confiscation edicts are a) likely, b) feasible or c) likely to produce the desired result of curbing gun violence. Yet almost all of the conversation from the right has centered on this phantasm, as is the way with heretics who take any assertion of the common good (“No more Sandy Hooks”) as the absolute negation of their pet truth (“So you want to confiscate guns and leave us prostrate before HITLERSTALINMAOBAMA!!!!, home invaders, and rapists!”).

What I, in fact, think is that, in addition to addressing the problems in the soul–sin, the destruction of the family, drugs, the encouragement of violence in everything from video games and TV shows to secessionist fantasies of civil war (which is, recall, “why we need the second amendment: to protect us from the government” and is absolutely a corrollary of the guns ‘n secession yakkery)–we also need to find some clever technological ways to keep this particular form of tech out of the wrong hands while allowing it to remain in the right hands.

Guns are, at the end of the day, technology. We have long devised ways to help keep technology from being accessed by the Wrong People. That’s why your bank does not keep your money in a big heap on the floor in the middle of the bank so that total strangers can help themselves. They keep it in a place where only you can get it. It’s why we put pieces of tech called “locks” on pieces of tech called “your house”. It’s why you need a key to start your car. We are, in fact, very clever monkeys when we put our minds to things and have been known to send people to the moon when we felt it was an issue of urgent national importance. Are such pieces of tech flawless and foolproof? Of course not. And yet common sense says “Lock your car” anyway. And the more precious (or deadly) something is, the more security tech we use. So if you live in a safe neighborhood, you might just lock the door. If you live in a rougher one, you might add a deadbolt or alarm. If you are a lab working with the ebola virus, you take even more precautions so that somebody who feels he has a “right to biological arms” does not assert this at the expense of the population of New York City’s right to live. This is only complicated if we want it to be.

So, in addition to the steps I mention above, I think the most sensible way of approaching the regulation of guns (which the *Church* says the state has the right and obligation to do, whatever the merely human tradition of the second amendment might say) is something along these lines:

I would mandate a change in technology so that weapons could only be fired by those authorized to fire them. I’m talking about weapons with some sort of code or key or retinal scan or voiceprint or fingerprint ID system. Perhaps something as simple as a distinctive finger swipe pattern like my son’s cell phone requires. We use such systems all the time on other pieces of tech we don’t want the wrong person screwing around with. We could invent something for guns too.

I would make those new weapons in a calibre incompatible with conventional weapons. Then I would mandate that only bullets in the new calibers could be manufacturered or sold in the US. No, it won’t “fix the problem” instantly (and we all know from “maintain the status quo at all costs” gun heretic rhetoric that if something does not have an immediate 100% success rate with respect to gun violence it’s futile, utopian and useless and should not be attempted because Give Up Now). But utopians like me think it would move us toward a reduction in gun violence as the old bullets and guns become obsolete and user-specific ones take over.

And yeah, I would have no objection to arranging exchanges of the old tech for new at a discount, as well as the recycling of old bullets into new ones. Think of it as creating guns with safeties only the right people can take off.

In such a system, the right to own guns is maintained for the right people, but taken away from the wrong people. Seems like a sound first step to me.

I’m not a gun confiscation zealot for the reasons stated above, so I don’t care about collectors and such. I think of this more in terms of a tech upgrade, with some muscle from the State. So just as car manufacturers are mandated to build in seat belts and airbags without Caesar having to run around confiscating cars without them and, over time, the consumer wants the good car with the airbag and not the piece of crap without one, so user-specific guns would come to naturally take over the market without any of the fantasies of Hitleresque confiscations that have dominated the discourse in cyberspace since Sandy Hook. I *would* favor the state destroying conventional weapons as it finds them (in drug busts, etc.) and I have no problem with the state facilitating some sort of discount for people who exchange their conventional weapons for the user specific tech. The idea is to make our present conventional guns the arms equivalent of an 8086 computer. They still exist. But who wants one? Had such tech been present in the Lanza house, Nancy Lanza and a lot of kids would still be alive today. Such a weapon, stolen by a thug, is useless except to pound nails with the butt.

All this is well within our technological capability to achieve. Will it inconvenience some gun enthusiasts? Probably. My answer: tough. The common good and the protection of innocent human life trumps the heretical belief that convenience for gun owners is the primary good. In the end, such a tech upgrade will preserve the right of reliable people to a weapon of self-defense (a real, but subordinate, good) while respecting the common good and helping to reduce the chance that weapons will be accessible to the wrong hands.

Worth a shot, so to speak.

Oh, one last thing. Another lousy argument put forward by the gun lobby is that guns are “morally neutral”. No. Technology affects the way we think. When we acquire or invent new tech, we start to think in new ways. When you acquire the means to inflict violence and death on people, you start imagining scenarios in which you might do it. You begin to *ready* yourself to shoot and even to kill. I know people who, on at least two ocassions have come within seconds of killing innocent people because, as gun owners, they had trained themselves to view such people as *threats*. (On one occasion, it was a guy who had accidently been sent to the wrong hotel room by a desk clerk and walked in. On another ocassion, it was simply a high-spirited teen running across a grocery story parking lot, whooping and hollering as he gathered up shopping carts. My first thought in both cases, would not be to assume they were threats at all. The man I know was thinking, instantly, of shooting both of them.) In short, the accumulation of arms brings with it the temptation to use those arms in order to vindicate the expense–and in order to say to critics of accumulation of arms that you were a tough-minded realist and they were buttercup-twirling peaceniks. Such tech does not exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationship with fallen man and has an impact on him. That fact needs to be taken into account by those who assert simple slogans like “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

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