Confusion and anger fill the airwaves, permeate the “town halls,” and spread like an infection on social media. “Why?” ask the grave pundits, tearful parents, and earnest students. “Why do you cling to your guns? Why are these instruments of destruction more important than the lives lost to firearm violence?”
Sometimes the question is met with outright hostility. Usually, the response has something to do with rights: Constitutional rights, property rights, the right to self-defense against predators, home invaders, and tyrannical authorities. All of these are difficult for gun control advocates to understand.
Allow me to try a different approach.
To you, guns represent death. To me, they represent life.
This sentiment is not rooted in nihilism or fanaticism, it is rooted in that most enlightened and scientific of impulses: skepticism. I am skeptical that the fragile systems we rely on will never fail. This is, after all, the assumption behind gun control efforts: that we don’t need guns (some specific guns, or any guns at all, depending on who’s talking), because we have systems in place to protect us. Gun control advocates believe that these systems – police, laws, courts, surveillance – keep us safe more effectively than privately-owned firearms. Gun owners feel the opposite.
For example, how effective was the system that was supposed to keep the students safe at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School, in Parkland, Florida? Even the anti-gun New York Post decried the failures that preceded the murder of ten students by Nikolas Cruz. To recap:
- Sheriff’s office ignored concerns from neighbors that Cruz would “shoot up the school.”
- Officers visited Cruz’s home 39 times in the last seven years, and accomplished nothing.
- In 2016, the Florida Department of Children and Families investigated Cruz, concluded he was “a low risk,” and closed the case.
- FBI received a tip over a month prior to the crime, specifically regarding Cruz’s interest in conducting a school shooting, but did nothing.
- Numerous students warned of Cruz’s disturbing behavior and threats.
- The Sheriff’s deputy charged with protecting the school stood outside and listened to Cruz kill 17 people and injure 15 more.
Yet despite these catastrophic failures at the Federal, state and local level, this is is the system you trust?
Leaving aside school shootings, which, although horrifying, are only a tiny fraction of the 15,000 murders committed every year, let’s consider more common hazards. In large part, my conviction is based on first-hand experience. I have seen the system fail after floods and hurricanes here in South Carolina. The lights go out, the roads are blocked, and you’re on your own. To take a less extreme example (even though half of US homes are at risk of natural disaster), how about getting a flat tire on the wrong side of town? Or running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, at night? When you tell me I don’t have the right to a firearm, you’re telling me I have no right to survive those circumstances. If a street gang, a desperate drug addict with a kitchen knife, or even a rabid dog comes along, intending to hurt me, my wife, or our children, we don’t have the right to live.
When you tell me I can’t have a firearm because somebody else stole or misused one, you’re telling me that I should trust the system with my life. The system that I’ve seen fail over and over. The system that failed the Parkland students. You may trust the system more than you trust me, but I trust myself more than I trust the system.
This is the fundamental difference between opponents of gun control and advocates of gun control. You believe that taking away my guns will make us safer. I believe that keeping my guns will make us safer. Yes, “us,” because it is an oft-repeated axiom that “everyone is safer when criminals don’t know who’s armed.” In less theoretical terms, armed civilians defend not only themselves, but other people. Just last week, two armed bystanders quickly ended an attempted mass shooting at an Oklahoma restaurant. All the unarmed customers were safer – and are alive today – because those two men didn’t trust the system to keep them safe.
To the degree that we can understand each other, we can have a civil conversation. After all, while I think the ban on short-barrelled shotguns is absurd, I agree that civilians should not be permitted to have nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, and probably not surface-to-air missiles either (although I can think of several reasons why that might be desirable). So, clearly, the line between legal and illegal is drawn somewhere. Is it at tanks? Machine guns? Bump stocks? Required training? We can figure that out through an open dialogue.
But, if you ask me to give up my guns simply because of your belief in the system, please know that I will refuse. I will refuse, because to me they represent life. And I will not surrender my life for your beliefs.