Larry Sechrest
Larry Sechrest

Guns, Glorious Guns!

If you want to investigate the statistics regarding guns, gun owners, and crime you will need to search elsewhere. Refer to such excellent works as John R. Lott, Jr.'s More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws or Gary Kleck's Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America. For a cogent review of the Anglo-American legal traditions of gun ownership, see Stephen P. Halbrook's That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right. The essence of all such sober and reasoned studies can be found in the conclusions that (1) the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right of ancient lineage and (2) widespread gun ownership leads to less crime and fewer innocent lives lost, not more as is so often — and so hysterically — claimed by the collectivists and cowards of all major political parties. It is not my purpose here to examine either the statistical or legal issues. Rather, I want to offer some thoughts on the psychological, sociological, and philosophical aspects of owning and using guns.

To give credibility to what I will say, I must first tell you that, despite disagreeing with some of their policies, I am a Life Member of the National Rifle Association, and that I have owned and fired a great variety of firearms over the last quarter-century or so. Lever-action rifles chambered for the .45-70 cartridge, 12-gauge pump shotguns, .22 calibre rimfire semi-automatic rifles, bolt-action rifles in 7mm Remington Magnum, .45 ACP pistols (my favorite sidearm), double-action, break-open revolvers in .455 Webley calibre, single-action revolvers in .357 Magnum. You name it, and I've probably shot it.

Before I became a college professor, for over a decade I worked in a job whose nature induced me to carry a loaded pistol on my person at all times. I've also spent considerable time studying the history and design of firearms. As a result, I have modified and customized my own guns to better serve their appointed functions. I even load my own ammunition. Though I was not raised around guns as a child — as was my wife — I now can scarcely conceive of living my life without guns in the house. And if anyone tries to take them from me, whether burglar or bureaucrat, someone is going to die.

Why would an educated, peace-loving, seemingly civilized man like me be so strongly attached to guns? Are they not the artifacts of brutes, the unmistakable signs of a hooligan mentality, the pseudo-phallic icons of the emotionally disturbed? No, no, and no. To the contrary, I have found that in the overwhelming majority of cases gun owners are more concerned with issues of right and wrong, more respectful of their friends and neighbors, and more mature than are the persons who abhor guns and recoil in horror when in their presence. Why might this be so? Is there something about the use of firearms that tends to develop such qualities? I believe there is.

I like to think of gun use as encompassing both internal (or personal) and external (or social) aspects. Being systematically perverse and curmudgeonous, I will deal with the latter first. This external dimension is the easier to identify. Indeed, it is the only beneficial aspect of gun ownership that can usually be recognized by those who have little or no experience actually using guns. I refer of course to the observation that aggressive violence can and will be met with defensive violence if private citizens possess firearms. In an armed society every person knows that if he is so reckless as to initiate aggression against the innocent, he will usually encounter armed resistance. In other words, any criminal act may be his last act. That is as it should be, for innocent life should be held inviolate (and the lives of violent criminals forfeit). Knowledge of this circumstance encourages civil behavior. But will this deterrent effect suffice to end crime?

No. First of all, some citizens, for reasons of their own, will choose not to own a gun, so some criminals will not be resisted effectively. Secondly, there will be the occasional criminal who values his own life so little that the possibility of being killed by his intended victim(s) will not deflect him from his evil path. Several headline news items over the last few years attest to the existence of such people. What can be done about this sort? Only one thing: shoot straight so as to make sure such monsters kill as few as possible! There will always be evil people among us, and we cannot reliably identify criminals until they commit, or threaten to commit, aggression. The one thing we can do is to make sure that their criminal careers are brief.

The internal aspects of gun use are more subtle but no less important. Firearms are powerful tools designed to strike at a distance, to extend a man's reach far beyond the length of his arm. Spears, slingshots, and bows and arrows all have that same purpose, but achieve it less effectively than do firearms. The first thing that impresses the novice shooter is the daunting power that he now commands. This breeds, in all but the most vicious of personalities, a deep-seated respect for the weapon's power and a concomitant sense of responsibility that is quite sobering. One quickly realizes that cool reason and attention to the rules of safe gun handling are the order of the day. Anything less can result in serious injury or death. This realization leads to fear, panic, and loathing in the muddled minds of some people. This is an irrational reaction that stems, in part, from a Luddite mentality. The potential danger from driving an automobile is surely greater than that which faces a person driving a horse-drawn wagon. But so too is the potential benefit, and precisely because the auto is better at fulfilling its purpose. That is, it is capable of a much higher velocity. The solution is not to ban automobiles, but to learn how to drive them well. The parallel observation applies to guns and their use.

Furthermore, learning to shoot well demands a great deal from most people. Eye-hand coordination is at a premium, that much is fairly obvious. But one must also control his nerves, his breathing, and his emotions. Without a high degree of self-control, one will neither handle guns safely nor consistently hit what he's aiming at. Successful technique requires self-control, but the defensive use of firearms also requires both self-esteem and self-reliance. Before you ever even consider using a gun to defend yourself, you must first decide if your life is worth defending with deadly force. If the answer is not vehemently affirmative, then stay away from guns, because you will falter when decisiveness is most needed. Moreover, let the fact sink in that you are fundamentally taking your life in your own hands. You are choosing not to depend on others, but to stake your very existence on your own skills and resolve. It is an awesome, honourable, and courageous step.

Owning and using guns fosters several virtuous, and decidedly individualistic, traits. That is the essence of why gun ownership is under attack throughout the world. Not because gun owners allegedly pose a threat to public safety — that is a ruse — but because gun owners pose a very real threat to collectivism.

If collectivists fear the private ownership of guns, then I say let's scare them to death.

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