Thoughts on Guns, Violence, and Self-Protection

True to form, and without missing a beat, the usual suspects are in the process of exploiting the murder of school children in Uvalde, Texas to advance their campaign to divest law-abiding citizens of their guns.

And, all too predictably, those citizens, represented by conservative media influencers and GOP politicians, behave like Pavlovian dogs in defaulting to playing defense as they shriek in terror over the prospect that the government may succeed at “disarming” them.

First, notice that both gun-grabbers and gun-enthusiasts make the same mistake: They both anthropomorphize an inanimate object. Both mystify the gun. Both fetishize it, treating it like a magic wand. 

For the gun-grabbers, it is the gun that is responsible for the damage that bad people inflict with it. For the gun enthusiasts, the gun provides virtually absolute protection from bad people. “Well, if I’m attacked, I’ll just grab my gun!” This is a common refrain among otherwise decent guys who are just as guilty of personifying the gun as are the advocates of nonsensical gun legislation.

Both forget that the gun, like any other tool, is a mindless, lifeless thing. It is only as effective as the person wielding it.

Second, transforming the gun into a talisman accounts for why gun enthusiasts equate, or at least seem to equate, the right to self-protection exclusively with the right to possess guns. It explains why being “disarmed” and being without a gun are regarded as mutually synonymous and, thus, why being without a gun is considered the equivalent of being defenseless

Corporate media talking heads and scribblers are quick to headline every shooting of an “unarmed”—invariably black—criminal suspect by police. Their shameless racial politicking aside, there can be no denying that their selection of terms is intended to capitalize upon this popular notion that to be “unarmed” is to be without a gun and that being unarmed means, then, that a person is not dangerous, or at least significantly less dangerous than he would be otherwise.

Third, that gun owners should wax hysterical over the prospect of being “disarmed” and rendered “defenseless” by their government, to say nothing of attempting to dialogue with those who they’re convinced are hellbent upon stripping them of their firearms, only reinforces my growing suspicion that many, and perhaps most, of the tens of millions of undoubtedly decent Americans who currently own guns should seriously reconsider their decision to have purchased them in the first place.

Precisely because the gun is only as useful as the person to whom it belongs, a person who lacks the physical and, critically, psychological training to be as proficient as possible in the deployment of a firearm in the way it was meant to be deployed—i.e., to kill assailants—is as much a danger to himself and other innocents as a child with a gun.

And unfortunately, those gun owners who have partaken in the hysterics erupting from those in conservative media and other places over the possibility of having their guns confiscated—or of being “disarmed,” in their view—do indeed sound like children.

At the very least, they don’t sound at all like warriors. They don’t sound as if they believe their own liberties are worth defending, for they seem to have quickly forgotten, if they ever realized this to begin with, that the men who ratified the Constitution bequeathed to their “posterity” the Second Amendment so that the citizenry would never lack the means of combating the government if it should become tyrannical.

Now, this generation of Americans who are hyper-anxious over the prospect of being “disarmed” and who are knocking themselves out trying to persuade their oppressors not to “come for their guns” need to ask themselves one very simple question:

Would the founders have behaved as they are behaving now? 

The question, being rhetorical, answers itself. When they felt their government had crossed a line from which there was no turning back, they went all in, putting their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line to defend their liberties. When their initial attempt at peaceably establishing their independence was met with resistance, it was only then that they went to war.

Ultimately, adult men and women must reckon with the fact that it is they alone who are responsible for their own well-being. Political junkies, even when they are talking the talk of “personal responsibility” and “individualism,” fail to recognize just how disempowering political engagement can be. They fail to appreciate the extent to which they’ve been conditioned to discern problems—potentially cataclysmic crises—everywhere they look, emergencies with solutions always far off in the future that can be achieved only by others. 

In execution, if not necessarily in conception, American politics cultivates in those who fall under its spell a proclivity to focus upon what they lack, and an irrational belief in a kind of political messianism, the belief that they can be made whole only by way of politicians—euphemistically regarded as “leaders”—who they must elect and reelect.

It is this worldview, I submit, that accounts for the default response of so many gun owners to the threat from gun-grabbers. They turn to something outside of themselves, the gun, for their protection. If, though, they absorbed the gun into themselves, so to speak; if they trained physically and psychologically to become the gun, to become the death of those who would prey upon innocents, then they would recognize that the gun—like any other artificial weapon of which they may avail themselves—is but an extension of their natural weaponry, their minds and bodies. The gun, then, will basically be along for the ride.

Rather than partake of the perpetual collective bitch fest that is the GOP-conservative media machine, there are steps individuals can take right now to enrich their own lives. And they don’t need politicians and pundits who promise them a better state of affairs in some distant future (after Republicans regain control of the government for the umpteenth time) to do it.

Conservatives are tirelessly, albeit correctly, decrying the victim mentality—the mentality of weakness—purveyed by Democrats. Yet they also seem to lack self-awareness at times. For if they had it, they would realize that they, too, conduct themselves as if they believed that they are victims. At no time do they sound weaker than when they act as if their right, their obligation, to defend themselves and defend themselves and their loved ones by bearing firearms (if the gun is their weapon of choice) is even remotely negotiable.    

It isn’t. Until and unless law-abiding citizens train themselves to become convicted of this truth, until they reconcile themselves to the brute fact that it will be by whatever means necessary they will protect themselves and other innocents within their care from the predations of the violent or the evil, they will continue to be hysterical and anxious over the prospect that their government will “disarm” them.

When, however, a person has trained himself to feel in the very marrow of his being that no one, whether one or many and regardless of position and power, is going to have any more luck depriving him of his right to defend himself and his family than they would have in coercing him or his children to board a train destined for a concentration camp—well, this is a total game-changer. It’s a different mindset.

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About Jack Kerwick

Jack Kerwick earned his doctorate degree in philosophy from Temple University. His areas of specialization are ethics and political philosophy, with a particular interest in classical conservatism. His work has appeared in both scholarly journals and popular publications, and he recently authored, The American Offensive: Dispatches from the Front. Kerwick has been teaching philosophy for nearly 17 years at a variety of institutions, from Baylor to Temple, Penn State University, the College of New Jersey and elsewhere. His next book, Misguided Guardians: The Conservative Case Against Neoconservatism is pending publication. He is currently an instructor of philosophy at Rowan College at Burlington County.

Photo: Mindy Schauer/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images