The War on Terror

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

What are arms?

An intercontinental ballistic missile? A tactical nuclear device? A MiG-29? A tank? A Gatling gun? Chlorine? Ammonium nitrate? A sword? Any blade longer than three inches? A penknife? Knitting needles? Tweezers? Shoes? A stick? My hands?

What does it mean to keep and to bear?

There have been some laws made on this subject since 1791. There have even been discussions about the placement of the commas.

Let’s imagine for the moment that the Second Amendment is plain on its face, and that Congress, and, by way of the 14th, the several States, shall make no law concerning the simple possession of a weapon.

Let’s make this assumption because otherwise everyone just shouts past each other. Fear and shouting among the populace is all well and good if one’s intent is to retain power, but it doesn’t address difficulties surrounding the use of weapons.

How else, other than by forbidding possession of weaponry, might one address the fears expressed by the citizenry?

Because there is no doubt they are afraid. Parents are afraid their children will die in school. Children are afraid that they will die in school. And fear is one of the defining reasons why one has a weapon.

Let’s not amplify those fears.

Because we are afraid, we want to prevent Bad Things from happening. We want assurances that nothing will go wrong, that no one will die. Unfortunately, those are not assurances that can be made. Everyone dies. Media vita in morte sumus, etc.

Let’s not discuss prevention. That way lies pre-crime. While prevention is exactly what we want, it is imaginary. The aforementioned fact of life, and the rules of the game, which preclude certain actions and insist that one be punished only for what one has done not what one intends, stand in the way. For good reason. Jesus may say,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. [Matthew 5:21–22 (ESV)]

But we are not omniscient. We are fallible.

Let’s discuss risk reduction.

Perhaps it would help to ask different questions. What might reduce the probability of murder? What might reduce the probability of accidental death?

To answer these, it would help to know the cause.

In the case of murder and suicide, the weapon is a means to an end. The choice of weapon is often a matter of convenience. In America, guns are convenient. The kill decision is made by a human. Why? Because it was Monday? One interesting thing that’s been discovered in recent years is that math describing epidemics can also be used to describe violent crime: murders behave as if they are contagious. Mass murders, whether in one event or a series, are generally thought to result from a disconnect from society. Why? Violent crime is strongly correlated with young men. Why? Violent crime is correlated with a disproportionate allocation of sexual partners. Why? Men commit most intimate partner violence. Why?

In the case of accidents, there is no intent; the weapon is the cause, and risk reduction is related to training, handling requirements, liability insurance, and torts.

Accidental gun-related deaths are easy to address. Start there.

You can have the gun. But you are liable for the consequences of its use.

This is a different discussion than in other countries because the Second Amendment removes the obvious remediation from discussion. One cannot simply take away the child’s toy. Work within that limit. What sort of creative solutions to the actual problems–murder and suicide–can be found?


Also published on Medium.

3 Replies to “The War on Terror”

  1. The Liberal Gun Club reminded me that I forgot about suicide, which shouldn’t have happened since I like Camus’s The Myth of Sisyphus.

    Now I’m looking for data tables in order to rank accidents, suicides, and homicides… and CDC says I was wrong. Always helps to check your data.

    In 2016, deaths by firearm
    * where the death was unintentional: 495
    * where the death was suicide: 22,938
    * where the death was homicide: 14,415
    * where the death was legal intervention or operation of war: 510
    Total: 38,358

    1. Interesting take and a good starting point. I would also suggest tackling the desire to own semi-automatics etc from a psychological perspective. To me it represents a twisted sense of masculinity, “look at me with my big gun!”. I think we can reframe that!

      1. One of the commentators I read, forget who, remarked that the young men who’ve shot up their schools tend not to have present fathers. Which, of course, is not to say that any father is better than no father. There’s been discussion of a lack of “positive male role models” and secure masculinity in the U. S. for several decades now, and of a somewhat perverted sense of strength that doesn’t admit vulnerability. There may be good works that address manhood, but it some days seems as if we insist on failing our children by requiring that they be stereotypes and good consumers. Not quite sure how we can escape that except through patient attention. Perhaps addressing the general malaise of powerlessness?

        This remembrance of his childhood experiences with firearms by Walter Johnson is a bit harrowing.

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