Guns, gun control, gun rights — these are hot topics these days, and rightly so. They’re complex social and political issues and the rhetoric on both sides is often off-putting and entirely unhelpful. As with abortion, arguing about the extreme ends of the issue does little to address the enormity of the problem in the middle. It’s clear that we shouldn’t outlaw owning any and every firearm, and it’s equally clear that we shouldn’t allow unrestricted access to any and every firearm. But where to draw the line between those two extremes? That’s where things get messy.
A gun, sitting alone on a shelf, will never kill someone. But people can and do pick up that gun, and once a gun is in the hands of a living breathing person, all bets are off – for we as a human race have always had a nearly uncontrollable blood-lust, and no amount of legislation will ever be able to stymie our desire to kill one another.
When discussing these issues, I think it’s important to consider guns not simply as morally neutral mechanical tools, but instead as representing the power to terminate life. Discussions about gun control are really about the right to terminate life:
Do we, as individuals, have the right to end another human’s life?
In defense of our family or property?
In defense of ideals such freedom and happiness?
And if so, what gives us this right? And should there be restrictions or limitations on that right? Or should we have absolute power to end the existence of someone we feel is threatening our life or liberty?
Do we want to live in a society in which an individual, no matter how sane and reasonable their state of mind seems to be, can deliberately choose to end the life of another individual, no matter how insane and unreasonable their state of mind and actions may be?
Perhaps these are idealistic questions, out of touch with the reality of the situation. There are millions of guns already in circulation and legislation alone seems unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the epidemic of gun violence.
But should we, as individuals and as a nation, sacrifice idealism on the altar of pragmatism? Or should we set forth in law how we want to live, even knowing full-well that we will fall short of that goal?
I don’t have any answers that will “fix” the gun problem. I suspect it’s a problem that can’t be fixed. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make a concerted effort to address it. To effectively deal with the hard issues of individual rights and individual restrictions means that we must approach the discussion not with arrogance or fear or alarmism, but with a humility brought about by the understanding that we are, in a very real way, talking about issues of life and death.