On Being A Pro-Gun Progressive

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

Those 27 words have probably ruined more friendships and ended more political careers than any sex scandal or religious debate. Gun rights are huge. It’s an enormous part of the political discourse. And there’s no way to deny the special relationship America has with guns, and with gun violence–there’s a hereness about gun violence that’s sadly unique in the world. Guns animate both sides of the spectrum, from the “Molon Labe” types on the right to the jackbooted gun-grabbers on the left. The NRA can make or break candidates. And the progressive Left hasn’t been able to stop it.

Here’s the thing: They shouldn’t try.

Progressives should, if not embrace gun ownership, then at least accept it. Here’s how.

Where Civil Liberties Meet Reasonable Responsibility

Part of the problem, I think, is cultural. So many coastal liberals haven’t even seen a gun. They haven’t even met anybody who owns a gun. Their exposure to gun culture is the most extreme, the most outrageous, the dudes taking their ARs into Chipotle and boycotting Starbucks. I think most of them recognize that those are stereotypes, but by and large, liberals aren’t willing to educate themselves about the real truth about gun owners, and that’s this: The Venn Diagram of “responsible, careful people” and “gun owners” is almost a circle. Of course there are assholes who screw it up for the rest of us. But a gun is a thing. Yes, if it’s used negligently or maliciously, it can take someone’s life. But so can a hammer. 


Or a sword.

I’m not suggesting that guns and hammers are equivalent. A gun has far greater potential to inflict harm than a hammer, which is why I think people who want to carry guns need to have more responsibility and more training than people who want to carry hammers.

A ten minute written exam at a DMV and a spin around the block in Dad’s Volvo is sufficient to put somebody behind the wheel of a 2,000-pound chunk of metal going 60 miles per hour. We should be able to get behind a similar test for people who want to carry firearms, we should be able to agree on what that test is, and then we should get out of the way.

Laws should exist to regulate our actions to the extent our actions impact other people; that’s why I want an emissions tax, it’s why I support speed limits, and it’s why I think gun laws need to be enforceable and enforced. Using a gun needs to have consequences, even if it’s done with justification; carrying a gun needs far fewer. In the same way that we trust people to drive safely until they prove they can’t, we should trust people to carry a gun–which, I can’t stress enough, is just an inert piece of property–until they prove they can.

I happen to think that if a person wants to buy an automatic weapon, he should be able to. But I think he needs to be able to answer some damn good questions first. I think he should be able to demonstrate he’s not a risk to himself or others. I think he should be able to prove that he knows the power and significance of the machine he’s purchasing. I think he should be able to show that he recognizes that his possession of this weapon is contingent on following a set of very clear rules. And I think the market should be used to its full effect to discourage some depressed dude from making an AK an impulse buy.

But to say that a person can’t buy a thing, can’t own a piece of property, because it has the potential for misuse? I can’t understand how anyone, especially not “Progressives” can make that argument in good faith.

Progressives need to stop making this a fight, because they’re going into it (excuse the pun) unarmed. They aren’t educated. They need to start talking to people like me–I’ll learn you.




Categories: Dispatch


3 replies

  1. What if the “thing” is a nuclear missile? History books say the USA went crazy when other nations tried to place lots of these close to them. Would you oppose the construction of nuclear silos by other nations on the border of your country?


    • I might be misunderstanding, but I think those are two different questions. The scope of the article was really about how the progressive Left should address personal gun ownership within the United States–if you will, the State’s relationship with the Citizen. Your question seems more about the State’s relationship with another State, which I think is different.

      I like to say that economics doesn’t work when things get too big and physics doesn’t work when things get too small. Maybe I should add: and the right to bear arms doesn’t work when fissile material is involved. Honestly, I’m not well-informed enough about nuclear policy to make a statement on it.



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