I’ve written before about being a pro-gun progressive, most recently here, when I castigated the perfidious NRA for being a sock puppet of a very specific segment of gun owners: the ones who own thousands upon thousands of guns. That is to say, the gun industry.
I’m not entirely without self-awareness; I know it might be weird for somebody to blog about being a proud gun owner and being equally proud to oppose the NRA. I’ve given this some thought.
My usual response, whenever I have conversations about this, is the easiest one; I’m not a member of the NRA. I don’t pay dues. I’m not on their mailing lists. And I certainly don’t vote the way they want me to (This is actually the second easiest way, the easiest being to just draw down on them–after all, you’ve got a gun, and they don’t).
Obviously, this is a gauzy, somewhat flimsy argument (although I might be mistaking it for a negligee), for the simple reason that if you engage in the gun economy at all, you’re supporting the NRA. It’s not a sportsman’s advocacy group, it’s an industry advocacy group. The gun lobby and the gun industry are joined in an obscene embrace of eternal fornication, each giving birth to the other in a perversion of all that is Natural and Good.
This is only very slightly an exaggeration. The NRA fights for gun-friendly legislation, whether that’s ensuring that manufacturers can’t get sued to removing restrictions on suppressors. The gun industry benefits directly from that legislation, which means they get more cash in their pockets, which means they have more money to spend on
legal bribes lobbying with the NRA. It’s an inextricable tangle, like two jellyfish having sex.
Of course, if you’re committed, you can skirt the primary market and go straight into resale. There’s a (perfectly legal) secondary market for guns, and even ammunition; buying a gun from a pawn shop or a bucket of .22 LR off Gun Brokers closes the loop, as it were, and keeps your money from going into some rich executive’s pocket.
So if you don’t think about it too much, it’s easy to rationalize.
The entire purpose of this exercise–that is to say, writing about politics, dipping my toes into ethics, pursuing justice–is to build a better world. We Deserve Better, and all that. And surely, part of that better world would have to be a world with less violence. I’ve tried to grapple, never very successfully, with the question of violence, and I’ve settled on the controversial opinion that I’m against it. But we do not turn away from uncomfortable truths here [Yes, we do. -The Editors], so here’s the conclusion I’ve reached:
It is impossible to be a gun owner and be anti-violence.
Put another way, if you are a gun owner, you are not necessarily advocating violence, but you are implicitly giving it your blessing.
Not necessarily, surely. You can own guns and not be violent, like I am (except for the damage I do on the mic). You can be a legitimate sportsman, shooting skeet or hunting (I have opinions on that, but that’s a different topic). You can be a collector–guns are good illiquid assets, and they retain their value.
But none of that changes the fact that guns are inherently tools of violence. Their existence is built on death, and nothing can change that. The entire point of a gun, from the arquebus to Sam Colt and John Browning to Gaston Glock, is trying to figure out the best way to send a chunk of metal into somebody else (this disregards the entirely separate debate of whether or not, or to what extent, guns are phallic symbols). By having a gun in the home, or in your car, or on your hip, you are accepting the reality of that destructive capability.
But Self Defense!
There are questions about self-defense, obviously, and that’s difficult to resolve. I don’t know if I’m equipped to bring this discussion to its logical end point, which is “Is it ever acceptable to take another person’s life?” I don’t know if I have the will or the vocabulary to do that idea justice. I know that even the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had trouble with it, and the only thing about which I consider myself better informed than King is post-1970s world history. So for now, we’ll set the nuance aside, and make an assertion:
Whether or not you believe taking another person’s life is acceptable in any context, if you own a gun, you believe that taking another person’s life is acceptable.
That’s really what’s at the root of this, the idea that gun ownership and anti-violence are inherently contradictory. Right? That’s not weird.
I’ll use myself as an example. I have a concealed carry license, which means, as conservative thought-leaders are quick to remind me, I am, statistically-speaking, among the most law-abiding member of American society. Now, I don’t carry my Sig P938 because I want my belt to be heavier. I don’t carry it because I want to show it off. I carry it to kill people. I don’t like to think about it like that, of course. I prefer to look at it in terms or self-defense. The internal narrative of every American CCW holder is one of reluctant heroism, the peaceful warrior rouse to defend the righteous from the forces of iniquity. Every message board and subreddit is bursting with wish-fulfillment stories of weekend warriors and mall ninjas describing exactly how they would have reacted to the latest mass shooting (always, curiously, without any of the panic you’d expect from a guy who’s never shot his gun outside of a range).
But I digress. Is this hypocrisy? Seems like. To say that you want a world with less death, but being prepared to dispense death yourself would seem to be a contradictory position. It would seem to be one that not a whole lot of people would try to defend. I normally accomplish it the same way I justify turning on the AC and destroying the environment: I try not to think about it too much. But once you know, you can’t walk away from it.
Once you know, you have to make a call.
Once you know, words mean nothing. Once you know, only action matters.
What Should You Do With Your Guns?
My spiritual adviser, the Rt. Rev. Jack Roller, has told me that he opposes gun ownership except for oppressed minorities. I admire this stance. The implication is that self-defense, or even what the Reverend might advocate (which is a sort of pre-emptive self-defense, which other, less-enlightened people might call wanton violence), is acceptable, even if malice or cruelty is not.
That’s a decision the Reverend has to make on his own, as every right-thinking man and woman must. But for me, I think the truth makes it simple, and it results from a core conviction of mine: that when your words and actions fail to align, you have to change one or the other; you can’t go back to ignorance. Thus: If A) a person is anti-violence, and B) they own a gun, then C) they are not anti-violence. Pretty straightforward. The question then becomes How much do you believe in the principle of anti-violence?
I’m not selling my guns, at least not now. That means I don’t believe in anti-violence. My actions have undermined my words, and in recognition of that, I will change my words.
I might not like that, but I have to be okay with it.
At least, until I decide to change something else.