The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook school shooting
Tom Smith

A surprisingly sober take from the NY Times.

We can't even imagine what the parents are going through and in truth we would not even want to if we could.  My family leaves for Connecticut in a few days to spend Christmas in an idyllic little town there, about 45 minutes south of Newtown, but I know these terrible events are going to be haunting the usual celebrations, if they are even held. How could it be anything but a black Christmas in Connecticut this year? LWJ was driving home with my 9 year old when the news came on the radio. He started shouting "I don't want to hear this!" One wants to cover one's ears, then cover one's face.

People are naturally asking what can be done to stop this sort of thing from happening. Suggestions I have seen range from Piers Morgan saying nobody but the police should be allowed to own guns, as in the UK, to calls for recognizing the presence of supernatural evil in human life, and a resort to religion. Supporters of gun control will, and are, calling for more regulation. It seems doubtful, however, that Congress in its current form is going to pass any new, substantial gun regulation.

Nor, in my view, should they. Others may feel differently, but the fact that I am reminded that there are crazy, evil people running around in the world with guns, makes me less, not more inclined to give up the pistol I have in a gun safe upstairs.  In a country with 300 million guns and lately, 40 million more each year, it seems unlikely that any program designed to take away guns would do more than partially disarm the law-abiding. I live in a semi-rural area where I suspect most of my neighbors own guns and I'm glad they do. The response of the sheriff to calls out here is leisurely at best, yet one hears of burglaries rarely, unlike the UK, where they are an epidemic, in part because attempting to defend your home with a gun would seem to be a far more serious crime than the invasion itself. The point has been made a million times before, but depriving people of not just a legitimate use, but the legitimate use of guns, the right to defend oneself, the rock on which most of the social contract theory not just our nation, but modern enlightenment government in general (see, e.g., Hobbes and Locke), in order to prevent what are unspeakably horrible, but thankfully still extremely rare, crimes, would be both bad policy and an unjustified violation of people's rights. This doesn't mean that regulations designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, such as criminals and the mentally ill, are not important.  

A great deal can be said about all this and will be, but I'm just fundamentally against the idea that we hand ourselves over to the care of the state, even in something so fundamental as self-defense. The argument that some among you might be crazy, so all of you now must give up your right to own guns, just isn't something people with an active sense of their own competence and freedom should find persuasive. (Not to mention the non-trivial fact that this right is expressly memorialized in our Constitution, at least until a new Supreme Court can be convinced to get rid of it.) I feel this way partly because at lease where I live the state is not up to the job of defending everything they should and given that California will become bankrupt in the next several years, unless there is a massive federal bailout, things could very well get worse.  At times of natural disaster, as happened where I live during the 2007 fires, when social order partially broke down (there was some looting), the inability of the state to defend people against crime (not to mention fire, another area of inadequate protection) becomes clear. None of this of course will make anybody feel better about what happened in Connecticut.

This is also a sober take.

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"nobody but the police should be allowed to own guns, as in the UK": which is, of course, untrue. In the UK the police have monopoly legal use of pistols. Shotgun permits are pretty easy to get, rifle licences harder. (I sold my rifle and gave up my licence years ago.)

Posted by: dearieme | Dec 15, 2012 4:51:06 PM

I have read that Norway has quite restrictive gun laws.

Posted by: Kieth | Dec 16, 2012 4:19:52 PM

How many of the people who have been involved in shootings have been legal gun owners? I'd venture very few of them.

Posted by: titan | Dec 17, 2012 8:19:17 AM

Not sure the idea of only the police having guns is a good one.

Posted by: Mike Kimball | Dec 18, 2012 3:39:33 PM