Hobbesian Gun Control
I was struck by a passage out of this recent National Review piece by Keven D. Williamson in reference to gun control:
People have a visceral reaction to guns, which is why the reactions to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago have been so emotional. One extraordinarily telling reaction came from David Ignatius of the Washington Post, whose response was headlined: “The Supreme Court Gun Decision Moves Us Toward Anarchy.” Mr. Ignatius wrote: “My biggest worry with Monday’s Supreme Court decision is that by ruling, in effect, that every American can apply for a gun license, the justices will make gun ownership much more pervasive in a society that already has too many guns. After all, if I know that my neighbor is armed and preparing for Armageddon situations where law and order break down (as so many are — just read the right-wing blogs) then I have to think about protecting my family, too. That’s the state-of-nature, everyone for himself logic that prevails in places such as Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Mr. Ignatius here is remarkably forthcoming: He is not worried about guns in the hands of criminals, but about guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens, people who are willing to apply for a permit and jump through the bureaucratic hoops required of gun buyers. His nightmare is not an America in which criminals run amok with Glocks, or even an America in which gun permits are handed out liberally, but an America in which “every American can apply for a gun license.” Never mind the approval of licenses, the mere application gives Mr. Ignatius the howling fantods. It is wonderfully apt that he references the “state of nature” in his criticism, imagining a Hobbesian version of life in these United States: solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, permeated by the aroma of cordite. Mr. Ignatius, like Thomas Hobbes, is casting his lot with Leviathan and makes no apology for it.
That is the essence of 21st-century progressivism: In matters ranging from financial derivatives to education to gun control, the Left believes that we face a choice between a masterful state and a Hobbesian war of all against all. For all of the smart set’s vaunted and self-congratulatory nuance, it is this absolutist vision, this Manichean horror, that forms the foundation of progressivism.
This strikes me as getting rather directly at the divergence of views in regards to gun control. Conservatives, in favor of legal gun possession by citizens, are often accused of endorsing a Hobbesian worldview in which they are at war with the world and need to arm themselves in order to protect themselves. This does not, however, tie well with my experiences as a gun owner and knowing other gun owners. Far from a bunch of angry loners out for themselves against everybody, you’ll seldom run into a more friendly and outgoing bunch of guys and those down at the shooting range — eager to show you their guns, help teach beginners, offer advice, etc. Sure, there are doubtless some bozos out there who have managed to legally get hold of guns and aren’t to be trusted, but generally speaking I really don’t find myself worried about the legal gun owners of the world, least of all those who have gone through the lengthy and highly regulated process of applying for things like concealed carry permits. You are unlikely to find a group of people less likely to commit crimes than legal concealed carry permit holders.
And yet, the reaction among anti-gun advocates is entirely the opposite. To them, the ownership of a gun makes you more likely to turn violent, and nothing seems more terrifying to them than that someone might (after background checks, training and licensing by the state) be carrying a concealed handgun. It does seem very much as if they are convinced that if only people are given the means of violence, a weapon, then they will revert to some sort of savage natural state and become violent. That it is only the strong arm of the state making sure that no one possesses weapons that keeps us from all being at each other’s throats.