Why we don’t want an armed society

Really enjoyed this on-line conversation between Jeffrey Goldberg, author of the recent article, “The case for more guns and more gun control” and fellow Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates (TNC).  Not surprisingly, I thought TNC got the better of the exchange.  Goldberg kept on asking whether TNC would want to be armed or not if there was a crazed killer about, but TNC adeptly argued that this is not the question we should be discussing (i.e., it’s just as misleading as always trying to put torture in the ticking time-bomb scenario).  I especially liked this exchange where he put the scenario into the cost-benefit of what it means to carry a gun on  a regular basis:

 It is not enough to have a gun, anymore than it’s enough to have a baby. It’s a responsibility. I would have to orient myself to that fact. I’d have to be trained and I would have to, with some regularity, keep up my shooting skills. I would have to think about the weight I carried on my hip and think about how people might respond to me should they happen to notice. I would have to think about the cops and how I would interact with them, should we come into contact. I’d have to think about my own anger issues and remember that I can never be an position where I have a rage black-out. What I am saying is, if I were gun-owner, I would feel it to be really important that I be a responsible gun-owner, just like, when our kids were born, we both felt the need to be responsible parents. The difference is I like “living” as a parent. I accept the responsibility and rewards of parenting. I don’t really want the responsibilities and rewards of gun-ownership. I guess I’d rather work on my swimming. And I think, given the concentration of guns in a smaller and smaller number of hands, there’s some evidence that society agrees…

[JG] … We’ll get to the other questions later, but this is important: In the situation I just described above, would you rather have a gun, or rather not?

TNC: The crucial difference is that I don’t accept the premise. In other words, if I have “have a gun” in that situation, other things are then also true of my life. In other words, there is no “me” as I am right now that would have a gun. That “me” would spend a good amount time being responsible for his weapon.It’s not so much a situation that, if I were with you and we were facing down a crazy dude, I wouldn’t want to have a gun. It’s that I’ve already made choices that guarantee that I couldn’t have one. It just isn’t possible, given my life choices. I’d much rather work toward a world where the psychotic shooter is actually a psychotic knifer, or a psychotic clubber [emphasis mine]…
I guess my point is, I have a hard time with a construction of violence that begins and ends in the moment of violent confrontation. My belief is that an intelligent self-defense begins long before that dude with the AR-15 in hand appears. If we’re down to me licking off shots, then we are truly lost. And I say that as a dude with a huge poster of Malcolm X on his wall.
Goldberg certainly makes about the best case I’ve heard for more guns as he’s not at all an NRA gun-nut.  He’s trying to look at things pragmatically– including America’s current legal regime and gun culture– and come to the conclusion that the best solution is not only more gun control, but also more guns.  It’s not entirely unreasonable.  That said, I do think the argument that this is really not the kind of society that we want to live in and really is more compelling.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

4 Responses to Why we don’t want an armed society

  1. Mike from Canada says:

    David Frum makes the argument, with a Harvard School of Health study, that having more guns means more gun confrontations, and people who have a deadly weapon at hand when they go into a “rage black out’, as suggested by TNC.

    He then goes on to give examples of normal situations where a stupid argument or disagreement turns into a murder. And we hear about these situations ALL the time. Literally, all the time. Every day, day in and day our, people are killing each other for no other reason then someone has a gun at hand when they get angry.

    Frum further argues that many encounters in which gun owners say they successfully defended themselves, when pressed for a full story, are often in the position of not having been threatened at all and in fact they were brandishing a firearm illegally. Because they saw the situation completely differently then what it was.

    I believe because most people are not trained for confrontation, when they get into confrontations, even minor confrontations they become pumped up with adrenalin which restricts their ability to think. Small situations turn deadly because the person is suddenly in fight or flight mode. Their brain is screaming at them “DANGER DANGER DANGER” even if there isn’t really danger. Humans are programed to avoid confrontation. We will go out of our way to avoid confrontation. But then often our egos get in the way and mess it all up.
    I’ve seen this occur even when the other party is acting completely rationally, soft spoken without any threatening moves. Never mind after someone is having a really bad day, or week, or month.

    I had this happen to me when dealing with really bad next door neighbors. A house turned into a rental triplex. Constant parties, constant trash, bottles, cups and stuff tossed into my yard. I kept finding bones in my yard on that side of the house. I caught my dog trying to eat a chicken bone, which can kill them slowly and painfully. One day I watched a tenant place stereo speakers on the patio, face them to my house, then crank up the volume. He then went inside and closed the door. The last straw was when one of the tenants was evicted they put all his crap in front of MY house. Their house is on the corner, so two full property frontages. But no, it all went in front of mine. I moved it to the front of their house. They moved it back. I was just on the edge of losing control I was just so angry.

    Anyways, I settled down, considered the problem, created a plan, acted on it, and I have never had a problem with that house since. Except for the young woman screaming to all bloody hell that she’s going to kill her boyfriend every four days for three weeks, and that he stole her cigarettes. At the top of her lungs. At three am. Good times. I’m glad I have good solid walls that deaden the sound.

    David Frum:

    • Steve Greene says:

      Yeah excellent Frum column. Of course, inquiring minds want to know what this successful plan of action of yours was.

    • itchy says:

      It’s not just having a gun when you’re angry. It’s having a gun when you’re scared or confused or depressed or doing five things at once or … basically going about your daily life. Carrying a gun makes it far more likely that you’ll shoot someone and does almost nothing to decrease the odds that you’ll get shot. Look to the inner cities, and you see that having a gun greatly increases the likelihood that you’ll get killed because the “other guy” has to shoot first, think later. The argument that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is not just wrong; the truth is exactly the opposite. If the other guy thinks you have a gun, you’re shot before you knew there was a bad guy.

      I would guess that being trained in confrontation actually increases the likelihood that one would use unnecessary deadly force. You’re already primed for confrontation. I agree with Coates that having everyone armed also means having everyone armed with an itchy trigger finger.

  2. Mike from Canada says:

    It was really quite simple, and I’m a little ashamed I never thought of it before. That’s what happens when I let anger get the better of me.

    I stopped being nice and putting their junk back in their yard in out of the way spots. I put it in their driveway, large pieces that are hard to miss. I wanted them hard to miss because I wouldn’t want their vehicles to accidentally run over them and cause lots of damage to their cars. I placed them so they would be surprised by them being there, but still have enough time to stop. Unless they were going way too fast.

    I made sure I explained that to any of the tenants I happened to see, that I was simply returning the trash that someone, I don’t know who, was dumping in my yard, and if they are concerned they should talk to the land lord. I explained I was very sorry for the inconvenience, but I was tired of having to constantly deal with the trash that keeps appearing in my yard, always along their yard. I would try my level best to ensure I didn’t accidentally put anything in harms way again. The next two tenants had to brake hard then move junk before they could park. Then I gave them the spiel.

    Now the junk is piling up higher and higher in their yard. It’s not great, but it beats the heck out of it being dumped into or in front of mine.

    I try to be a decent neighbor. I try to be respectful of others. I don’t cut the lawn at 5am, I don’t have loud late night parties, I clean up after my dog. I don’t let my dog bark all day. I don’t dump garbage in others yards. I don’t think it’s too much to expect the same.

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