The Dream of Maximum Guns

I don't have too much to say about yesterday's events, except to note that the victims are very much in my thoughts, and in my heart. 


Reading through the Times coverage this morning, however, I caught this:

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who has waged a national campaign for stricter gun laws, offered a political challenge. "Maybe it's time that the two people who want to be president of the United States stand up and tell us what they are going to do about it," Mr. Bloomberg said during his weekly radio program, "because this is obviously a problem across the country." 

Luke O'Dell of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a Colorado group on the other side of the debate over gun control, took a nearly opposite view. "Potentially, if there had been a law-abiding citizen who had been able to carry in the theater, it's possible the death toll would have been less." Some survivors thought at first they were witnessing a promotional stunt. 

The gunman, wearing what Aurora Police Department officials described as nearly head-to-toe "ballistic gear," including a throat protector and leggings, plus a gas mask and a long black coat, came in through a parking lot exit door near the screen of Theater 9.

It's quite clear that neither Obama nor Romney will be proposing any kind of legislation in this instance. The national Democratic party has basically fled the field, in terms of gun control--modest or otherwise. I think this about right:

"Nothing happened when a congresswoman was shot in the head," said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington. "Nothing happens when dozens of kids are shot in a movie theater. It's a terrible truth, but it is the truth nonetheless."

It's worth thinking about what kind of legislation this would even be, and what it would be designed to prevent. But what interests me is the opposing logic--that had there been someone in the crowd who was armed this tragedy could have been lessened the body-count. I'm not, by any means, anti-self-defense. I pretty much believe that when you initiate violence, you have put your life on the roulette table and whatever happens is on you. 

But there's something fantastical about O'Dell's argument, when you carry it out. It's worth considering the wisdom of waging a shoot-out in a crowded theater with a mad-man in body-armor. More than that, we should consider the import of the the argument's implication--a fully, and heavily, armed citizenry. If we all are going to agree to be armed, surely I don't want my arms to be inferior to the arms of my potential adversaries--a category including virtually any other citizen. The Aurora shooter was evidently in full body-armor. I need to upgrade to hand-grenades. And so we arrive at a kind of personal arms race, 

And we arrive at a world with minimal trust in the state's ability to deploy violence on our behalf--a distrust of the authorities whom we pay to protect us, a cynicism which says those authorities are beyond reform, and that only through this personal arms race, can a person sleep at night. 

And too we are left with the deeply held belief that, somehow, we can always outgun those who would do us harm, or at least our end can come at the place of our choosing.  Now we are cousined to immortality. Now we are chin-level with our various Gods. 

It's worth considering what we mean by a safer society, and whether it can be secured through a cold war of all against all. It's worth asking if the world really needs more George Zimmermans.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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