'Order at Universal Gunpoint'

By Ta-Nehisi Coates
The other day I tried to nail down what, specifically, bothered me about the "more guns" solution to American violence. Over at The American Conservative, Alan Jacobs makes the point with which I was struggling:

But what troubles me most about this suggestion -- and the general More Guns approach to social ills -- is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian "war of every man against every man" in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now -- but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly. 

Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.) 

Is this really the best we can do? It might be if we lived in, say, the world described by Cormac McCarthy in The Road. But we don't. Our social order is flawed, but by no means bankrupt. Most of us live in peace and safety without the use of guns. It makes more sense to try to make that social order safer and safer, more and more genuinely peaceful, rather than descend voluntarily into a world governed by paranoia, in which one can only feel safe -- or, really, "safe" -- with cold steel strapped to one's ribcage.

I've talked a lot about the presumption of goodness in our society. For instance, there needs to be some sense that the mere act of arming oneself might invest you with a particular hubris, that there will be side-effects from arming educators, that placing weaponry in our elementary schools affects our broader conception of ourselves as a society. 

One of the points of a democratic society is to put brakes on our animal impulses -- impulses which are universal across humankind. I think much of our recent firearm legislation -- Stand Your Ground, for instance -- runs in the exact opposite direction. I wonder if Michael Dunn would have said one word to those kids had he not been armed.

It assumes, as Jacobs puts it, an "absolute trust" in ourselves. Jacobs cautions against making law out of white elephant events, and I think that's generally correct. But I can not escape the fact that Nancy Lanza was, as far as we know, a responsible gun owner. She was following the theory of "more guns." Those guns were then used to kill her.

UPDATE: Cleaning up the McArdle comments, which are all off-topic. I don't think it's smart to teach people to rush a guy armed to the teeth in body-armor. But I also don't want half the comments in the section wondering at Megan McArdle's prospects. Please do that somewhere else. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/12/order-at-universal-gunpoint/266410/