Friday, December 11, 2015

The Non-Credible Threat of Guns

We were very close to buying a gun in late 2013, but then we accepted this job offer in China. Since they don't allow you to own guns here, it seemed pointless to spend a lot of money on something that was just going to sit in a relative's basement for two years.

Sometimes when I'm bored I trot out in my classroom a little feature called "Ask a Real Live American." And one of the most-popular questions to ask me is, "Tell us about guns." (Yes, my students are sports reporters, I guess.)

I tell them I was going to buy a gun, that virtually my entire family owns guns, that I have gone shooting several times in my life. They have no idea what to make of that information. I tell them that no one I know has ever been murdered. They ask if I know anyone who's been shot, and the answer is yes: my wife's cousin's first husband had been shot, years before any of us knew him. But he was also from a much different segment of society. And I suspect my uncle might have been shot once, but that was at the hands of the Viet Cong.

Are we going to buy a gun when we get back to the U.S.? Well, the way I see it, gun ownership is a non-credible threat. See, the value of an armed populace is to limit the government. But the first thing the government is going to do before becoming tyrannical will be taking away guns. So the question becomes, when an agent of the state comes to my house to confiscate my gun, am I prepared to use force to stop him? And the answer is no.

Deciding to shoot a state agent is deciding to die. Maybe not right away in a shootout, but eventually, once you've been arrested, convicted, brutalized in prison, and then executed. If I felt my death would in some real way contribute to the maintenance of freedom, then maybe I'd think about it. But America is already a coercive police state, and the only thing that would be different if I fought gun confiscation is that my family would be much poorer. That's not really something I want to do to them.

The state knows this, so they don't worry about the increase in gun sales. In fact, the more cynical among them probably own stock in firearms manufacturers. They rattle the cage on gun control and see their dividends increase, and when they finally get around to taking guns regardless to their increased numbers, most Americans will hand them over (and the state's decision-makers aren't the ones in harm's way at collection time, anyway).

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