February 18, 2018

My Guns vs. Their Children

shooting range
I think it is probably safe to assume that almost all parents love their own children. There are exceptions, of course. Few would deny that there are some truly awful parents out there, but I think we can agree that the overwhelming majority of parents are concerned about the welfare of their own children. They would not want anything horrible to happen to their children.

How do most parents and non-parents feel about other people's children? Many have great concern, compassion, and empathy. Most would express agreement with the abstract notion that children, including other people's children, are a vital aspect of our future. They should be protected, and we should all be concerned about their welfare. That said, I'd guess that most people have less concern for other people's children than they might for their own.

Among the many challenges facing those in the U.S. who would like to see additional restrictions on gun ownership is the degree to which people value their guns vs. the degree to which they value other people's children. When push comes to shove, plenty of people likely value their own access to and enjoyment of guns more than they value the lives of other people's children.

We can argue over the exact number of mass murders that might be prevented as a result of increased restrictions on guns, about whether guns make it easier for people who want to kill others to do so, and whether more "good guys with guns" is the only way to reduce gun violence. But I can't help thinking that we might be missing something important amidst these arguments: some people value their guns more than they value other people's children.

Suppose for a moment that I was such a person. I'd want to maintain my access to the guns I enjoy. Unless my own life was touched by gun violence (i.e., someone I love becomes a victim), it is not too difficult to imagine that I might say something like, "I'm really sorry about what happened to your kid, but I'm not going to let anyone make it harder for me to enjoy my guns." If I recognized that this might sound callous to others, I'd dress it up in some of the commonly used rationalizations and argue that gun control would not reduce gun violence. I'd insist, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." I might go so far as to claim that we need more guns.

We can blame the NRA, Fox News, and whoever else for these attitudes; however, I think it may be important to acknowledge that some of what we are seeing here is a cultural issue rather than a purely political one. At least some of it seems to reflect a lack of empathy for others. And if we are honest with ourselves, we'll recognize that this problem extends far beyond the gun issue and afflicts far more than the pro-gun crowd.

The social justice liberal is all-too-familiar with the stories of how iPhones are made and the abuses that occur in the factories that make them. But those people are so far away that it is easy to forget about them. Best just to go ahead and buy that iPhone. After all, why should my pleasure or convienence be sacrificed for the welfare of others? I think we're all guilty of this sort of thing in more ways than most of us would care to admit. And while most of the ways we are guilty of it do not result in children being massacred throughout the U.S., that does not mean there are no costs.

There are many things the U.S. could do to reduce incidents involving gun violence. Some of them would not make it any more difficult for "responsible gun owners" to enjoy their guns. But if we're serious about adopting measures that would restrict access to things gun owners want, we'll eventually need to figure out how best to address our tendency to put our personal pleasures ahead of others' pain and suffering.