My Guns vs. Their Children: An American Empathy Deficit

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Image by Renee Olmsted from Pixabay

I think it is safe to assume that almost all parents love their own children. There are exceptions, of course. Few would deny that there are some awful parents out there, but I think we can agree that the 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 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.

There are many challenges facing those in the U.S. who would like to see additional restrictions on gun ownership. One 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 value their 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. We can disagree about whether guns make it easier for people who want to kill others to do so. We can debate whether more "good guys with guns" is the best way to reduce gun violence. But I can't help thinking that we might be missing something important here: some people value their guns more than they value other people's children.

Suppose 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 became a victim), 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 sounded callous to others, I'd dress it up 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 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 beyond the gun issue and afflicts far more than the pro-gun crowd.

The 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 convenience 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 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 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 need to figure out how best to address our tendency to put our personal pleasures ahead of others' pain and suffering.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2018. It was revised to improve clarity and remove some typos in 2022.