I was impressed with the 18-year-old Sam Zeif who spoke at the White House after the Parkland, Florida school shooting. He lost his best friend and was very sad about it. He spoke very intelligently and was extremely articulate. But he asked a question that deserves an answer, and a lot of people who don’t shoot much, or understand the philosophic premise of the Second Amendment are asking the same question. Young Zeif said it a couple of times, he wanted to know why he could still buy “weapons of war” at the store and suggested that we’d all be better off if America adopted a similar policy as Australia—and had a general gun confiscation policy. I heard that and a natural tension went up my spine wanting to defend the basic assumption. However, I don’t blame the kids so much for not understanding the scope of the situation, they have learned it in their schools and in the temperament of their intuitional interaction. Yet most gun owners know and understand otherwise, and that knowledge is often traditionally transferred from generation to generation for a reason that is specific to American culture and is why we can go to the store and buy weapons of war. Young Sam apparently has not had the benefit of this generational exchange, so I’ll offer it here for him and those of a like mind.
Whenever I buy a new gun it is always a magical experience. I love every single new one and the thrill of it never stops. Guns always represent power and strength and the bigger and meaner the better. Being weapons of war is a very foundational way to look at them, but what they represent is aggression and defense. Yet ultimately, they stand for freedom, freedom from aggression, freedom from authoritarian rule, freedom from any sinister forces that might want to steer your life in a direction of their choosing, not yours. Having big, mean, powerful guns means you are on equal terms with even the most vicious aggressor out there in the world that may have ill intentions toward you, and having an option against those forces brings about freedom that only a gun can yield.
The world that many rock stars have sung about, and what Sam Zeif by default articulated does not exist. There is no institution in the world that is completely trustworthy, especially with our lives. We may wish for that to be the case, but even in the Parkland school shooting there were so many hired people who failed from the institutional point of view that no reasonable argument in their defense can be made. We would be fools to trust completely that the FBI would do their jobs 100% of the time. We’d be idiots to assume that local law enforcement will get it right in every circumstance. In the Parkland shooting there are reports now that up to four officers near the incident failed to confront the shooter, so even those officially sanctioned to use guns get it wrong a lot of the time—more than is acceptable. That doesn’t mean we should scrap our society into anarchy, but it does mean that we need another layer of security in our lives that is individually driven. We should leave it to the professionals—those we pay to worry about security and the laws we make as a society, but we should always look to ourselves first.
To assume that if all the guns in the world were confiscated that we would all by default fall into a society of peace is just ridiculous. Human beings probably have at least 100,000 more years of evolution before the basic natures of our existences change for the better, where aggression isn’t part of our interaction with each other. People are always competing with one another, there are always bigger people, smarter people, faster people, better looking people, etc., who will leverage their talents and abilities against others to acquire what they think they need to live. It was only through the invention of the gun and the general distribution of reading through the printing press that freedom from static institutions began to falter and the cultures of individuality began to spring up around the world, most notably in the early American colonies for which our Constitution was written. Before people could read things for themselves and defend what they acquired through that knowledge with personal defense, societies were strung together through kingships and nobility. The gun freed us all from that enslavement.
But go to any corporate environment and you will see the same primitive mechanisms at work, people using whatever skills of superiority they have over others to acquire advantages for themselves. War is a trait of human beings, even two nicely mannered women will fight over who has the best flower bed, the best pie, or even the largest diamond ring. It is in the nature of human beings to be competitive, even if the foundations are rooted in destruction. But when a person has a gun and they are smaller than another person with a gun, they are both suddenly equal. Guns are the ultimate equalizers, having guns puts everyone on the same footing essentially making firearms a major contributor to the furtherance of a human species working toward objectives that supersede the typical primitive motivations of past millennia. Many of the advancements made in America are because of the gun, not in spite of them. People who might in any other society be pushed to the back of the pecking order line were able to profess their ideas about things knowing that they wouldn’t be gunned down in the street for professing them, because everyone is armed and retaliation is always a possibility. For the first time in the history of the world, individuals had power over the institutions so they could contribute to the nature of existence. If the threat of retaliation is not present, such as a big person being tempted to abuse a person of smaller stature, too often with humans an abuse of that relationship will take place because the larger person can, then the smaller person will find themselves in a weak position individually. If the smaller person has a gun, suddenly the size of the other person no longer gives them an advantage and a more equal exchange of information is possible leading to a better relationship.
Owning weapons of war even though nobody of a right mind ever thinks of using them for a destination of violence eases a mind that may always be concerned that the size of institutions may inhibit their options in life. Having big scary weapons in personal possession means that the big scary authorities who have lots of weapons of war will think twice before kicking down your door in the middle of the night to abuse their authority—just because they can. When there are people out in the world carrying around big scary weapons to prevent terrorists from attacking the foundations of our society there must also be checks in place to keep law enforcement from using that power to abuse their authority to take the possessions of people they are supposed to be watching over. We all hear of cases where traffic cops pull over a car full of girls and have forced them to perform sex acts to get out of expensive fines. Or cops detain an attractive woman and force them into a state of undress accusing them of carrying dangerous weapons just so they can have the power to strip down a beautiful woman. It happens much more than it should. The people we pay to protect us are much less prone to abuse that relationship if they have to worry that people might shoot back if they abuse their authority. We’d hope that such a thing might never happen but just looking at the abuse of the FBI against the Trump administration tells us that even at the highest levels of our government that trust is only as deep as the threat of danger that might come back at the perpetrators. Without that threat, abuse often happens in any relationship.
Ironically weapons of war are the foundations to a civil society. You will never see a lot of pushing and shoving going on at gun events where everyone is armed with a gun. Big people, small people, smart people and dumb people all treat each other respectfully because in those meetings everyone is truly equal because it’s not the biological gifts that we have which make us that way, it is the invention of the gun that takes over and puts everyone on equal footing. By taking away the temptation for aggression it forces everyone to treat each other fairly and with great respect. That’s why you don’t see mass shootings at gun shows or NRA events—and why those people tend to be very polite and respectful. The gun is an invention of equality and it works wonderfully.
So to answer Sam’s question, why can he go to the store to buy weapons of war, well, because those weapons are needed to keep human beings on an equal playing field. Institutions by themselves cannot be trusted, they often do abuse their power and so long as that is the case, which isn’t necessarily a learned behavior, but a biological one, equality must be achieved between people through an inventive process. The beauty of a fine weapon that is big and scary is that it gives the owner the ability to function in life with a level of equality that has never been possible prior to the invention of the firearm. Having that firearm forces others to deal with you at a level of respect that is unmistakable and takes away the temptations to abuse relationships for the gain of a one-sided exchange. If young women had more guns in an open carry part of their fashion, they would get harassed sexually a lot less. Because the natural relationship between a large man of 250 pounds is to show superiority over the 120-pound woman. But when she has on her hip a nice Glock or a Smith & Wesson revolver, the large man will treat the woman differently because his size and strength are no longer assets that he can claim superiority over. She is just as strong as he is just because she has a gun. If he has a gun as well, then the two are truly equal.
Traditionally when a father or grandfather gave a young man his first gun, the gift wasn’t just a weapon of war, it was an assignment of equality that let the youth engage with the world on an equal footing—even among his parental peers. For instance, the implication of the dad to the son, “you are now as strong as I am and I trust you enough to give you this gun.” Many such people never use their guns in any kind of aggressive manner, but they know if they needed to, they could and that leads to a society of greater respect in personal exchanges. If the behavior of Nickolas Cruz, the shooter in the Parkland massacre, were to be studied correctly it would be revealed that the kid was small, had been picked on for much of his life and his parents failed to give him a good philosophic foundation to live with. So he turned to the gun to become superior to his oppressors. If people at the school also had guns, then Cruz would not have such a claim to superiority that he had on the day of the shooting. But taking guns away doesn’t solve the problem—Cruz was still a kid who was picked on for being such a small person, humans are always looking for leverage over one another. Only in an equally armed society do we actually have the basis for a proper interaction based on fairness. That is why we have weapons of war for sale at an area store. They are essential to a proper and justice-based society.
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