By Dan Baum
We who frequent this site agree, I’m sure, that an armed citizenry is a good thing. I’ve lived in several countries where the only people with guns are the military and police, and it’s not something we’d want replicated here. Also, a lot of us simply like shooting and owning guns, and we want to hold onto a hobby we enjoy. I certainly want to keep shooting the collection pictured above . . .
There’s a lot of talk on this site about what Farago likes to call our, “natural, civil, and Constitutionally protected” right to keep and bear arms. With all due respect, though, simply asserting our rights, over and over and over again, is not going to ensure that our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy gun ownership and the shooting sports. The hard truth is this: There are no “natural, civil, and Constitutionally protected” rights. In a representative democracy like ours, nobody has any rights that the majority doesn’t want him to have. Ask African Americans. Ask homosexuals.
Both groups enjoyed the same “natural, civil, and Constitutionally protected” rights as straight white men ever since the Equal Protection clause was written, but that didn’t mean they could exercise them. Blacks and gays didn’t begin enjoying their full civil rights until a majority of Americans became convinced that continuing to deny them was morally wrong and caustic to the well-being of the nation.
It wasn’t the riots that brought about the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts; it was African Americans demonstrating, under terrible duress, that they were decent, God-fearing, patriotic Americans to whom a great injustice had been done. It wasn’t Act Up that moved the needle on gay marriage; it was gays and lesbians showing the rest of us that their way of loving is as rich and worthy as anybody’s. Blacks and gays began enjoying their “natural, civil, and Constitutionally protected” rights, in other words, when they demonstrated to the majority, by moral example, that they deserved them.
How do we gun owners do the same? Electoral and legal battles won’t do it. The Heller and McDonald decisions firmly established the Constitution confers an individual right to own guns, and yet we’re still no closer to being secure in our gun rights because a great number of Americans simply don’t buy it. If we want those people truly to accept our rights to keep and bear arms, how do we replicate what African Americans and gays did, and demonstrate by moral example not only that we deserve our rights, but that everybody will be better off when they’re honored?
Not, I think, by open carrying into Kroger, insulting the “liberals” and the “gun grabbers” — the very people we need to win over — and incessantly beating our spoons on our high chairs about our “rights.” We do so by showing that we accept our responsibility, as the keepers of the national civilian arsenal, for keeping the country as safe as possible from the harm that firearms can do.
That can mean being a well-trained, concealed-carrying sheepdog when out in public. But it also means accepting that it is neither weak, nor freedom-hating, nor “liberal” to be anguished by gun accidents, suicides, and homicides, and that minimizing those incidents is not the job of politicians, but of us. We’re the ones who own the guns. We’re the ones, ultimately, who decide what happens with them.
All guns start as the legal purchases of law-abiding people, who then lose control of them. When a child finds a loaded gun and kills herself or a playmate, it’s because a law-abiding gun owner let it happen. When a teenager gets ahold of a gun and commits suicide or worse, a law-abiding gun owner let it happen. Most guns used in violent crime are stolen, usually from law-abiding people who leave them unsecured. The majority is not wrong for wanting this nonsense to stop.
The truth is that while each of us individually may believe he’s careful, as a community we are fatally sloppy. We have been so focused on bleating about our rights, that we have lifted our eye from our responsibilities. It is only by rediscovering, as a community, our commitment to the awesome responsibility of owning something as lethal as a firearm that we will ultimately secure our rights.
We need to take the lead on reducing firearm accidents, suicides, and homicides away from Shannon Watts and Michael Bloomberg and the Brady Center — who don’t understand firearms at all — and reclaim that leadership for ourselves, who do. We need to demonstrate to the majority, by our moral example, that our right to keep and bear arms is not a zero-sum game — we win and you lose, or vice versa — but that an armed citizenry is good for everybody, gun owner and non-gun owner alike.
It won’t do to say that winning over the antis is a lost cause. The white south was no less intractable on civil rights, and such conservative states as Arizona, Oklahoma, and the Carolinas have legalized gay marriage. People can move, if properly led.
So this is an invitation to the People of the Gun. How do we do this? What can we do as individuals and as a community to demonstrate to the majority that we are as useful to democracy and to the safety of the nation as we believe ourselves to be? How do we lead by moral example?
Dan Baum is the author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip.