By Dallen R.
Quite a while ago, on a firearms forum the name of which I’ve forgotten, a young woman from Utah who wasn’t particularly anti-gun–but clearly didn’t want to own one–asked a simple question: Why? Why do so many people feel compelled to carry guns everywhere they go? . . .
There was a virtual avalanche of replies. Everyone was passionate and polite, but as the debate rolled on for page after page, it became clear that the conversation was going nowhere. Most of the replies centered around responsible self-defense, but her response always boiled down to “yes, but why?”
She was trying to understand, but just couldn’t see why anyone would feel the need to carry. To her, twenty-young-something and carefree, all this concern about bad guys looked like mere paranoia. I read through the whole seven-page thread, hoping one of the gun people would show her that she was wrong. To her credit she considered everything they said, but none of it came close to changing her mind.
Then, toward the end, a guy replied with a simple analysis that instantly clarified the whole thing. He cut past all the argument about numbers and criminals and paranoia and found the basic assumptions that drove the whole debate. When I saw what he’d done, a light bulb switched on in my head. I should have known all along.
Back when I was a grad student, I taught several sections of English 101. The composition textbook was a slimy hairball coughed up by the department’s race/class/gender doctrinaires, but it had a pretty good take on how to evaluate controversial arguments—go over the evidence and look for what the textbook called an “enabling assumption.”
That assumption is the point where different opinions emerge from the same evidence. Finding it will tell you a lot about the other side; finding yours can tell you a lot about yourself.
In this particular argument, the piece of evidence that kept coming up was pretty simple: the fact that there’s about a .005% chance that any given person will be murdered in a year.
People of the gun, especially the concealed-carrying subset, know that the odds are small, but we’re also aware that the stakes are huge. If you lose your gamble and wind up in that unlucky .005%, you lose forever. You’re dead. Or your family is. The logical conclusion: carry a gun, because the very existence of that small number means someone will inevitably lose. And with stakes that high, you do not want to lose if you can help it.
But look at it a different way, and everything changes.
Those odds are really long. At that rate you could live 500 years and still bet safely that you won’t be murdered. Why arrange your life around such a small possibility when you have other, more likely events to worry about? The logical conclusion: since you can safely assume that any given person you meet on any given day is perfectly reasonable and won’t try to kill you, carrying a gun everywhere is sheer paranoia.
The only sensible choice is to keep and bear arms–or the only sensible choice is not to. Different decisions, same evidence.
The girl I encountered in that forum had already gone as far as we can expect most people to go in considering a choice she didn’t agree with; she wasn’t arguing against anyone’s right to keep and carry (she could see that clearly enough), but her own assumptions had blinded her to something we thought was obvious…and ours had blinded us to hers.
All the gun people in that debate couldn’t prove that girl wrong because she wasn’t objectively wrong. She had a perfectly good reason for thinking concealed-carrying gun owners are just a little bit crazy…and though she couldn’t agree with the gun people, at least she now knew we had an equally good reason for our seeming paranoia.
We had reached opposite conclusions, both based on the same evidence, both enabled by equally reasonable assumptions; all we could do at that point was call it a day and agree to disagree.
Sometimes that’s all you can do. Sometimes it’s all you need to do.