When a person who believes in strict gun control argues with a supporter of gun rights, you can tell when one of them realizes they can’t win the argument.
The gun owner will usually fall back on the Second Amendment and the phrase “shall not be infringed” as being the final word on the subject. Supporters of more gun control laws will often resort to some variation of: “You just want everyone to have a gun!”
This argumentum ad absurdum signals their inability to process any more information that runs contrary to their world view. End of discussion. But let’s examine this statement further and see where it leads.
To start with, nobody advocates universal gun ownership. There are obviously many people who should not have a gun. Some easy examples would be people with certain severe mental illnesses, people below a certain age and those who have committed violent crimes.
But what about competent adults who may not have the right personality to be a responsible gun owner?
As a gun rights advocate, I’ve talked to a lot of people about gun issues and I’ve enjoyed hearing about their beliefs and experiences. One of the most striking things I’ve found is that many people make a conscious choice to forgo gun ownership, because they just don’t trust themselves with that kind of responsibility.
The most common reason they mention is that they have a bad temper and they are afraid they might shoot someone who does not deserve to be shot. This might seem to support the anti-gun stereotype that people can’t be trusted with guns.
However, I would argue that the majority of this group naturally and sensibly self-selects a gun-free lifestyle. They don’t need the government to make that choice for them. Neither do they deserve to have gun owners look down on them for their choice; they are simply being honest and doing everyone a favor.
Others who voluntarily choose to abstain from gun ownership are those who feel that they could never use a gun in self-defense, even to defend their loved ones. While I don’t fully understand this choice, I give them a lot of respect for their honesty and their willingness to potentially die for their beliefs.
I’ve also known people, always men, who asked friends to keep their guns while they are involved in a divorce or turbulent relationship. This is for fear that their partner will make a false complaint that they have been threatened with a firearm, resulting in the SWAT team breaking down the door with an arrest warrant in hand.
The last group I will mention is made up of those who have problems with depression and are at risk for suicide. It is not unusual for someone to ask a friend to keep their guns for them while they or a family member are battling depression.
This self-selection effect may be one of the many reasons that laws restricting gun ownership don’t seem to reduce gun violence as one might hope. Much of the work has already been done by people themselves.
The decision to own a gun, especially for protection, involves a complex weighing of various factors. These include the level of crime in your area, the speed of police response, your feelings about self-defense, and the local gun laws as well as the personality factors mentioned above.
My belief is that the vast majority of mentally competent, non-criminal, adult Americans deserve the freedom to make their own choice. Those who live where that freedom is recognized do a pretty good job of it.
—Dr. Michael S. Brown is a pragmatic Libertarian environmentalist who has been studying the gun debate for three decades and considers it a fascinating way to learn about human nature and politics.