Let me start this post by saying that I think that the American gun culture is currently in a state of flux. This can be a good thing, and as gun owners, we have a responsibility to participate in this transformation in ways that are to our advantage, rather than in ways that are not. This is important because the term “gun owners” has multiple ideological meanings, a pivotal point that was recently reinforced for me.
A few weeks ago, I discovered the podcast of author Sam Harris, who seems to be an intelligent and successful critic of the human condition, among many other talents. I was tangentially aware of his work from listening to the Tim Ferriss Show, and I noticed that he had recently interviewed two notable (to me) individuals. One was Scott Reitz, a prominent former LAPD firearms trainer who owns the training company ITTS, the other former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, co-author of the book “Extreme Ownership.” Having read the writings of both, I considered these two individuals to be provocative subject matter experts for a self-identified liberal to choose to interview in the public forum. To be fair, Harris has stated on his podcast that while he leans politically left towards the liberal ideology, he does not necessarily conform to the stereotypical liberal standard.
I think Sam Harris is a genuinely smart guy, and I believe that he has put a great deal of critical thought into the necessity of violence and the importance of firearms in that context. Indeed, he is a gun owner and has apparently sought out training in the use of lethal force and defensive use of firearms. Kudos to him for that. What bothers me is his stance on gun control, to which he devoted an entire podcast episode after the recent Umpqua Community College shooting. In the episode of “Waking Up” titled “The Riddle of the Gun (Revisited),” Harris addresses his views on gun control by reading and discussing an essay that he initially wrote after the Newtown school shooting in CT. He correctly posits that further restrictions on “assault weapons” and further infringement on gun rights is untenable and quite simply doesn’t make sense in our unique American culture. Aside from the monumental logistical and logical difficulties inherent in instituting further restrictions on gun ownership or an outright gun ban, he also acknowledges the inevitable and irreconcilable conflict with the “rabid core of the NRA,” which is where I assume he would ideologically categorize me with my “arsenal” of guns and beliefs about those guns. Indeed, as he prefaces the essay, he suggests that a “Second Amendment person” is going to hate half of what he has to say, while gun control advocates are going to hate the other half. He was right!
Now, I do agree with some of what he has to say. Among other things, Harris suggests a societal paradigm shift to deal with mass shootings in a manner that has already been successfully demonstrated on a microcosmic scale. He suggests that groups under attack respond as if they were sequestered in an airliner at 30,000 feet when the attack takes place. In short, groups should converge upon and overwhelm the attacker despite great personal risk in order to benefit the group at large. One needs to look no further than Flight 93 for somber verification of this tactic.
There is, however, also much that I disagree with…
Aggravatingly, Harris goes on record advocating a training process that would amount to being equivalent to obtaining a private pilot’s license in order to obtain a firearm. He suggests that “getting a gun should be genuinely difficult.” I am amazed that he believes that this is not already the case, based on the fact that he is a gun owner living in California! (And yes, I’ve lived in California and I’ve purchased a gun in California… That is not nebulous conjecture on my part!) For years, I have been suggesting that those who want “mandatory background checks” and who suggest that it is “too easy to get a gun” actually go out and LEGALLY obtain the weapon of their choice and then report back to me. In this regard, Harris does acknowledge the truth that gun laws only affect the law abiding gun owners who rely on firearms as a necessary tool for self-protection. I sympathize with his opinion on the necessary training for a gun owner, but I cannot morally endorse his suggested policy. I accept that he realizes his idea is not feasible to implement, but I still contest the very idea. How many inner-city single mothers or other low-income individuals just starting out in life have the time and money (ability) to obtain a private pilot’s license? Short of joining the military and obtaining a billet in flight school, I think not many. Morally, do we as a society have the right to deny them their natural right to self-defense? If we consider gun rights as civil rights, then I don’t think so. I’m sure that Harris probably knows this, because he seems ferociously intelligent, but his idea of gun control nonetheless fails on the basic premise of reality and the ideal of equality unless he intends for such training to be subsidized by the state. Thus is the problem with liberalism and elitism. Allowing the liberal elite to make policy simply widens the gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
Allow me to offer a real world example of this and attempt to expose the fallacy of gun control schemes. As a direct result of the Newtown, CT school shooting, my state of residence (in virtual legislative secrecy) enacted an assault weapon ban of unprecedented proportions. This resulted in a number of contradictions. Take for example, the fact that a majority of gun owners simply refused to comply with the registration scheme, and that the state apparently has no real intention or plan to enforce compliance. Consider also, more to my point, that “pre-ban” weapons remain legally available at an exorbitant premium to those who have the money. I make a decent living and while I could envision buying an AK-47 someday, I cannot and will not afford a 23+ year old pre-ban Kalashnikov rifle. I could legally buy a near antique for a few thousand dollars, but in most of the rest of the USA, a new one can be had for significantly less. The situation with an AR-15 is similar. As silly as it seems, one of my biggest regrets is not buying an AR-10 pattern rifle when I had the chance. To get one now that is at least already 23 years old, but configured as is currently standard, would cost in the neighborhood of $7000.00 with no optic! I know this for fact because I lusted after a rebuilt Knights Armament SR-25 with a Larue upper at a local gun shop a few years ago. In this instance, I’m a “have not.” Yet the criminal will do what he wants when he wants with no real fear of repercussions short of encountering an armed citizen able and willing to fight back! And truthfully, outside of the realm of drug cartels, criminals rarely use “assault weapons” in the commission of a crime.
Further repercussions of the “have” vs. “have not” effects of gun control can be observed. Chaz Murray of the RoadGunner Podcast once opined that rather than linking excessive urban violence to restrictive gun control, a more tenable link can be made between urban violence and poverty. Where I’m going with this is a personal belief that liberal elites that favor strict gun control often also favor dependence on the state rather than self-reliance. They also appear to view disarming the populace as better for the common good, again ignoring the truth that criminals will obtain guns no matter how illegal you make them. My hometown of Memphis, TN is a very violent city with an extremely high violent crime rate. Likewise, Detroit, Chicago, and Baltimore are also extraordinarily dangerous and have disheartening crime rates. The difference is that concealed carry of firearms has long been legal in Memphis and Detroit. Citizens there at least have the option of fighting back. Only very recently has concealed carry become an option for residents of Chicago, but still the governing officials have made it extraordinarily difficult to obtain a permit and place significant restrictions upon such permits. The theme here is that rather than trying to link crime rates to political ideology, it is perhaps better to acknowledge the apparent truth that gun control has no real effect on crime other than disarming the law abiding. Making a gun more difficult (expensive) to legally acquire represents a severe disservice to the poor, and does nothing to protect them.
If we return to Harris’s suggested mandatory training to obtain a firearm, my wife doesn’t have ANY of the additional training that I’ve sought out, but both of us are still comforted by the small gun that she chooses to carry. I should mention that she now carries specifically because she probably narrowly avoided a carjacking and potential robbery/kidnap/rape attempt by two miscreants only a few streets over from where she works. Now at least she has a fighting chance with a superior tool that far supersedes her former unarmed status. As I said in describing this blog, the gun is just a tool, but it is a tool with far reaching and powerful implications. Carrying a gun breeds awareness and responsibility, and the simple decision to carry a gun invokes a willingness to fight.
What’s the moral of this story?
Be an informed and critical consumer of news and media. Vote accordingly, both with your ballot AND your wallet. Have thought provoking discussions with family, friends, and neighbors. Reach out to different gun owner demographics. Take a new person shooting, and teach them responsible and safe gun habits. Show them that guns can be fun. Tear your kids away from the video games and show them the real implications and value of a bullet. Indeed, teach them well if you value their future, which you surely must.
So with apologies for my political rant and harsh social commentary, and with apologies for calling out Sam Harris, I hope the above stimulates some thought and discussion for our readers. As always, comments are welcome, and please consider supporting the blog by using our Amazon Affiliate link if you like what you read.