September 22, 2023

Is the USA right to allow its citizens to be armed?

Why does the USA insist on allowing its citizens to be armed? To genteel Europeans the very idea seems absurd. Here, even to have an interest in guns is suspect. To restrict access to guns seems perfectly sensible. But is it in the USA where thinking is right on this point? Is it true that it is not guns that kill, but people? Should liberal Europeans return to the long-distant past where gun-ownership was perfectly normal?

All libertarians have wrestled with the idea of allowing the public to be armed. On the surface it seems a given that it should be allowed. People can be trusted to do the right thing. Guns exist, so the nefarious elements of society will always be able to get their hands on them. Why should that stop right-minded individuals from carrying a weapon if they so choose?

Maybe it shouldn’t. The question is, why would a right-minded member of society want to carry a gun? The argument suggests that self-defence is a good enough reason. But how well trained do you need to be with a gun for that to make sense? What are the chances of actually using a gun in someway to protect yourself? How often would you need the gun? Would you really be quick enough to use it? Would you be prepared to pull the trigger? Sure, people say, in a him or me situation. But how do you know it is a him or me situation until the bullet actually kills one of you? And what are the chances that you take out the bad guy so well that he cannot retaliate? No, the self-defence argument, though seemingly sensible is actually fraught with problems. To pull a gun on someone who is aiming one at you is asking to be shot. It could actually be the deciding factor. Survival is more likely without a gun.

So does that mean that guns should be banned? That Europe is right? Not necessarily. Good sense might suggest that not carrying a gun is the smartest action, but shouldn’t it be up to individuals to decide whether to spend their life carrying a lethal weapon on the off-chance they might be attacked?

Here we reach the difficulty. No matter that it is more sensible to for a citizen to eschew guns for their own safety, if guns are allowed then more people will carry them. They carry a macho cachet that some will find hard to resist. A believer in freedom will say so be it, we have to live with that increased state of weaponisation. But if it is easy for the public to get weapons then it is even easier for criminals. If they can get hold of them now, imagine how easy it would be if guns were legalised.

So is that reason enough to ban guns? Europe says yes, the USA says no. After all, no one needs a gun. But liberties are important. Currently the USA and Europe come down on different sides, giving liberty entirely different values. With so many similarities between the two cultures it is on this point and one other that the two blocs differ most stridently.

That other is capital punishment.


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