The Virtue of Gun Ownership and the Decline of Manliness, by Josh Hammer
The last horrific mass shootings in America, this time about 30 miles from my Denver home, took place on Monday. Ten died, and the suspect – a Trump-hating Syrian immigrant, barely the white man in the MAGA hat that the media had so clearly wanted – was charged with ten first-degree murders.
The shooting in Boulder, Colorado predictably reopened America’s troublesome debate over gun policy. The suspect used a modern AR-style sport rifle, thereby assuring that the Democrats and their media sycophants would again advocate bans on this technically indefinable and cosmetically amorphous subclass of semi-automatic weapons, which are colloquially referred to as “assault weapons”.
It does not matter that the 10-year federal ban on “offensive weapons” that was in force from 1994 to 2004 had no discernible impact on gun crime. Notwithstanding the wisdom embodied in the oft-repeated truism that restrictive gun laws tend to disarm only law-abiding citizens, usually, and especially in a country where more guns circulate than people. It doesn’t matter that Colorado already has a “red flag” law. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that a more restrictive immigration policy in relation to the people of the Middle East would have been the more causal change in public order. No – this time, President Joe Biden and his Democrat colleagues say, a ban on “offensive weapons” is evident both as a corrective course correction and as a prophylactic tool to fight crime.
Conservatives, of course, should be very skeptical of efforts to further violate firearms acquisition and property rights of law-abiding gun owners. But despite the fact that I am a proud gun owner – including a modern “AR-style” sporting rifle – it is not necessarily a timeless conservative principle to generally take a maximalist stance on an individual’s right to own and own guns carry . Indeed, it is reasonable to ponder the possibility that fair and orderly arms policy should be contextualized based on the underlying conditions of a community.
The Constitution (with its second amendment, so valued by gun owners like me), John Adams once said, was “made only for one moral and religious people” and “totally inadequate for someone else’s government”. The paradigmatic conservative Edmund Burke also once argued that “men are qualified for civil liberty in precise proportion to their propensity to put moral chains on their own appetites”. Unfortunately, it can be said that in 2021 Americans are neither a “moral and religious people”, nor are they particularly inclined to “put moral chains on their own appetites”.
Of course, gun restrictions in general are still bad public policy for reasons that are both intrinsic – criminals, by definition, disobey the law – and pragmatic – in a country with more guns than citizens, a “buyback” would – Australian-style programs work to the point of absurdity, even if they were not manifestly unconstitutional. But the very rhetorical and intellectual currency of our firearms policy discourse has been painfully weakened over the decades. At the time of America’s founding, gun ownership was seen not just as a control of government tyranny and a natural outflow of common law natural self-defense. It was also seen as virtuous: something that was, can, and should be used to protect the family, home, and community. In this sense, a well-armed citizenship was not simply the result of any particular natural or legal right; Rather, it was seen as fundamentally fair and contributed to the common good of a well-functioning, internally harmonious society.
The reader here will conjure up images of cross-border commuters and home residents protecting their remote home with a flintlock musket – and the authenticity of these images in the early to middle republic is very accurate. But when was the last time someone, even a Conservative, made a positive argument in favor of gun ownership that was not based on constitutional significance or contextual caution, but on the inherent virtue of gun ownership? The long, steady decline of this once dominant school of thought is certainly due in part to the erosion of American religiosity and temperance. But it is also due to the fact that masculinity itself is increasingly not viewed as a virtue that needs to be nurtured and cherished, but rather as a “poisonous” remnant of a past barbarism that needs to be tamed and ultimately eliminated. A society that loses faith in the meaning of masculinity as masculinity will necessarily not recognize the virtue of a domestic and protective father family. There is a direct, unmistakable connection between the decline of the former and a diminished respect for the latter.
Our arms policy discourse is trite and arduous, but if progressives continue to push for confiscatory overcorrections, conservatives will have to continue to put forward well-known arguments against draconian structures. However, the work of the Conservatives would certainly be easier if our society retained the intellectual currency of the past.
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