Evil is hard to accept. I attended a self-defense training class last week where an expert described how callous and downright evil violent criminals can be. I don’t think I’m a coward, but recognizing evil takes an emotional toll. I’m not alone in feeling that way. Gun “prohibition” laws give us psychological relief from facing evil. Projecting evil intent on an inanimate object protects us from having to recognize violence as part of the human condition. By contrast, recognizing evil strips away our innocence and imposes obligations on us. This psychological dynamic explains a lot about the political dynamics behind gun control. Gun control continues to appeal to a certain type of person despite its record of failure.
We don’t know what a violent person looks like. Violence would be so much easier to tolerate if every violent criminal came with a cartoon thought-bubble floating above them that said, “Watch out for this crazy person.” In fact, criminals defy simple explanation. Some criminals are poor and some are rich. They can be crazy or sane. Some criminals are addicts; others are as sober as the proverbial judge. Some violent criminals grew up deprived and abused, while others grew up pampered and indulged.
Violence will not go away despite our efforts to label or rationalize criminals and violent behavior. According to data from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, between one-out-of-two and one-out-of-three of us will be victims of violent crime in our lifetime. Your chances vary widely with the local crime rate. Though not an everyday occurrence, the sad fact is that criminal violence is with us. It is uncomfortable to feel at risk. It can even be depressing.
This is where each of us faces a choice. On one hand, we can view the world as imperfect and slightly dangerous. A realist then takes responsibility for his or her own safety. On the other hand, we can cling to a utopian view of the world. Then, an idealist says that it is society’s duty to him against violence.
It is easier for the idealist to talk about utopian prohibitions against violence than to face the real day-to-day effort of personal protection. Idealists say it is up to the police to keep us safe. Realists reply that we are our own first line of defense, and the police are only there to take reports and make arrests.
For the idealist, the benefits of being disarmed are real. Placing the burden of protection on society allows the idealist to keep human evil at a psychological distance. For example, “Violence is their problem, not mine.” When someone they know is attacked, the idealist responds by proposing more gun control laws. Weapons prohibition is psychic Valium to control the toxic emotional impact of real violence.
The idealist also condemns the realist. The level of psychological projection by idealists is several levels deep. On the surface, the idealist turns the physical objects of the gun or the knife into a fetish. It is the inanimate objects that are seen as dangerous rather than seeing danger in flesh-and-blood human beings. At a deeper level, the placebo of firearms prohibition lets the idealist replace concern with complacency.
At a still deeper level, idealists not only blame the gun, but the gun owner. The honest person who wants to use a firearm for personal protection disrupts the fantasy that guns are the problem. Idealists cannot allow themselves to admit that honest citizens often prevent a crime or protect the innocent from violence. Therefore, the idealist, especially those in the media, feel compelled to shield the public from this disturbing evidence. That may seem to be a bold claim, but you can see the evidence for yourself.
Look at the typical news cycle after another innocent person is horribly attacked by a violent criminal. Anti-gun activists and politicians run to the news media to say there is no personal responsibility to protect ourselves. I’m paraphrasing here:
“You don’t need to change how you live because we only need a little more gun-control and then everything will be fine.”
Gun prohibition has no effect on criminals. For example, Maryland imposed strict gun control a few years ago. They banned the sale of the most popular semi-automatic rifles and limited how many guns can be bought in a month. Legislation also limited the number of cartridges allowed in a firearm. Criminals don’t follow gun laws so the results of the Maryland legislation were entirely predictable. The crime rate is now at record levels in Baltimore, Maryland (second source here). Similar stories are repeated again and again in gun-control cities like Chicago and Los Angeles.
Unfortunately, the idealist doesn’t stop with gun control. He extends his antipathy beyond guns and knives to include any armed civilian. Licensed concealed carry holders are the most law abiding segment of society. They are charged with fewer firearms violations than other segments of society, including the police. Licensed gun owners are the boy scouts of society. Idealists say that since they don’t want to carry a firearm, we all should be disarmed.
The idealists say their laws stop crime, but gun laws miss their target the vast majority of the time. These anti-gun laws really target the law-abiding gun owner.
We have already passed some 23 thousand firearms regulations. They failed to stop or materially reduce violent crime. We’ve seen prohibition fail time after time in country after country so this is the rule rather than the rare exception.
“But if criminals obeyed the laws then these gun laws would work. We just need to pass another law!”
The antipathy towards gun owners is not based upon stopping violence, but upon reducing the discomfort felt by idealists. For the idealist, letting society take the burden removes both the duty and the emotional cost of facing an imperfect world. For the idealist, protecting the fantasy narrative is more important than respecting the facts.
In the meantime, the realist faces the daily grind of training and preparation for self-defense.
Which will you choose?
Thank you to William April, Tom Givens, and Anna Valdiserri for inspiring this article. I received editorial help from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse.