Guns undermine … community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Also corrosive of freedom, Firmin DeBrabander points out, since the sight of them frightens us, makes us anxious about what we say and do.

And get used to seeing just as many rifles and shotguns as handguns.

In Stillwater, about 65 miles north of Oklahoma City, the owner of the Stillwater Armory gun shop said the new [open carry] law has brought about a subtle change in buying habits. Customers with small handguns that are easy to conceal have been buying larger weapons, with longer barrels and with magazines that hold additional rounds, as they prepare to wear their guns unconcealed.

Open carry handguns, rifles, and shotguns are powerfully iconic of the cultural divide between Elizabeth Warren and Grover Norquist, between Americans who identify with an American community embodied in representative government, and Americans who are what DeBrabander calls “extreme individualists,” for whom any form of common life founded on some degree of mutual trust seems to be meaningless, threatening.

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UD‘s friend Alan Jacobs says the same thing.

But what troubles me most about … the general More Guns approach to social ills — is the absolute abandonment of civil society it represents. It gives up on the rule of law in favor of a Hobbesian “war of every man against every man” in which we no longer have genuine neighbors, only potential enemies. You may trust your neighbor for now — but you have high-powered recourse if he ever acts wrongly.

Whatever lack of open violence may be procured by this method is not peace or civil order, but rather a standoff, a Cold War maintained by the threat of mutually assured destruction. Moreover, the person who wishes to live this way, to maintain order at universal gunpoint, has an absolute trust in his own ability to use weapons wisely and well: he never for a moment asks whether he can be trusted with a gun. Of course he can! (But in literature we call this hubris.)

Is this really the best we can do? It might be if we lived in, say, the world described by Cormac McCarthy in The Road. But we don’t. Our social order is flawed, but by no means bankrupt. Most of us live in peace and safety without the use of guns. It makes more sense to try to make that social order safer and safer, more and more genuinely peaceful, rather than descend voluntarily into a world governed by paranoia, in which one can only feel safe — or, really, “safe” — with cold steel strapped to one’s ribcage.

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One Response to “The very sight of you.”

  1. JND Says:

    “Also corrosive of freedom, Firmin DeBrabander points out, since the sight of them frightens us, makes us anxious about what we say and do.”

    The sight of police with guns frightens me more than the sight of deer hunter with a gun.

    “Autocratic government”? More likely from overzealous law enforcement or from gun collectors?

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