Guns (and human nature): A primer

Guns (and human nature): A primer
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Recently, a friend mentioned something called a “Mossberg 500”. I did not know to what that referred. Looking it up finally, it is a famous pump action series of shotguns. As a boy, I recall hunting pheasants and rabbits in Iowa farm fields with my father. We had a 4-10 and a 20 gauge shotgun, but I doubt if they were Mossbergs. My father and his brothers knew guns — how to take care of them and how to use them safely. When I was in the army just at the end of World War II, the gun issued was a Garand M1, as I recall.

The governor and legislature of Florida have just rushed through a gun control law. Others will follow. High school students demand action. The president is concerned. The mantra is that when guns are “controlled”, no more tragedies will happen or, conversely, the last shooting was caused by guns.

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Yet, when all these new laws are in effect, I suspect that nothing much will have changed. We will see the same sort of atrocities whether from radical Muslim sources, or psychotics, or the jealous, or the revengers.

What I want to do here is to offer a brief “primer”, so to speak, on guns, and human beings. I am not a gun maker, trap shooter, duck hunter, a police officer, army reservist, or a member of the NRA. Once in a while, I do watch on TV the scenes in which lions and tigers stalk their prey with no big game hunter about to protect the slower zebras or the cubs of the rhinos.

But some things are worth saying on this topic, if only for one’s self clarification. If we mis-locate the causes of a problem, if in this case, we say “guns are the problem”, we will never find a solution.

The following strike me as basic principles in this controverted matter:

1) Guns, as guns, kill nobody.

2) Guns are man-made artifacts. Their use, good or bad, must be put into effect by an individual human being acting on his own purposes. By itself, a gun just sits there. Even if a gun goes off accidentally, it is because someone forgot to do something with its mechanism.

3) Gun usage and safety is something to be learned. Even hardened criminals know this.

4) Incidence of crime is lessened when criminals know or suspect that potential victims are armed. Generally, the cities with higher rates of crime have stricter gun control laws.

5) Guns are not the only option someone has if he wants to kill others. He can use knives, hammers, axes, poisons, grenades, garroting, explosives, his feet, or his bare hands, if he is strong enough. The various Asian martial arts use the whole body. Likewise, we have seen airplanes and trucks used as instruments of mass killings. Thus far, few have advocated the banning of trucks and airplanes.

6) Self-defense means I can legally and morally protect myself when police, military, or others fail to be present

7) Control of certain types of guns does not prevent violence. It just shifts its execution to another kind of weapon. Every criminal and every ideologue knows this.

8) The immediate cause of violence lies in the human will of the person who carries out violent action. Much of the support for gun control appears to come from people who are not willing to grant the truth of this aspect of human nature.

9)The Second Amendment was good law written by men and understood by citizens who understood the facts and tendencies of both human nature and the dangers of over-government. Its opposition almost invariably arises from a perfectionist and utopian source that claims its superior capacity to protect people from themselves.

10) The proposition that guns are the cause of violence is rooted in emotion, not reason. Its political expression is likewise rooted in the primacy of emotion over reason as the only basis of public order.

The fact that guns, as such, do not cause crime or violence is neither a conservative nor a liberal position. The fact that violence and crime do exist is a recurring phenomenon in all existing societies present and past. The issue is more a question of virtue than it is a question of guns.

Basically, the reason we insist on talking of guns is because we refuse to face the questions of virtue in our souls. The enthusiasm for gun control is the other side of the coin that does not allow us to ask the place of reason and virtue in our lives.

The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., author of “A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning & Being Forgiven,” is professor emeritus at Georgetown University. His latest book is “The Universe We Think In,” published by The Catholic University of America Press.