Moral Consistency in the Gun Debate
Growing up, I think I was more fortunate than most in many ways. My parents were educated upper middle class and we had a house with 2.5 acres on a lake, next to a park. I had the good fortune of going to a private catholic grade school, Assumption, for education, but that was also the source of many of issues while growing up. While attending Assumption, we were required to take a religion class every single year as well as attend Mass every Friday.
The religion classes always seemed very confusing to me. The textbooks seemed to be constantly repeating vague concepts that were never very descriptive and the homework usually bent towards indoctrination and conformity. Often times, I would just put down answers that the teachers wanted to hear rather than those that I actually felt were true. This strategy seemed to make the teachers happy and give me a passing grade, so I did it even though it felt dishonest.
The biggest issue I had when going to school at Assumption was bullying. There were 5 or 6 kids who would attempt to do something at least once or twice a day to me. Whether it was hitting me, kicking dirt in my face, making fun of me, attempting to ‘tree’ me, thankfully they never did, the harassment was relentless and the response by other classmates, and teachers is what compounded the situation. What surprised me was not so much the behavior of the bullies, but the complete lack of concern by my fellow students and teachers who observed what happened. The other kids were scared of standing up because of the fear of becoming a target themselves, but I think the teachers failed to interdict for a few reasons.
The lack of interruption by the teachers was primarily due to the fact that the kids instigating the bullying came from wealthy families that donated a lot of money to the schools. Those families also tended to be very loose with the rules for their kids and they were able to get away with just about any behavior. What I suspect to be another reason for the teachers’ lack of response has to do with the Christian concept of forgiveness. One of the concepts we were taught in religion class is that as long as you ask god for forgiveness, you will be forgiven for whatever you do, and the price for forgiveness is saying a certain number of prayers and then you go on your merry way. What this turns into is a complete lack of culpability for actions taken and the freedom to repeat those actions. The second concept that was used to justify me not reacting to their bullying was the ‘turn the other cheek’ concept. What this taught, essentially, is that if someone is doing something bad to you, you should accept it by being a victim, because that’s what Jesus would do.
I put forth, in good faith, an effort to believe in the concept of God that was presented to me. When we went to Mass, I prayed to God to make the bullies stop harassing me. I did this for as long as I could, but there came a point at which I gave up praying and decided to act definitively. One day, two of the worst bullies were yelling and calling me names on the playground. When we got back into the classroom I confronted one of them and told them off. He reacted by punching me in the nose. I felt an uncontrollable anger as he walked away from him, so I threw two of the desks on either side of me, jumped on him from behind, grabbed him in a headlock and used my other hand to punch him in the face repeatedly until I was pulled off of him.
I actually scared myself quite a bit because I had never been that angry or violent before, but I came to the realization that it was the only way to deal with the people who had been hounding me. Though I didn’t get in trouble this time, because several of my classmates saw the bully hit me first, for the next remaining years of grade schooI I was never called a name or bullied in any way. I discovered, then, the difference between theory and practice. In theory, doing the moral or agreed upon behavior will result in the greater good. However, in practice you have to do what will physically result in an outcome that is best for yourself or for all. I saw this as a major failing of Christianity as those preaching it seemed to advocate for doing what they preached, but no one was enforcing any consequences that actually positively influenced the behavior of those adhering to it. What this really taught me is that I am going to have to figure out what my own moral code is, that authority should not be blindly trusted, and that voluntarily being a victim will never stop an aggressor.
What this experience has most influenced me in is when it comes to the debate of gun violence in America, a topic I frequently cover in my position as a commentator on the We Like Shooting show. I find my values very much in line with Wall who states that, “…all human beings are of equal intrinsic value…all human beings ought to have the same moral and legal rights…[and] people may not be used exclusively for the good of others” (2008, p. 58). Wall follows this by saying:
“…rational beings may do what they want to, as long as their actions harm no one else. People are rational if two conditions are met. First, they must understand the nature and consequences of acting on the options available. Second, they must be free to act…Because of this, it is always morally acceptable to interfere with the freedom of others when their actions threaten someone else, when their actions may produce harmful consequences to others” (2008. p. 59-60).
I’ll finish off this round of pertinent quotes in this chapter by adding, “The first thing to note is that it is always persons who have moral value, not things or actions” (Wall, 2008, p. 68).
These three concepts tie in very well with my formative experiences as well as the pro-gun side of the debate. The first Wall quote gets to the heart of the matter, we all have intrinsic value, we all deserve the same rights, and we should not be means to someone else’s ends (i.e. be victims). The gun violence argument essentially boils down to whether guns are morally good or bad based on their usage. Wall’s quote from p. 68 shows that things, in and of themselves, have no moral value, thus the argument defers to how people use them. Having the ability to interfere with a nefarious act, either against yourself or someone else requires that you have the best means to do so at the time, at this point the best option is a firearm. Using a firearm to prevent a crime against yourself or others doesn’t even require that you fire it, only that you present it and make the threat aware of the danger they are putting themselves in by continuing their aggression.
The organizations and people arguing against gun ownership and being able to use them for defense make several claims. The claims are that firearms are rarely used in self defense (VPC, 2013), people think gun crime is up (Overberg and Hoyer, 2013), and they think mass shootings are increasing (Wing, 2013). The problem is that the organizations putting out this information are political ones whose charter is the restriction of gun rights. By and large, they generate their own statistics without consideration for true scientific rigor and even make up definitions for words in direct contrast with the actual ones. This is where I believe another quote becomes extremely pertinent:
“Make sure that your sources are credible. One way to do this is to check the credentials of the source. If the person is a recognized expert in his or her field, that is a good reason to accept what he or she says as true. You may judge such people’s level of expertise for yourself by examining such things as degrees which they hold, the institutions with which they are affiliated, their accomplishments, and so on. If, on the other hand, an article appears with nothing but a name above it, and especially if it is an article on the Internet with no name above it, do not be quick to accept its contents as reliable” (Wall, 2008, p. 77).
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, firearm related crime has dropped 69%, homicides by 39% from 1993 to 2011 (Phlanty and Truman, 2013, p. 1) with a drop of overall crime by 5.4% between 2012 and 2013 (Comey, 2014). Further, the report commissioned by the CDC found that guns are used more often (likely far more often) in self defense, and when they are, the use of guns reduces injuries and fatalities to victims (NAP, 2013, p. 113, 115-116). Looking at Gallup, we see that 42% of American households have firearms vs 1970 where it was around 50%. The population was 205.5 million in 1970 whereas it’s 317 million today (www.census.gov, 2014). That means that 102.75 million people lived in the presence of guns in 1970 vs 133.14 million people today. So despite the number of people having access to guns going up, we have seen a decrease in the amount of crime. Those points are not causal, it simply says that there is no correlation between the number of guns/gun owners going up and crime increasing. Concerning mass shootings, prominent criminologists state that the rate of mass shootings has remained steady for the past 30 years (Fox, 2012).
Besides there being quite a bit of evidence supporting gun ownership, I must go back to the things I learned in grade school. There will always be people who either want to take advantage of you or use force on you, even when there is an authority in place that is, in theory, supposed to prevent that. This being the case, it is your own responsibility to defend yourself and others, if need be, and it should be morally acceptable to have the weakest person be on equal footing with the strongest. It is this information and this core moral value that I use as my justification for debating people and presenting my point of view through the venue of our podcast. I will always listen to other people’s point of view and respect their right to express those views, but in return I ask that I be able to do the same.
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