I’m A Liberal, But Guns Are Awesome

AP Photo/Robert Ray
AP Photo/Robert Ray

I recently visited a gun range and shot at things with not one, but two handguns. I’m told my aim was quite good for a rookie, but you can watch the video and decide for yourself. PS: I’m a liberal.

The experience was totally at odds with both my political and national identity. I’m from Britain, a country where any semblance of a gun culture has long been stamped out by the constitutionally unrestrained power of Parliament. Both liberals and Brits look at America’s love of guns with a mixture of disdain and bewilderment.

It’s not hard to see why. Putting aside the pragmatic reasons to own a gun, the joy and excitement of my fellow range attendees seemed pointless and stupid. There is no rational reason for anyone to enjoy firing a deadly weapon. Its primary appeal is in the adrenaline rush.

On the other hand, the same can be said about roller coasters. Or hang gliding. Or contact sports. Or anything that involves danger, real or simulated. Try as we might to rise above our instincts, humans evolved to respond to danger with a mixture of excitement and energy. And while guns are only dangerous in the wrong hands, their raw power is obvious, even in the safety of a range.

It’s telling that the most contemptuous critics of gun culture are so often liberal and progressive intellectuals. In other words, the people who probably spent their early years in the library, avoiding activities that indulged their inner caveman. It’s almost as if the high school war of jocks and nerds never ended, but continues to play out in the policy arena.

It’s not just elitism, of course. There is a misleading progressive argument which suggests that America has a particular problem with gun crime, and that a reduction in gun ownership will help alleviate the problem.

While the first part of this argument is correct, it is more accurate to say that American cities have a particular problem with gun crime. Rural states like Utah and Montana have exceedingly high levels of gun ownership, but exceedingly low levels of gun violence.

Proponents of gun control often argue that the U.S needs gun control because its gun culture is so much more violent than, say, Switzerland’s. But there are plenty of areas in the U.S that do resemble Switzerland. More importantly, when you look at statistics for the entire United States, a 120 million surge in gun ownership between 1993 and 2009 actually correlated with a decline in gun violence, which dropped by over 50 per cent in the same period.  This, incidentally, is why the second part of the progressive argument is wrong – gun ownership does not correlate with gun crime.

I am not alone among liberals in acknowledging the now-obvious fact that gun ownership does not line up with gun violence. Columnists at The Atlantic and the Huffington Post now acknowledge that the route to ending gun violence is not more gun control, but an end to the war on drugs. Official estimates of the number of U.S homicides that are drug-related range between 25 per cent and 50 per cent. Decriminalizing the drug trade is likely to have a much bigger impact on gun crime (and crime in general) than gun control.

With even liberal columnists talking about alternatives to gun control, only the Democratic party continues to lag behind the times – they continue to use school shootings to push gun control legislation that attract ever-dwindling levels of support. Even the resolutely progressive Pacific Standard bluntly acknowledges the futility of the Obama Administration’s efforts: “To date, the President has delivered 11 speeches after 11 mass shooting, all to no avail.” With congress, a wide swathe of the public, and the facts of gun violence all pointing against gun control, it’s curious that the administration even bothers

There may be no pragmatic reasons to oppose gun ownership, but are there any pragmatic reasons to support it? Sure, they’re fun, but there are other ways to get an adrenaline rush. Unless you’re a really bad theme park manager, it’s hard to turn a roller coaster into a homicide weapon. So shouldn’t we just stick to that?

One counter-argument is that while it’s hard to kill someone with a roller coaster, it’s also hard to mount a citizen’s uprising with one.

Critics will argue that this argument is a product of paranoia. In many cases, they are correct – you often hear this argument from people who stockpile guns and compile 8000-word essays about FEMA camps. But just because they’re paranoid today, doesn’t mean they won’t be right some day in the distant future. People who believe democracies can never morph into tyrannies didn’t pay attention in their history classes.

But leaping to cliched and dramatic arguments about future revolutions isn’t even necessary. Guns don’t have to be used to serve as a check on government overreach. When racial tensions were reaching a peak in the 1960s, Lyndon B. Johnson told an aide that there would be “blood on the streets” if they did not take action against racial discrimination. Would he have been so determined to act were it not for the fact of gun ownership? (Whether armed citizens are always in the right and the government is always in the wrong is of course a moot point: a balance of powers doesn’t imply that any one center of power will be right all of the time.)

The essence of liberalism, beyond a belief in choice and individual rights, is a mistrust of center of power. As a liberal, I’m comfortable defending gun ownership. And although the Magnum does have quite a kick, I think I’m comfortable shooting them too. But the video is above – I’ll let readers be the judge.

Follow Allum Bokhari @LibertarianBlue on Twitter.