The Ethics of Gun OWNERSHIP

by John H. Trentes

I have to admit that I braced myself when I first read Jonathan Wallace's title for this last segment of our debate, namely, The Ethics of Guns. I fully expected a title so stated to lead to the usual illogical anthropomorphism of guns that so many opponents of firearms indulge in. Guns, being inanimate objects cannot themselves be ethical or unethical, only the uses to which they are put.

But to be fair to Jon, he merely used the wrong title for an almost-right argument. I therefore tip my hat to him for not succumbing to that silliness. (How many news anchors have blathered that someone had been "shot by a semi-automatic handgun" as though it had come to life and perpetrated the act independently of its criminal user?)

Jon quotes an old saying, "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

One way to translate that is:

"When you have a gun, everyone you meet looks like a potential target."

Oh, hogwash, Jon. Are you seriously suggesting that if I place a handgun in your vest pocket, that you'll view humanity differently? I think you'd find they look pretty much the same gun or no gun.

It is the perception of the individual that leads him to carry a firearm for self defense. If a rational person perceives that he or she will be in danger, that person might very well decide to arm him or herself. The presence of danger forms that person's world view, not the gun.

There's another, darker, translation of that old saying. How about this:

"Inside every law abiding citizen hides a potential murderer, waiting only for the presence of a gun to unleash his dark deeds."

Am I off base to find that very very insulting? I suppose I have a radical view of humanity; a person's ethical behavior is the result of the complete make-up of the individual, not the firearm stored in his pocket. An ethical person plus a firearm equals and ethical person with a firearm.

This hypothesis bears out. Without spewing statistics, I'll cite the examples of the 43 or so states that issue permits for citizens in good standing to carry guns. The rate of criminal misuse and/or revocation of these permits is encouragingly low, often a mere fraction of one percent.

I'll speak from experience here. Jon says, "Some number of gun owners certainly secretly hope that life will put them in a situation where they can use their weapon for its intended purpose..."

Jon, have you ever carried a gun? I have found the need on occasion. On one of these occasions, my wife, in my presence, very nearly became the victim of a criminal attack by two men. They didn't see me standing behind them. But I was there. And as I stood there, with my mouth firmly shut, I came face to face with the harsh reality that I might have to draw my gun and shoot two human beings with it.

And that, my friend, is when you learn what real fear feels like. It's not macho. It's not Walter Mitty. It's not a Clint Eastwood fantasy. As I stood there, although I'm not an especially religious person, I found myself praying that they would become bored with their quarry and just go away.

Because I don't want to kill anybody. Because that's what makes me tick, Jon. And I'd be willing to bet that our mentally healthy brothers and sisters out there tick in pretty much the same way.

They did leave, by the way. Happy ending. If they had attacked my wife, the ending could have been very different. Sometimes prayers get answered, I guess.

Here's another statement Jon proposes in his main argument:

"In general, the gun advocates I have debated seem unwilling to admit that there are any ethical implications of the ownership or use of handguns."

All I'm going to say to this is, Jon, you're simply wrong here. Go take a hunter safety course or a firearms safety class and you will find the issue of ethics beaten as soundly as any dead horse ever was.

Jon, I'll leave you with a question that you can perhaps answer upon rebuttal:

There are in our society, any number of pastimes and activities that produce fatality rates. In some cases, large fatality rates:

Driving automobiles.
Riding bicycles.
Roller blading.
Walking down the street.
Air travel.
Eating pork products.
Prescription medications.
Making love.
Breathing exhaust fumes.
And so on.

In some of these cases, there are far more fatalities produced nationally each year than occur due to misuse (or use!) of firearms. Yet, we don't hear the same intense ethical debate about the propriety of any of these activities. (Indulge me for a moment in my belief that firearms ownership is as legitimate and morally acceptable as any of the above activities.)

Could it be that someone out there is picking and choosing our moral agenda for us?

I know how I would answer that question.

And I find it pretty damned disturbing.