Those readers who were appalled by my article on guns seem to recoil at the suggestion that one might want to prepare for an unlikely encounter with evil. What is the best way to respond to a knife attack? How do home invasions actually occur?—such questions can seem the product of an unhealthy imagination. There are people who consider using a burglar alarm at night or even locking their doors to be debasing concessions to fear. I have heard from many people in the U.K. who claim to be greatly relieved that their police do not carry firearms. Encountering my lengthy ruminations on violence and self-defense, these readers have begun to worry about my sanity.
Although I might find a few useful things to say to such readers, let me concede that the bar is probably set too high. Thinking about violence is not everyone’s cup of tea. Again, I do not consider ignoring the whole business to be necessarily irrational (depending on where one lives, one’s degree of responsibility for the security of others, etc.) It is irrational, however, to imagine that such insouciance can pass for an informed opinion on how best to respond to violence in the event that it occurs. I have now heard from many people who have never held a gun in their lives, and are proud to say that they never would, but who appear entirely confident in declaiming upon the limitations of firearms as defensive weapons. Before proceeding, perhaps there is general rule of cognition we might all agree on: It would be surprising, indeed, if avoiding a topic as a matter of principle were the best way to understand it.
Because beliefs about violence can directly impact people’s safety, I feel a special responsibility to address some of the questions and criticism I’ve received in response to my writing on this topic. Here, I will gradually build an FAQ on self-defense, guns, and related matters, revising my responses as needed (any revisions will be indicated by a new date).
1. You have overlooked the most basic point in favor of stricter gun laws: Countries with strict laws have much less lethal violence than the U.S. does. America’s goal should be to become more like the U.K. And yet you seem eager to maintain a status quo that makes you demonstrably less safe and your country a scandal in the eyes of the world.
If I saw a way that we could remove 300 million guns from our streets—perhaps by amending the U.S. Constitution and instituting a $150 billion buy-back program—then I would be happy to weigh the merits of doing this. But, given the legal and political realities in the U.S., I don’t consider the banning and confiscation of guns to be a serious possibility (nor does it seem to be a goal of gun-control advocates).