PLEDGE NOW
Newtown

Lindsay Merikas, 26, of Alexandria, Va., wears a button saying "Stop Gun Violence" as she gathered with other supporters of gun control on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, in Washington, Friday, Dec. 14, 2012, during a vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct., and to call on President Obama to pass strong gun control laws. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

“Gun ownership means that the single mom can protect herself and her children from stalkers and rapists,” according to Libertarian Party executive director Carla Howell.

Nancy Lanza might have agreed, right up until the time she was murdered by her own son with her own gun.

Of course, her killing and its dreadful consequences for Newtown’s children prove nothing about the virtues or vices of gun ownership in general. Even empirical studies examining the relationship between gun ownership, crime, deterrence, and self-defense are inconclusive.

I doubt you could demonstrate a solid empirical link between paranoia, the spread of murderously efficient weaponry, and its indiscriminate use, but logic strongly suggests that one exists.

You can find studies to back up pro-control and pro-ownership agendas, respectively. You can cite the Newtown massacre as an argument for efforts to decrease the number of weapons in circulation. Or you can cite it as a reason for increasing the number of people armed and ready to defend schools, shopping malls, and other public spaces.

“I wish to God she had had an M4 in her office locked up and so when she heard gunshots … she takes his head off before he can hurt those kids,” Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert said of murdered Sandy Hook Principal, Dawn Hochsprung.

“Halt the massacre of innocent children by ending prohibition on self-defense in school,” demands the Libertarian party. “It’s time to put an end to gun-free zones and make it much easier for responsible adults to arm, train, and protect themselves and the people they love from the violent criminals who seek to harm them.”

Might this prove the most effective response to the Newtown killings? I imagine that in some individual cases, a highly skilled school principal bearing arms could successfully defend her students. But I wonder about the larger, cultural effects of a self-defense agenda and its contributions to gun violence. The more we exhort people to arm themselves in self-defense, the more we encourage them to live in fear, the more paranoia we engender.

I doubt you could demonstrate a solid empirical link between paranoia, the spread of murderously efficient weaponry, and its indiscriminate use, but logic strongly suggests that one exists. So do the homicides associated with Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

So might Nancy Lanza’s collection of firearms. She was a reported gun enthusiast and perhaps a survivalist of sorts. “Last time we visited with her in person we talked about prepping and you know, are you ready for what can happen down the line when the economy collapses,” Lanza’s sister told a local NBC affiliate.

The more we exhort people to arm themselves in self-defense, the more we encourage them to live in fear, the more paranoia we engender.

I’m not maligning gun owners in general. I’m not implying that many of them are stockpiling guns in anticipation of anarchy or its opposite evil — totalitarianism. I’m simply suggesting that vigorously promoting the need to bear arms can have awful, unintended consequences. A mere handful of people armed, always on guard, and primed to shoot first can destroy a great many lives.

Widespread fear generates widespread mistrust and aggression, which facilitate gross violations of individual rights. Consider the post 9/11 security state enabled by dread of terrorism. This is one of the ironies of the NRA’s absolutist advocacy of Second Amendment freedoms, including self-defense: it erodes the trust that’s essential to open and free society.

We’ve lost fundamental liberties in the past 10 years, partly to our own paranoia. We’ve gained violence. Perhaps that’s not entirely coincidental. A culture that celebrates militarism, high tech weaponry, and super-heroic defenses against otherworldly threats is a culture that feels victimized and under siege. It’s not a culture that encourages people to moderate or mediate their grievances.

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Tags: Guns, Law, Newtown

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