Unbearable Arms

We will not go hungry for irony today. Many people have reposted this picture (┬ęDC Comics without permission, but I don’t think they’ll object), reminding us that a central pillar of Batman’s character was that he considered guns to be intrinsically evil. When they are used by unbalanced individuals to massacre helpless, trapped people – and used that way over and over and over again – you can see his point.

But what can be done? US gun control is an intractable situation for two reasons:

  1. People want to have guns.
  2. They have guns.

A classic example of a problem that, by the time you realise it is a problem, has already gone too far to do very much about. Armed people are defensive people. Indeed, paranoid people. Why wouldn’t they be? Everybody’s got a gun.

To justify their weapons, owners must fantasize that they need them to defend against government tyranny. (Masturbation optional.) Any attempt to control the proliferation of firearms therefore is presented as evidence of that very tyranny.

To sum up an entire worldview in one sentence: They need guns to prevent the government taking their guns.

How did it happen? We tend to blame the US Constitution‘s enshrined right to bear arms, but that’s really a red herring. Plenty other countries considered gun ownership a right without it leading to this. America’s peculiar gun culture has its roots in the middle of the 19th Century. Before that, firearms were not considered a social problem because only the ruling classes could afford them. Mass production began to bring down the cost, but in most countries there wasn’t the demand. Why would most law-abiding people need a gun? The US though was unique in that it combined the industrial revolution with a frontier society. Demand was higher, prices lower. Guns became a mass-market commodity.

This is the reason why the United States ended up an armed camp. Not any sacred passage in the US Constitution designed to prevent government oppression, not ideals or the pursuit of liberty. Market forces. Guns were cheap.