It’s been almost 20 years since “A Nation of Cowards” by Jeffrey Snyder, was published. A .pdf copy can be downloaded here.
Much more recently, Chris Hernandez, published a posting to his blog entitled “A Culture of Entrenched Cowardice”.
I recommend both of these. They make some points that I think those of us on the pro-gun side need to understand as the ongoing debate over gun rights vs gun control continues. Read them. Then read them again, over and over.
Now, I think both of these sources point to the single biggest obstacle we face as we make the case for widespread ownership of firearms by law abiding citizens. Many people who favor increased gun control do not believe the average citizen has the capacity to appropriately and effectively defend himself or herself and others. More than that, they reject the idea that self-defense is even justifiable, especially if it involves the use of deadly force. Rather, they believe that the best response to violence or the threat of violence is passive submission. To them, life is not a gift from God to be guarded jealously. They are convinced, regardless of beliefs about God, that you should not value yourself, your life or your dignity (or that of those who depend on you) so much that you are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to protect them.
To the true believers in gun control, the life of a person who would deprive you of your life, your safety, your dignity and that of your children or spouse, is as valuable as yours. They view your belief in the right, and even obligation, to self-defense as a sign of uncivilized barbarism. It is a thing to be not only avoided, but wiped out, replaced by a trust in and dependence on the state to take care of you. Forget the fact that the courts have ruled the police have no obligation to protect the individual citizen. Forget the fact that the police are almost never present until after some outrage has been committed. Forget the fact that you may have a spouse, children or elderly parent depending on you for protection. Forget even that ensuring only the state and criminals have access to instruments of deadly force ensures that most citizens (except for the well-connected) will be always at the mercy of those who possess those instruments and that this is barbarism. These are irrelevant to those who believe rights arise from the largesse of the state rather than from the fact that you are human. If you are to be free, it will be because the state permits it. If you are to be protected, it will be by the state. Any independence or self-reliance you have is that allowed by the state.
This, then, is the struggle we face. How do we discuss gun rights with those who not only have a different view of guns than we do, but who have a fundamentally different view of self-defense and the source of our rights? It does no good to remind them of what the Constitution says. They respond that the 2nd Amendment (or even the Constitution itself) is hopelessly outdated and/or doesn’t mean what it says. It doesn’t help to speak of self-defense as a human right, because to them most rights arise from the state rather than being independent of the state. And, since rights arise from the state, it simply makes no sense to them that a purpose of the 2nd Amendment even contemplates citizens holding the threat of force over the head of the state as a reminder of their ultimate sovereignty. It must, of necessity, mean something else. So, then, what will work?
First, as much as possible, we have to choose our battles. While I go a blog owned by a fervent believer in gun control, I don’t tell myself I’m going to get him to change his mind. It’s not going to happen and it’s not going to happen with most of those who have gone to the trouble of running a blog or starting a Facebook group. I go there for practice and to keep abreast of what the opposition is saying and doing. And, I go there for the “on the fence” person who might also go there. Most of my efforts go into talking with those who have not made up their minds on gun ownership and use. These are the ones we need to reach.
Second, when we’re talking with the undecided, we need to avoid blowing them out of the water. We need to be calm, polite and well-informed. We need to recognize their concerns. There’s no need to call them, or the more extreme elements in gun control circles, names. Character assassination is no more acceptable from us, than it is from the gun control side.
Third, regardless of how good the quote sounds, if it can’t be verified, we must not use it. The same is true for statistics. There’s enough valid information out there to counter all the anti-gun arguments. Besides, it’s far easier to point out inconsistencies and lies from the other side if we don’t engage in the same things.
Perhaps the hardest part of this is that we need to hold each other to these standards. How you do such a thing is, of course, up to you. I tend to do so privately, as I see no reason to air our “dirty laundry” when it can be avoided. Even then, not everyone is going to thank you for pointing out their (hopefully unintentional) error. It’s not any fun to have another gun owner accuse you of being in “cahoots” with the anti-gun forces because you call him on the same sorts of things some anti-gun folks do. Our 2nd Amendment rights are far too valuable to have them derailed because of the behavior of some pro-gun folks. I’ve told would be hunters (whose families weren’t in danger of starving) who brag of shooting deer out of season that if I become aware of them doing it I will report them. I have no patience with poachers and even less with those who would willingly endanger my right to keep and bear arms.
Many anti-gun folks occupy a position on the nature of rights and the relationship of citizens to government and society that is fundamentally opposed to that of pro-gun people. A bizillion years ago, Socrates and the Sophists were engaged in a pretty ugly verbal fight. It’s easy to ignore because 1) it’s philosophy and 2) it happened so long ago. It’s relevant here because it wasn’t just a battle over philosophy. It was, at its heart, a battle over the direction society would take. It determined, arguably, how what we now call Western culture developed. I submit that we are engaged in such a battle. This is not just about the 2nd Amendment, though that would be enough cause for us to fight. This is, at its heart, a fight over what sort of society and culture we will leave future generations. If we want them to be truly free, we cannot retreat. We must understand where our opponents come from, we must oppose lies with the truth and we must win. This in not a battle for the faint of heart or the cowardly.
Have we become a largely cowardly nation? To the extent we accept that the state must provide for and protect us, yes. If we choose to not oppose the evil people who would take from us life, dignity and safety because protection is the role of the state, because others might object or simply because we are scared, then yes, we have become cowards. To be otherwise is to accept that it is incumbent upon us to take primary responsibility for our own safety. To be otherwise is to accept that others may object to our decision and independence. To be otherwise is to accept that being scared is not sufficient cause to not act when necessary. To be otherwise is to be free.