No one is an absolutist on gun control

 Guns, guns, guns, some are good, some are bad… Guns, guns, guns, buy them from a guy named Tad…

Among the peculiarities of the Russian character, at least compared to the North American one, is the penchant for “The Russian Conversation”, that is, an abstract philosophical conversation about the fundamentals of life. Freedom, equality, truth, free will, what it means to be a person, etc. Usually conducted late at night and unsober. I don’t think I’ve come up with this term, but a casual search on the internet doesn’t make me confident that it’s well-known, either. This is the thing Julia Ioffe alludes to in her goodbye to Moscow. For my part, I enjoy these conversations sometimes, but it does get somewhat boring in that these questions, apart from being super-interesting and unresolvable, don’t actually have much of a connection with the real world.

Although I think this is a very broadly applicable principle (for instance, in politics, I think it’s wrong to identify freedom with libertarianism or fairness with liberalism, for example), today I want to talk about guns and gun control. Let’s recapitulate. The argument for gun control is that, with guns, it’s very easy to harm others intentionally or accidentally, and so the average person ought to be protected from harm by limiting access to guns. The argument against gun control is that people should be given the opportunity to do and have what they want, since no one else is in a position to decide for them what that is. It’s a very basic harm reduction vs. freedom argument. Except to have that argument, to me, is really stupid, because both arguments work equally well anywhere along the line from a place where everyone agrees there is too much gun control, to a place where everyone agrees it’s insufficient. I’m willing to bet that no one, not even Alex muthafucking Jones thinks that allowing personal ownership of weapons of mass destruction would be a good idea. Similarly, basically no one thinks that we should be banning people from studying martial arts. But the freedom argument still makes sense in the first case (“You can’t have a nuclear warhead!” “Who are you to decide what I can and can’t have? That’s impinging on my freedom!”) and the harm reduction one makes sense in the second (“I want to learn karate!” “But karate is for hurting people! If you learn it, you might end up using it to hurt people!”). So what’s the point of talking about it like that?

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6 Responses to No one is an absolutist on gun control

  1. Zuuko says:

    oh man… russian conversations… sometimes I’m glad when they’re conducted in russian.

    “No no…. I don’t feel left out of the conversation. Please… continue carrying on the debate in russian. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything, believe you me.”

  2. zanna says:

    The thing is neither karate or even nunchuks, nor knives nor any other ‘cold’ weapon can be used to kill [so many] people so effortlessly. No?

    • zolltan says:

      Yes! I think this is a very good reason for gun control. “You can kill a lot of people quickly and effortlessly”. I didn’t mean to suggest there aren’t good reasons for gun control, and if it sounded like that, sorry. All I mean is I don’t actualy see any disagreement on principles between people who support more gun control and people who don’t (though you wouldn’t know it from listening to Piers Morgan and Alex Jones). They both think at some level it is too easy to kill people to be worth allowing people to own weapons, but at some other level it’s okay. But saying “because freedom!” or “because harm reduction!” to argue in the direction of your preferred level doesn’t make much sense to me, and I wanted to write out why.

  3. vj says:

    Well, that everything is relative is more or less true in some sense whatever subject you pick. I think there’s sort of unspoken consensus that instead of giving up having opinions (aka thinking) about anything in light of this being the case, you pick points along the continuum that you find ideal and try to defend your “point of view” no pun intended.
    I hope that was a russian enough observation.

    • zolltan says:

      Although it may be true that I’m not a fan of thinking personally, it was not my intention to rail against it in general! I did not mean at all to say that there are no good arguments for or against gun control or anything else (in fact, you’ll see Anna make what I think is a good argument for gun control in this comment section). All I wanted to do was express frustration with a specific subset of arguments: if you imagine some kind of continuum and yourself arguing for a specific point on a continuum, your sole argument can’t be a good argument for the endpoint, if you actually disagree with the endpoint.

      To give an example different from guns, for instance I think the fact that taxation is an impingement on freedom is a good argument against taxes in general; it is not, however, unless paired with something else, a good argument that taxes should be set at 35%.

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