I read a comment on Slate Star Codex’s first attempt to tackle the issue of guns that provided an unexpected defense of gun ownership. It was written by Eric S. Raymond, a figure who has not eschewed strident language and controversy over the years. He describes himself as a libertarian and made some money a while back in tech:
Those of us in the gun culture think it is a disturbingly effective way to do one particular thing – extinguish the spirit of liberty by slow, progressive strangulation. The process was already well understood two hundred years ago by historians with many precedents to examine:
[The disarming of citizens] has a double effect, it palsies the hand and brutalizes the mind: a habitual disuse of physical forces totally destroys the moral [force]; and men lose at once the power of protecting themselves, and of discerning the cause of their oppression.
— Joel Barlow, “Advice to the Privileged Orders”, 1792-93
That is, many of us believe that the actual intent of gun control advocates is to not just the obvious one of reducing individuals to a condition of helplessness against state power, but a more subtle program of psychological warfare against the free mind. They want us to be disarmed in spirit, to internalize helplessness, to become incapable of even imaging autonomy and rebellion.
If you think this is far-fetched, consider the weird kabuki quality of a lot of gun-control measures, advocated by people who often understand at some level that they cannot achieve their ostensible objectives but insist on the need to “make a statement”, to perform gestures. Consider also the utter irrationality of selective bans on “assault” weapons based on superficial visual features that make them scary-looking. Consider the extent to which the politics of gun control has taken on the aspect of a class war of elites against proles.
When you are oppressed but armed, freedom is not dead. Even if your weapons are objectively inadequate to the forces you face, you can think like an armed person; you imagine a sequence in which small victories lead to greater ones and eventually the tyrants are unable to impose their will.
That is what the gun-grabbers seem to really want to abolish – not just the physical instruments of resistance but the resistant mindset. And that is a far greater threat than the physical disarmament.
I think this line of thinking helps us move away from silly arguments about whether an AR-15 can stand up to an Abrams tank. The ability to reflect on where you are on the spectrum of liberty–one of whose terminal points is armed rebellion–equips us to better evaluate our current society and keep it on the right track.