I first read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions about 25 years ago, at the urging of a friend of mine. Sowell’s book is devoted to explaining the underlying assumptions that divide modern conservatives and modern liberals, in particular, the notion of human perfectibility. Liberals, since Jefferson, have tended to believe that human beings and human society are infinitely perfectible, if only sufficient and correct resources are brought to bear perfecting them. Conservatives, on the other hand, tend towards the Burkean tradition of accepting that the crooked timber of humanity is likely to remain so, and we must plan accordingly.
Interesting then, that in the particular case of gun control, the left, rather than looking to improve human nature, instead chooses to focus on the hardware itself. It’s an unusual position for them to take, although I suppose it’s at least consistent with the contemporary Left’s trust of state power over the judgment of their fellow citizens. But it’s also, I think, consistent with their attempts to perfect society, if not the individual. In this case, they’d like to make society safer by taking away dangerous weapons from everyone. Presumably, they envision a softer, gentler world, with a lower overall blood pressure, so to speak.
Personally, I think that’s a delusion that, far from making us safer, will make us far less safe. After all, an attacker doesn’t need a gun to threaten me. He can have a knife, or if he’s sufficiently muscular, his bare hands. I’m never going to turn a gun on innocents; for me, it’s purely a sorely-needed equalizer in my own absolute right to self-defense.
Now one might be tempted to argue that the converse is true of conservatives – that in this case, they’re choosing to believe in education over technology. But that would be wrong. Conservatives are merely recognizing that no matter what technology is available, some people will be inspired by mental illness or just plain evil to put them to destructive use, and that the best thing we can do is to equip ourselves with the best defense available. It should go without saying that when that defense involves potentially deadly force, there’s a moral responsibility to train ourselves to use it effectively and only in circumstances where it’s necessary.
To the degree that we have talked about mental illness, it’s been to get people off the street, get them whatever treatment may be available, and to keep them from getting their hands on weapons they can’t possibly be expected to use safely. And while society may make the facilities for treatment or confinement available, ultimately it will remain the job of families and communities to identify at-risk individuals.
We are being completely consistent with a philosophy that takes the world as it is, rather than as we wish it would be.