Elias Brockman & Guns

I think it’s time that I outed myself. I told a mentor of mine that I was blogging under a pseudonym and he gave me the following advice: “The only people who should blog pseudonymously are people whose lives are endangered. Seriously, dude, if you want to write and opine, do it under your name.” I think that there’s something right about his position, although I haven’t thought it through enough to be able to recommend it to others with clear conscience. Putting one’s name, one’s real name on one’s writings demonstrates a kind of responsibility. There appears to be a certain kind of virtue to owning one’s thoughts, acknowledging one’s own failings, and saying what one truly thinks. People who read what you write will associate your writings with your person and either respect you or forget about you.

But there’s a troubling double-edge to this sword. One loses a certain kind of privacy when one posts ones thoughts in a public forum. One can cultivate a reputation that one does not desire, that is hard to drop. One can find oneself chasing after a reputation and begin to find oneself writing less for the sake of having an honest conversation than to be admired for less admirable reasons. Why did I follow this man’s advice and decide to reveal my actual name? Partly, I’m curious to see how this changes the way I approach blogging. Partly, I think that there’s something laudably gutsy about writing things publicly that are potentially controversial and then putting one’s name on it. The internet allows us to spout the most horrible vulgarities without fear of any consequence. There’s nothing commendable about that. If one is going to say a terrible thing, it’s better if a person takes responsibility for it, and later (after recognizing their mistakes) pays penance of their own free will.

Which leads me to the tragic topic of today. Following the shooting in Connecticut (and last week’s shooting in Portland), many people have already been talking about the need for more gun control in the United States. These shootings have been happening with such frequency that many citizens believe that more drastic restrictions on guns are required. The debates all pretty much go the same way:

Person 1: If we just banned guns, these shootings wouldn’t happen as much.

Person 2: Banning guns would only make it harder for citizens to defend themselves.

Person 1: In other countries with stricter gun control there’s not as much gun violence.

Person 2: Other countries don’t have guns as an established part of the culture, and besides crazy people would find others ways to kill people, or just buy guns illegally.

Person 1: Gun culture promotes violence, fewer crazies would kill if they didn’t have guns, even if it didn’t stop gun violence completely, banning guns would make it harder for people to buy guns and that would still reduce the numbers of gun deaths. Furthermore, there would be fewer additional fatalities caused by well-meaning civilians killing the wrong people by accident in a failed attempt at vigilante justice.

Person 2: All of your assertions rest on weak empirical foundations, the number of deaths by guns is radically less than deaths by other things that we don’t require bans for, banning guns would only restrict people’s liberty to choose how they want to live. Banning guns would just be another instance of the government foolishly claiming that it knows best.

Cards on the table: before this recent spat of shootings, I was planning on trying to start a gun club here at Lewis and Clark with a friend. The club’s function would essentially be to let interested students get trained how to safely use guns and then go on monthly/bimonthly trips to a gun range to shoot at targets. Why were we planning on doing this? Because as a sport, there’s something gratifying about holding a gun and shooting at a target, there’s a satisfaction that comes with improving one’s aim and coordination, and there’s a culture connected with guns that probably few Lewis and Clark students have much with experience with.

And yet, in the light of the recent tragedies, it seems that there’s something potentially offensive about trying to start a gun club at a liberal school–even though there’s nothing intrinsically illiberal about guns. It would maybe be like converting to Islam and opening up a new mosque in your neighborhood directly after 9/11. But there’s something also potentially offensive about the analogy that I just made, isn’t there?

One might claim that it is bigoted to be suspicious or blameful of Muslims as a group, when only a very small handful of Muslims were involved in the terrorist attack. You can’t condemn a whole religion/culture just because of the actions of a few individuals, one might say. Most Muslims do not become terrorists. Therefore, Muslims should be tolerated.

However, if one believes this line of reasoning, it seems that one ought to also be tolerant of people who want to have guns. Most gun-owners do not end up shooting people, so as tolerant liberals, shouldn’t we tolerate this interest? While the point is taken that gun ownership makes homicides more likely, the counter-analogy must also be accepted that most terrorists in recent history have been Muslim. How can we consistently hold a position of tolerance if we accept Islam as a religion, while condemning guns as a culture? Wouldn’t we want to say in both cases that the people who commit the crimes are freak outliers? Could it be the case that our fears of gun violence are mainly being driven by the same kind of sensationalism that makes people suspicious of Arabs on airplanes?

I’ve talked to my friend, and we’ve agreed to continue trying to start gun club, if we can do so in a way that doesn’t offend the sensibilities of our school too much. The recent events have clearly disturbed the nation, and I believe that this is an important conversation to continue having for several reasons. It will help us to clarify what kind of conceptions of liberalism we’re willing to defend. And it will cause us to continue to search for the reasons why these killings have been occurring to begin with.

-Elias Brockman


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