Supporting gun control laws means giving government more credit than it deserves. Government is an institution run and staffed by people with their own interests and personalities. Are they really any smarter, more competent, or less likely to escalate violence than the average person?
If anything, institutional interests and incentives combine with the difficulty of holding government actors accountable to make them more dangerous. The laws they enforce make them an even bigger threat to public safety. Government workers with assault weapons break into people’s homes if they are suspected of having unapproved medicine, haven’t paid off the banker, or happen to live at the wrong address. If those government workers feel threatened during their adrenaline rush they are liable to shoot the terrified residents and their pets — and get away with it. I wouldn’t feel any safer knowing that these were the only people who could legally buy 30-round magazines.
Dispersing the tools of personal defense among peaceable individuals and consensual communities makes life safer by reducing the power of (and indeed the perceived need for) militarized official protectors.
Of course, not everyone is average, and gun violence committed by private citizens is frightful. But the prevalence of violence often signals a power imbalance, usually government enforced.
Mass shootings often, but not always, take place in institutions of rigid hierarchy where an individual made powerless by the system sees aggressive violence as a means of empowerment through conquest. Such motivations can be limited through widespread personal empowerment based on respect for autonomy and the cultivation of responsibility rather than obedience.
True, not every mass shooting fits this pattern, and unfortunately it is doubtful that any society can entirely prevent murder. But it is possible to reduce the number of victims. The best way to do that is by reducing institutionalized dislocation and by encouraging people within the community to take responsibility for defense rather than calling on — and waiting for help from — government officials. Having powerful weapons with big magazines can help them accomplish this. After all, police departments point to active shooter scenarios to explain why they need the types of guns targeted by assault weapon bans.
Most deadly violence committed by private citizens occurs in areas suffering from institutionalized discrimination. Unofficial economic segregation leads to some areas getting the worst schools, the most hostile police forces, the lowest levels of investment, and the largest burden of environmental hazards. These are usually places where minority racial groups, targeted by the bigotry of the powerful, live. The Black Panthers recognized this; their gun-toting swagger was part of their community improvement and empowerment program.
Today government policy — carried out by the people gun control advocates trust with assault weapons — makes neighborhoods into drug war battlegrounds while local politics tries to isolate the problem into particular school districts. Youth are harassed and an obscene percentage of adults are imprisoned, stifling the potential for open and peaceful community development.
The original Black Panthers were not perfect, but remain instructive. They certainly got attention. Rebels at the bottom of every power imbalance can probably learn valuable lessons from their experience.
While we make society more compassionate — which cannot be done without cultivating respect for liberty and autonomy — we should respect the gun rights of all responsible individuals. It is amazing that an 18-year-old can vote and serve in the military, but cannot legally buy a handgun for personal defense, especially since it was once common for rural students to bring guns to school and leave them in the principal’s office so they could go hunting before or after school. If guns are viewed as familiar but dangerous instead of as mysterious sources of forbidden power, they will probably be handled more responsibly.
The alternative to moving toward freedom is making society more prison-like, with heavily armed paramilitaries standing guard while those considered “off” are subject to “mental health” inquisitions. The path to greater responsibility, accountability, and compassion is found in the pursuit of liberty.