We Need More Gun Control!
by Ari Armstrong, November 10, 1999
"Gun control means using both hands."
George Orwell realized with his dystopian novels that the ability to think is dependent upon the clarity of our semantics. The modern terms "Orwellian" and "double-speak" refer to patters of speech which are intentionally deceptive in a way reminiscent of Orwell's fiction. One can hardly defend a position unless one can fully describe and define it. As Ayn Rand put it, "The primary purpose of concepts and of language is... to keep order in man's mind and enable him to think." And to act well, one must first think well.
The term "gun control" in America today commonly refers to laws which restrict people's use of firearms. The term is enshrined in federal law with the 1968 "Gun Control Act."
The modern use of the words "gun control" is misleading in several ways. It helps to reify guns, making them into some sort of self-autonomous entities which human beings need to "control." But of course guns are inanimate objects, hunks of steel and wood, which people create and utilize.
The old NRA line, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," is still meaningful, even though it is much maligned by enemies of civil rights. The so-called "gun control" laws cannot accurately be described simply as controls on guns; fundamentally, they are controls on people.
Advocates of gun-owner rights, then, ought to avoid using the term "gun control" whenever feasible, when they are referring to laws which prevent people from keeping and bearing arms. Good substitute phrases with greater accuracy are "gun-owner control," "victim disarmament laws," "criminal empowerment laws," and the like.
Similarly, even though it adds two syllables, the term "gun-owner rights" is more accurate than "gun rights." And gun-owner rights are of course types of civil rights. Usually, though, the term "gun rights" does not evoke the sorts of mental evasions typical with "gun control," so there's no need to insist on the point.
Use of the term "gun control" is analogous to the modern practice of avoiding the due process clause through the legal fiction of deodands. According to that doctrine, which has its roots in Medieval superstitions, an inanimate object may be blamed for committing a crime. Recently in Colorado, law officials confiscated the expensive automobile of a doctor accused -- but not convicted -- of committing a crime while driving his car. (The doctor was allegedly illegally filling drug prescriptions.)
According to the law, the car itself is guilty, and a car is not protected by the Bill of Rights. Of course, police only confiscate valuable items which benefit them directly. They wouldn't think of bringing charges against, say, O.J.'s glove. "But we're not punishing the doctor; we're punishing the automobile!" Isn't it funny the mental evasion -- and outright lies -- people can perpetuate when it increases their political and financial power. I'm sure the Lexus is hysterical.
The term "gun control" is but another example of the phenomenon described by social theorist Gustav LeBon last century. LeBon writes:
[T]he work of the consulate and the empire consisted more particularly in the clothing of new words of the greater part of the institutions of the past -- that is to say, in replacing words evoking disagreeable images in the imagination of the crowd by other words of which the novelty prevented such evocations. The "taille" or tallage has become the land tax... the "tax on trade companies and guilds," the license, [etc.]
A violation of the Constitution and a denigration of civil rights has become "gun control."
But there is another problem with the term "gun control," one more subtle but ultimately more insidious. The whole idea behind American government (originally) is that the people control their government, not the other way around. Yet the "Gun Control Act" implies that the nexus of control lies with the State. Let us not forget that "gun control" means control of civilian gun owners, by state and federal agents such as those working for the FBI and ATF. ("Never mind that conflagration; we're just 'controlling guns' here!")
But the term "gun control" need not be wasted. It can be used in a way that conveys an accurate meaning, if it refers to a gun owner's control over his or her own firearm.
That is probably the way gun owners should start using the term. In its common usage, "gun control" hides the reality of civilian control behind the fiction that the laws are merely controlling "guns." But in the more precise meaning I'm suggesting, "gun control" means literally that a person should better control the inanimate object close at hand. This usage avoids the reification and mental confusions inherent in the popular meaning of the term.
When gun control is defined as a gun owner's control over his or her firearm, it is clear that what victim disarmament activists want is not gun control, but rather the abolition of gun control. They want private citizens to have absolutely no control over guns.
Rescuing the term "gun control" from victim disarmament activists can improve understanding of firearm safety. Firearm safety is usually described as a set of rules. However, rules have their shortcomings. As Kirez Korgan wrote on an Objectivist List concerning gun safety ( http://www.wetheliving.com), "But following rules is ultimately not good enough, because no rule can cover all situations. Rules are cheap substitutes for a genuine grasp of reality." Korgan's statement is informed by philosophers David Kelley and Will Thomas of the Objectivist Center. Thomas writes:
Rules apply categorically; they are not sensitive to context and do not give one an understanding of fundamental causes or reasons. "Don't drink and drive" is a rule. By contrast, "the more alcohol one ingests, the more impaired one's judgment and reactions" is a principle. When we act on principle, we do so because we grasp the facts of the situation, not because we ignore the facts and hew to a rule. (Navigator, May 1999)
With firearms, memorizing the safety rules is an important first step, but gun safety can also be described in terms of principles. "For safety, maintain control of your gun!" The basic safety rules can be restated in terms of the principle of gun control.
Muzzle Control: Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. That is, keep control over where the muzzle is directed. Every gun "accident" results from disregarding this basic advice.
Chamber Control: Make sure you are aware of the status of your chamber! This implies that, every time you pick up a firearm, you should check the chamber carefully to make sure it's empty. Chamber control also requires that you keep track of your magazines and ammunition. In order to control the chamber, you must make sure you know whether it is empty or loaded and which option is preferred at any given moment.
Trigger Control: Don't put your finger on the trigger until you're ready to shoot. This rule is most often broken by ignorant movie stars who make their living portraying irresponsible use of guns but who feel compelled to help disarm responsible citizens.
Gun Control: Be responsible for maintaining and storing your gun. Don't put yourself in situations where criminals might gain access to your firearm.
A gun is a potentially dangerous tool, but one can maintain safety by keeping good control over it. If all the various rules are integrated into the principle of gun control, the gun owner will be better able to keep a "genuine grasp of reality" concerning the responsibilities of gun ownership.
As the studies of John Lott, Gary Kleck, and others prove, gun ownership saves lives and deters criminals hundreds of thousands of times every year. What America needs is more citizens willing to take the responsibility to control guns. When gun control is understood as more people accepting control over a firearm and each person better controlling his or her own gun, it's clear that we need more gun control! Encouraging more gun control is the best strategy for defeating victim disarmament laws in America.