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A World with More Guns

Guest-blogging for Andrew Sullivan, Patrick Appel writes (here and here) about the idiocy of people bringing guns to political protests.

I remember how, after the Virginia Tech massacre, anti-gun groups used it as a justification to call for additional restrictions on gun purchases. Pro-gun groups replied by saying, in essence, "if just one other student had been armed, the shooter could have been stopped, so clearly we need more guns."

In an abstract sense, I see both sides' points. Generally speaking, the nations with fewer guns and greater restrictions on purchasing them and owning them have much lower rates of gun violence, so restricting them here might have a beneficial effect. And on the other side of the debate, yes, it's true that one gun-carrying student might have been able to stop the massacre soon after it started -- or even intimidate the shooter into not going through with it in the first place.

But in the real world, both sides' arguments break down.

There are so many guns in this country, so easily purchasable, that it's hard to see how tweaking the system at its edges is going to have any effect at all. If you want a gun, you're going to be able to get a gun. It's that simple. I imagine that gun control advocates are pursuing a policy of incrementalism. They might admit in a private moment that a particular restriction won't have any practical effect on gun violence, but that as part of a gradual progression over many decades, it makes sense. But that's not how it's presented, and I'm not sure that it does make sense in the end. I wonder if, when it comes to the US, the genie is permanently out of the bottle, and in the end there's nothing we can do about it.

It's the gun rights advocates' vision of the world that I ultimately find horrifying, though. Whenever a shooting spree occurs, they remind us of how they've been calling for fewer restrictions on carrying guns, and how if just one person there had been armed, this latest incident wouldn't have had to happen. Have they thought this through to its conclusion? A nation in which a substantial percentage of people walk around carrying guns? Seriously, have they thought this through? Guns at the grocery store? At church? At football games? At political rallies? In hospitals? At business meetings? Can this be the world in which they want to live? Can they believe we'd be safer as a result in this world? Can they believe fewer people would die from guns in such a world?

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