In 1966, Charles Whitman killed 16 people from "the Tower" at the University of Texas. Nothing changed. In 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold massacred 13 at Columbine High School in Colorado. Nothing changed. In 2007, 32 dead at Virginia Tech. Nothing changed. Twelve killed in Aurora this summer. Nothing changed. Now, 20 children senselessly murdered in Newtown, Conn. Nothing will change.
With so much senseless slaughter, many Americans quite reasonably wonder why the hell people are allowed to own handguns at all, and why we can't do anything to change it. They certainly do not understand what NRA President Wayne LaPierre was talking about when, in reference to the Jovan Belcher murder-suicide, he told USA Today that "the one thing missing in that equation is that woman [Belcher's girlfriend and victim] owning a gun so she could have saved her life from that murderer."
Couple LaPierre's claim with the other staple of gun rights advocates — that restricting gun ownership would not have prevented the perpetrators of any of these violent crimes from finding a way to carry out their grisly murders — and one can begin to piece together the logic driving the opponents of regulation. Many gun owners (the loud ones and the quiet ones) fundamentally reject the premise that the government is capable of protecting its citizens, and they chafe at the suggestion that they should trust anyone else to protect their spouses, children, and mothers from monsters like the one who gunned down 20 helpless children in Connecticut. They view the world as a sort of quasi-Hobbesian state of nature in which a fellow can only rely on himself for protection.
In light of this reality, it is not hard to understand why gun owners take it personally every time someone suggests regulating firearms. Just as women feel that the government ought not be able to dictate what they do with their bodies and their health, on some level, gun owners perceive gun regulation as interfering with their right to self-determination in a similar way. They do not want to rely on someone else to save them.
Whatever one thinks of such arguments — I personally am not a gun owner and do not see any problem with limiting access to machine guns and imposing waiting periods — these are morally serious objections that ought not be parodied or dismissed without consideration. In light of all of the illegal weapons that all sides concede are out there, ought the government be able to tell individuals that they may not carry weapons to protect themselves when it has not shown the capacity to stop the madmen, even if it means that the madmen themselves are on some level empowered? It’s a hard question to which there are no easy or obvious answers.
Jeb Golinkin is a 3L at the University of Texas School of Law. From 2008 to 2011, he served as an editor and reporter for FrumForum. Follow Jeb on Twitter: @JGolinkin.