Saturday, January 19, 2008

Dignity and homicide...

Another gun battle in Toronto has claimed the life of another passer-by, and Mayor Miller has again called for a comprehensive ban on handgun ownership by Canadians. Handgun owners may feel unfairly singled out: after fatal car accidents, hardly anyone calls for a ban on the private ownership of cars. But if gun owners want to understand why almost 50% of their fellow citizens want to take their guns away, they might take a look at the widely disseminated essay A Nation of Cowards, in which the author, Jeffrey R. Snyder, writes

How can a person who values himself so highly calmly accept the indignity of a criminal assault?

Snyder specifically proposes handguns as the most convenient way to protect your dignity. We saw the problem with that idea on the streets of Toronto recently, when a young man fired a shot from a handgun at a bar bouncer, killing a passer-by. I doubt that Snyder had the shooting of bar bouncers in mind when he proposed the use of firearms as an expression of dignity, but bouncers physically propel people out of bars, which compromises the personal dignity of those they expel. If handgun violence serves to protect or restore human dignity, then bouncers, and people walking near them, can expect to get shot at. Snyder's essay does mention the obligation on those who use lethal force to do so competently, but another gun-related site dodges this issue:

Shooting accurately under stress is often difficult and more than one shot may be required to stop each attacker.

As we have seen twice in one week, bullets do not come with brakes that engage when they miss their intended target. By the law of averages, 50% of all the bullets that kill bystanders unrelated to a dispute will come from the guns of people who can claim to have fired in self defence.

Gun advocates, or at least responsible gun advocates, understand the dangers of gun battles in public places. So why do we have a gun culture dominated by the voices of people who consider using lethal weapons to protect their dignity not only a right but an obligation?

Handgun owners may reasonably protest that politicians have singled them out unfairly; automobile culture arguably fosters even more irresponsible attitudes, with some people still finding excuses for drunken or otherwise homicidally reckless driving. Whatever the pitfalls of lawful self defence, few people in the gun culture excuse outright criminal violence; indeed, they demand harsh punishments for it. Unfortunately, our society has run out of patience with reckless shooters before it has run out of tolerance for homicidal drivers. Responsible Canadian target shooters and collectors who want to keep their handguns might consider answering the irresponsible voices in the gun culture, before more gun battles push the number of Canadians calling for outright bans and confiscation to a majority that federal politicians can no longer ignore.

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