February 7, 2013 by cbbeard
I still don’t have the answer.
Since I did a post on the Sandy Hook tragedy (read it here) I’ve put a lot of thought into the issue that has emerged as the political focus since that horrific event: gun control in America. I’ve read the reports of suggested legislative solutions and the rebuttals discussing why they won’t work. I’ve heard the arguments for and against regulations on gun ownership and have seen the passion on both sides of the issue.
And I’m not just a casual observer of this debate, I am a gun owner. One of the highlights of my family’s year is a week of “deer camp” in northwest Oklahoma in which we hunt both for utility (most of the meat we eat is venison) and for enjoyment. My three kids all know how to handle guns safely and have shooting experience. My wife and I purchased handguns with the intention of getting a concealed-carry license.
With that information alone, my gun control position probably seems easy to categorize; but I have found myself struggling with the complexity of the issue both regarding policy and in personal application.
Regarding policy, I am an American who appreciates the rights given to me by the constitution. While I am not a constitutional scholar, I do generally understand the arguments for the rights given by the 2nd amendment to bear arms. I am aware that the scope of the 2nd amendment goes beyond the right to bear arms for hunting and sport shooting purposes, yet I appreciate that I was able to confidently assure my son that contrary to what he had heard, the government was not going to take our deer hunting rifles.
But we must admit that the gun control issue on a policy level is not cut and dry, and the 2nd amendment does not spell everything out in black and white. The truth about virtually every policy is that there exists within that policy a certain level of paradox. Debora Stone (2002) effectively discusses that paradox in her book Policy Paradox: The Art of Practical Decision Making. Stone defined policy as “the rational attempt to attain objectives” (p. 37) and identified the four main objectives as equity, efficiency, security, and liberty. The two objectives most invested in the development of a gun-control policy are the objectives of security and liberty.
Security in regards to policy refers to meeting basic human needs, and physical survival is at the center of that objective. Liberty, of course, refers to the freedom of an individual to do what he or she pleases, so long as it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s liberty. It seems that most of the hyperbole of the gun control debate has moved the discussion to the fringes and extremes of the scale seen above. Gun-control advocates are seen as wanting to move the scale all the way to the “security” side, wanting to get rid of guns altogether, therefore completely eliminating the liberty of those who want to own a firearm in a responsible manner. Similarly, gun-rights advocates are seen as militia-types who will give up their machine guns “when they are pried from my cold dead hands.”
When you eliminate the hyperbole, however, the more accurate stance of various parties would more likely be off the fringes if not more near the center. This is what makes the gun control policy issue complicated; the truth of the matter is that philosophically speaking, a policy cannot provide for both full security and full liberty. For example, the liberty objective must be compromised at the airport in the form of screening to provide for the security objective on an airplane. In the same way, a policy cannot both eliminate gun deaths and ensure firearm freedoms simultaneously.
Therefore, the discussion moves to what is a responsible compromise on the scale of security and liberty. Simply put, at the heart of the gun control issue is whether compromising the liberty of gun ownership will provide for better security of the general population. The central question: Is it possible that firearm regulation will reduce harm to others? The objective of equity also enters the fray when considering this question. As Stone explained, “Questions of liberty as defined by the harm criterion are inevitably also questions of equity, for they entail decisions about who bears harms, whose activities should be curtailed, and who bears the cost of preventing harms” (p. 114).
I understand the “slippery slope” argument, viz. that one day the government might be regulating “clip size” and the next day they may outlaw firearms altogether. I also understand that firearm regulation does not do away with violent crime. As I have mentioned in my previous post, I don’t think that any legislation can or will eliminate evil from this world. If that were the case, I would be in full support of eliminating guns altogether. Security in the policy-objective sense simply cannot be fully provided by a gun control policy. But I believe we must be intellectually honest and admit that compromising some liberty may indeed provide for additional security for others.
So what is the answer? As I said from the beginning, I don’t know. I do know that as we consider our own views and the stances of those “across the divide” we must acknowledge that policy is a complex give-and-take without a clear “right and wrong.”
What do you think? How should we deal with the paradox of policy in this context? How can leaders learn from this issue as they deal with paradoxes of policy in their own context?
This post has considered gun control policy from my point of view as an American citizen. Part 2 of this discussion (CLICK HERE) will consider the issue on a personal application level as a Christ-follower. I will consider the question: Does God approve of me owning a firearm for personal protection?