Pacifism – a naive and dangerous approach to life

I noticed a link to coming from this site, whose author states that she would rather “hold the burning end of a lit cigarette than a gun.” She describes herself as a Pacifist, and believes that it is wrong to use a gun in self defense, even to stop a would-be rapist and murder that breaks in during the night.  While I understand and share the respect for human life that underlies the Pacifist philosophy she embraces, I cannot join in the naive and dangerous belief that a person should allow a violent criminal to kill them or another innocent person:

I’ll start out by saying that it is a basic human right, a longstanding legal right at common law, and a US Constitutional right to defend oneself against unprovoked violence by using arms (which include guns).  This is a recognition of the fact that there are bad people in this world, who don’t care about human life and won’t hesitate to commit crimes such as rape and murder.  The longstanding existence of self defense rights is also a recognition of the fact that police cannot be everywhere at once, meaning that self defense is often the only option.  I am a vigorous advocate of self defense with guns not because I wish to see criminals shot and killed (nothing could be further from the truth), but because I don’t wish to see innocent people suffer and die at the hands of a criminal – and a gun is the best way yet invented by humankind to stop a violent criminal.

With that background information out of the way, I’ll now address point-by-point a few of the anti gun and anti self defense comments made by the above mentioned Pacifist author:

Why do we need to make available something [handguns, or guns in general] that was designed to kill people?

There are violent people in the world who will prey on the old or the physically weak, and guns are the great equalizer that allow such people to defend themselves.  If all the guns magically disappeared from the world tomorrow (which will never happen), the physically strong would have a monopoly on force, and could stab or beat their victims to death.

[W]hy are people so interested in an instrument of violence?  What is so fascinating?

Guns aren’t fascinating, at least not to me and most other law abiding gun owners, although they are useful tools for self defense or hobbies such as hunting and target practice.  A gun is a mechanically simple tool in which burning gun powder propels pieces of metal at relatively high speeds.  The chemistry and physics are not all that different than the process whereby a car’s engine burns gasoline to move the car down the road.  An unhealthy fascination with guns seems to occur not in people who learn to shoot from a young age under responsible adult supervision, but in those who are taught that guns are evil, as guns then become a “forbidden fruit”.

[I]t is possible for any number of things to be used to kill someone, but there are very few things that are specifically designed to kill.  Those things are of no use to me, and I don’t think that they should be of use to anyone.

This is a similar argument as that used by politicians who wish to ban so-called “assault weapons“.  They argue that guns designed primarily to kill people should be banned, on the theory that citizens don’t need guns to kill other citizens.  This argument completely ignores self defense.  Self defense is the main reason that I and many people own firearms.  Having a gun that was designed for self defense is critical, as a “sporting” gun is often dangerously inadequate for self defense purposes.

We are not battling on a plane of physical strength– are we not seeking equality of the minds? We should all have the same access to education, not the same access to weapons! We must be equal in our thought, not in our strength.

Some of those are beautiful ideals, and I agree as to the importance of education and instilling of values in children.  However the cold hard fact is that many people today are willing to commit unspeakable acts against their fellow humans.  Eloquent words and well reasoned protests will not stop such people from using physical strength to overpower and harm their victims.  Even if we could instill non-violent values in all children, and eliminate economic motivations for crime, there are still some people who would commit acts of physical violence because of mental illnesses, anger, or just pure sadism.  Disarming the law abiding and peace loving members of society will just leave them vulnerable when such a violent person goes on a killing spree, as we have seen time after time in “gun free zones“.

I do believe that “self-defense” with a deadly weapon *is* violent retribution. That is exactly what it is. They threaten you, so you return the threat– retribution.

Self defense is not retribution, but prudent action to stop an aggressor from inflicting harm. If a criminal breaks in to my home and is about to commit a murder or rape, I would shoot them not to “punish,” “threaten,” or “retaliate,” but to prevent their act of violence from being committed against myself or another innocent person.

As a (relatively) small and weak woman, I am saying that I still don’t believe that I should carry a gun. I don’t believe in retaliation, I don’t believe in physical justice, I don’t believe that it is my right to take a life, even if my own is threatened.

It is certainly your right to choose not to own a gun, just as it is your right to choose to be a victim if a violent criminal decides to attack you.  I respect both of your rights (and wish you would respect my right to not be a victim or to allow my loved ones to be victims).  I think that both of your decisions are terribly wrongheaded, both for your own safety as a woman and for society as a whole.  Luckily for you, there are many armed citizens who carry guns for self defense and defense of innocent people in their vicinity.  Such people deter crime, or stop it when it happens.  Armed citizens also kill or wound criminals, which stops the criminal from victimizing another person the next day.  It is impossible to say, of course, but an act of violence against you may have been averted because an armed citizen refused to be a victim.

If the perpetrators of gun violence are wrong, then how am I not wrong if I arm myself to kill?

Defending one’s life and children’s lives from a violent criminal is not only not wrong, but the morally right thing to do.  I would see it as a grave wrong for a parent to sit idly by as their children are murdered or otherwise seriously harmed by a criminal.  Although I’m not willing to spend the time and space to go into an in-depth discussion of philosophy and morals here, I’ll say this: Many people, including me, use the Universalizability test as set out by Kant.  Basically, this test condemns as immoral acts which everyone could not commit.  For example, killing people at random is not universalizable, as there could be no stable society if everyone committed murder at random.  However shooting a home invading criminal in self defense is universalizable.  Were every home invading criminal to be shot in the act by a citizen acting in self defense, not only would there be a stable society, but home invasion and related crimes would be drastically reduced.  In short, Kant’s Universalizability and other tests used to determine what is right and wrong would seem to favor self defense.

There are so very many Mahatma Gandhi quotes that are so relevant, the one that is perhaps most important to remember is the most famous: an eye for an eye will leave the whole world blind.

As discussed above, self defense is not about vengeance or an eye for an eye, but about stopping a violent criminal from inflicting harm.  However while we’re on the topic of Mahatma Gandi, one more quote by Gandi that you may want to read is “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest,” which would seem to be at odds with your anti self defense and anti gun stance.  Similarly, the Dalai Lama statedIf someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.” Pope John Paul II followed on that sentiment, sayingUnfortunately, it happens that the need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose actions brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.”  Having quoted those individuals, I feel compelled to issue the disclaimer that I don’t necessarily agree with or endorse all of their beliefs, and only quoted them as part of this discussion.

I do not know anyone who protects himself with a gun, whom I respect.

If you know and respect more than a few people, then I’m sure that plenty of people you know and respect have gun(s) – but you just aren’t privy to those facts.  About 40% of US citizens have a gun in their home, and most of them don’t go announce this fact when you meet them.  Indeed few people that I interact with on a daily basis know that I own guns or run this website, as it is not relavant to any conversations that we have, and I don’t wish to have anyone break in and try to steal my guns from my gun safe.  Indeed a former coworker of mine had a walk-in, steel reinforced, gun safe in his basement -where he lawfully stored about 200 guns.   Most of those guns were over 100 years old and suitable for collecting purposes, although he had plenty of modern and fully functional firearms.  His neighbors and most of our coworkers didn’t know that he owned any guns.