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Guns: Same Planet, Different Worlds

David Roberts of Vox explains at length why gun-rights conservatives are mentally challenged by nature, why their beliefs on guns are a result of their insanity, and why only “overwhelming political force” will overcome their obstinacy [1]. Excerpt:

Let us imagine, then, a conservative gun owner — an older white gentleman, let’s say, in his 50s, living in the Rust Belt somewhere. When he was growing up, there was living memory of a familiar order: men working in honorable trade or manufacturing jobs, women tending home and children, Sundays at church, hard work yielding a steady rise up the ladder to a well-earned house, yard, and car.

That order was crumbling just as our gun owner inherited it. The honorable jobs are gone, or going. It’s hell to find work, benefits are for shit, and there isn’t much put aside for retirement. The kids are struggling with debt and low-paying jobs. They know, and our gun owner knows, that they probably aren’t going to have a better life than he did — that the very core of the American promise has proven false for them, for the first time in generations.

It’s a bitter, helpless feeling.

Bitter clingers! [2]

I would like liberal readers to imagine for a moment that a conservative had written a piece trying to explain deep liberal devotion to defending same-sex marriage rights by analyzing them as mental defectives who are beyond reason, and contending that conservatives need to understand that only “overwhelming political force” will be able to overcome them.

The thing is, I think there really is something to be said for how guns are embedded in the psyche of some people (I would say in the American psyche), in such a way that makes it very hard to reason with them. But that is true of all people on issues and causes that matter most to them. I realized a long time ago that reason played no role in the same-sex marriage debate, that liberals considered themselves paragons of reason on it, but when it came right down to it, they would say that marriage rights are non-negotiable. And you know, if it’s a matter of rights, that position makes sense. Second Amendment defenders may well feel the same way: that their Second Amendment rights are not up for debate.

As reader DSP indicates in the comments, Vox is the a mainstream liberal Beltway voice. The Bitter Clingers™ surely know that it’s not paranoid when they really are out to get you.

Ross Douthat’s column on Sunday puts some good gun-debate questions to liberals [3]. Excerpt:

With 300 million guns in private hands in the United States, it’s very difficult to devise a non-intrusive, “common-sense” approach to regulating their exchange by individuals. Ultimately, you need more than background checks; you need many fewer guns in circulation, period. To their credit, many gun control supporters acknowledge this point, which is why there is a vogue for citing the Australian experience [4], where a sweeping and mandatory gun buyback followed a 1996 mass shooting.

The clearest evidence shows that Australia’s reform mostly reduced suicides — as the Brady law may have done — while the evidence on homicides is murkier. (In general, the evidence linking gun ownership rates to murder rates is relatively weak [5].) But a lower suicide rate would be a real public health achievement, even if it isn’t immediately relevant to the mass shooting debate.

Does that make “getting to Australia” a compelling long-term goal for liberalism? Maybe, but liberals need to count the cost. Absent a total cultural revolution in America, a massive gun collection effort would face significant resistance even once legislative and judicial battles had been won. The best analogue is Prohibition, which did have major public health benefits … but which came at a steep cost in terms of police powers, black markets and trampled liberties.

Douthat calls on liberals to use reason about what it would really take to achieve what they want, and to stop clinging bitterly to their shibboleths. Read the whole thing.  [6]

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76 Comments To "Guns: Same Planet, Different Worlds"

#1 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On December 7, 2015 @ 1:26 pm

–Adam Gopnik, New Yorker, 2007, cited with approval (and acknowledgment that Gopnik’s sentiment is an obvious political nonstarter), in Max Fisher, “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings,” Vox, 12/3/15.

In fairness, rifles and shotguns aren’t handguns. This is not meant to be praise for Adam Gopnik or Vox, as I have very little respect for the former or (on social and foreign policy issues) the latter.

(Vox loves abortion, open borders, the Venezuelan opposition, and US intervention in Libya/Syria: they really are like a compendium of everything I hate).

#2 Comment By Chris 1 On December 7, 2015 @ 1:35 pm

Couple of observations.

My most strident pro-gun friends are all under 40. All white. All male. They are relatively successful in their careers and lives. Fearful, as they say they must have their guns for self-defense though admit they leave them at home when they drive to work and don’t have weapons available to them at work, which is…incongruous with the claimed need, but that’s a world-view that is common among my gun-rights friends.

Then there’s this: Suicides make up about 64% of the entire total of gun deaths in the United States. The overwhelming majority of these are white men who kill themselves with their guns. This should be a national tragedy. But it isn’t, because nobody gives a hoot about these people.

I know some of these suicides. Their ages are all over the map. The first one was also the first gun nut I knew, as a teenager he was all about how important it was to own guns and how it was our rights at citizens, etc. He killed himself at the age of 19 in his family’s dining room while his parents were away…they arrived home to discover that. The latest was a colleague whose career had unraveled and who spiraled into the self-isolation that goes with suicidal ideation…he felt no-one gave a hoot about him and so killed himself as the sheriff was knocking on the door to evict him.

I have friends who love hunting, and I’ve enjoyed the bounty of their hunt. But I don’t have a single friend whose gun stopped a crime, and I have several whose guns were used on themselves. My fear for my friends who have guns “for protection” is that no-one will protect them from themselves.

#3 Comment By David J. White On December 7, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

My kids are older now, but if they were small I would not be comfortable with them playing at a house with guns (even though swimming pools are actually more dangerous).”

Not to mention all the chemicals most of us keep in the cabinet under the sink, or in the garage; or the various tools, nails, screws, and knives most of us keep lying around the house.

My parents never had loaded guns in the house, but as a kid I certainly knew where all the kitchen knives were, as well as things like drain cleaner. Strangely, I somehow managed not to injury myself or anyone else with them. Maybe because I knew enough not to play with them.

#4 Comment By J On December 7, 2015 @ 1:50 pm

I would like liberal readers to imagine for a moment that a conservative had written a piece trying to explain deep liberal devotion to defending same-sex marriage rights by analyzing them as mental defectives who are beyond reason, and contending that conservatives need to understand that only “overwhelming political force” will be able to overcome them.

There’s a conservative blog I read whose author regularly deems liberals de facto sex addicts/obsessives, Modernity a form of insanity, and the contemporary civil culture/religion in the West an idolatry of Self. He doesn’t wish for the death of liberals outright, but he awaits a collapse of civilization so that they or their few descendants can be evangelized back to the one true theistic Faith. God will crush the apostasy in His due time, evidently. So I’m not exactly seeing a lack of will to power on the conservative side, it’s just sublimated into Deity. So this is reality already as far as I’m concerned.

On the topic: my impression arrived at over several decades is that guns are a proxy issue for how the society deals with what is politely called Anxiety Disorder. IOW, at bottom it’s all about the paranoids, both those which act out violently at perceived psychological threats to their inflated Selves and selfimportance, respecting no socially well defined boundaries in so doing. And likewise those paranoids who feel there is no well defined safe space for themselves and solopsistically set boundaries the rest of society doesn’t agree with, which are then ‘defended’ with a significant amount of atrocity. Guns are the major means to either establish boundaries wrongly or transgress legitimate ones- and the rest of society then has to significantly arm up as well, so as not to be victimized.

Now, SJWs are significantly of the type too, ragey boundary transgressors out to eradicate psychological threats and people who are trying to establish and ‘defend’ boundaries their paranoia requires. But their principal tool is hysterical behavior, not guns.

#5 Comment By Sam M On December 7, 2015 @ 1:56 pm

The Vox article is actually very interesting, exploring what some consider a psychological and perhaps even physical origin of “conservatism” versus “liberalism.” But don’t recent developments argue that, quite possibly, liberals are the new conservatives? Look hare at the article:

“Compared with liberals, conservatives tend to register greater physiological responses to such stimuli and also to devote more psychological resources to them.”

Really? Who, on the modern college campus, is investing more psychological resources to stimuli? Seems to me that the most emotional and reactionary folks are the ones carrying on about sombreros like it’s a life and death struggle.

“… conservatives have larger right amygdalae. (The amygdala is a cluster of neurons in the brain’s medial temporal lobe thought to regulate basic pleasure and fear responses; many psychological conditions, including anxiety and PTSD, have been traced to abnormal functioning of the amygdala.)”

Again, I think this version of conservative might apply in some cases. Yes, the bitter clinger is angry at the world. BUT! Liberalism has been the de facto religion on college campuses for decades. It IS the status quo. And the carrying on seems to me to be at least some kind of effort to protect that status. That… privilege, as it it were.

“Heightened sensitivity to negative stimuli can mean a propensity for anxiety, fear, and occasionally alarm.”

All the crying about sombreros. ALl the talk about feeling like a “home.” These people strike me as very similar to how conservatives behaved when, fact, a glimpse of stockig was looked at as something shocking. Now, God knows, anything goes.

“Research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety.”

In other words… home.

So. Is it just that liberals have been a ascendant for so long that they are are the conservatives now? And the conservatives are the rabble rousers?

I think there is something to this. And a lot of the conservative response can be seen as a kind of “camp,” in the Susan Sontag sense.

Originally camp was gayness and art. Drag queens with strap ons in public playing bingo, MAKING people look, or Divine eating a piece of dog poop in a John Waters movie.

The new camp is strapping on an assault rifle and wearing it to a bank. Making people look. Instead of John Waters we have, I dunno… Glenn Beck? Instead of Divine, we have home schoolers in prairie dresses teaching their kindergartners Greek.

#6 Comment By eric On December 7, 2015 @ 2:24 pm

“Douthat calls on liberals to use reason about what it would really take to achieve what they want, and to stop clinging bitterly to their shibboleths”

Happy to do so: Regulate guns like cars. You need to be of age, take a class, pass a test, register each gun, carry liability insurance, gun manufacturers kept to code of safety standards.

In the 1960s/70s an unconscionable number of people were dying in automobile accidents. It was a public health issue. We made reforms such as those above and dramatically reduced motorist mortality. We have the power to do the same with guns. The fact that we don’t borders on the sociopathic.

#7 Comment By Joseph On December 7, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

I’m not even sure the gun debate is even about guns, anymore. It’s about, I don’t know, philosophy. Culture. Worldview.

If it were just about guns, liberals might give a little ground and say “okay, we won’t do anything about shotguns, but we think handguns need to be rounded up,” and conservatives might give a little ground and say “okay, we’ll move on waiting periods and background checks, but not on trigger locks.”

But it’s not about the guns. It’s about what the guns represent.

For a significant number of people who feel increasingly alienated from the current state of affairs in society, guns represent the last line of defense, a lifeline tethering them to an idealized world in which they can fight back against a lot of things they wish hadn’t happened.

For a significant number of people who are annoyed by unrepentant individualism or who are fearful of violence or who suffer from low testosterone (as was hilariously alleged in another thread), guns are a dangerous threat to safety, security, and stability, a concrete manifestation of the “every man for himself, vigilante justice, militia movement” mentality.

But the guns don’t matter. All this arguing about guns is like Christians arguing about a crucifix and ignoring The Cross. It’s the forest and the trees.

#8 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On December 7, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

Yes, let’s use reason: something that we really, really like (guns) creates all kinds of special problems for this country. Let’s use reason and resolve to take it off the table in any discussion of how to solve the problem.

#9 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On December 7, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

It’s going to cost us something to reduce gun violence.

#10 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 7, 2015 @ 4:13 pm

@David J. White:

My parents never had loaded guns in the house, but as a kid I certainly knew where all the kitchen knives were, as well as things like drain cleaner. Strangely, I somehow managed not to injury myself or anyone else with them. Maybe because I knew enough not to play with them.

Yes, and I can’t think of any reason why kids might be more interested in getting their hands on the gun they’re not supposed to play with, and playing with it, than in playing with drain cleaner. I mean, popular culture certainly makes both look equally glamorous; Bruce Willis is constantly deploying drain cleaner in the Die Hard films (especially my favorite, Die Hard 5: Major Clog, the one where he ends up literally having to crawl through the pipes himself), and there are just as many First-Person Drain Cleaner video games as there are First-Person Shooters, IIRC.

#11 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 7, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

@Sam M:

Originally camp was gayness and art. Drag queens with strap ons in public playing bingo, MAKING people look, or Divine eating a piece of dog poop in a John Waters movie.

The new camp is strapping on an assault rifle and wearing it to a bank. Making people look. Instead of John Waters we have, I dunno… Glenn Beck? Instead of Divine, we have home schoolers in prairie dresses teaching their kindergartners Greek.

A startling and quite possibly brilliant insight, this. It’s a kind of camp! Very, very interesting. That would explain a lot.

For those who don’t get the Susan Sontag reference, [7] There’s also an entry about in Wikipedia for the TL;DR crowd.

#12 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 7, 2015 @ 4:25 pm

Another insightful comment: “J’s” on boundary-setting. That would also be a productive line of analysis. Somebody should fund some research into all this.

#13 Comment By Jay On December 7, 2015 @ 5:11 pm

I would like liberal readers to imagine for a moment that a conservative had written a piece trying to explain deep liberal devotion to defending same-sex marriage rights by analyzing them as mental defectives who are beyond reason, and contending that conservatives need to understand that only “overwhelming political force” will be able to overcome them

I would argue that if you replace “mental” with “moral” then this sort of writing is not so difficult to understand at all and, indeed, has arguably been contributed by Mr. Dreher himself, among others.

#14 Comment By VIkingLS On December 7, 2015 @ 5:12 pm

“It’s going to cost us something to reduce gun violence.”

It’s going to cost you specifying what gun violence you want to reduce for starters.

Gun violence has been going down on its own for decades.

#15 Comment By Sam M On December 7, 2015 @ 5:43 pm

Eamus,

Extending it a bit, a central debate in camp is whether the purveyors are aware of it as such. Or… Which ones are aware.

Same applies here. Some drag queens are camping it up. Others are in earnest. Which is which? You can’t know. And neither can I.

I think I can tell in the gun crowd, though.

PS: it adds a whole new element to the term Camp.

TAC should totally run a story called Notes on Deer Camp.

In earnest. I mean… Campily. If it’s done well the damn pinkos will be flummoxed and we can all laugh at them.

Maybe. It’s all very confusing.

Rod: Write Notes on Deer Camp.

#16 Comment By Michael Guarino On December 7, 2015 @ 6:45 pm

I think he is — or at any rate, he’s (a) taking political positions while also (b) continuing to publicize his findings. I think he must see the two as at least consistent. And this seems perfectly fine to me; social-science research is supposed to inform how we view social phenomena, and therefore how we talk about them politically. But I suppose Haidt seems less objectionable to you because the political positions he happens to be taking lately are anti-SJW instead of anti-gun.

His methods are also significantly different. His arguments are just as much linguistic as they are psychological. And they are pretty good models for how people engage with moral language (although, the thing about these models that try to distill foundations for some theory is that there is often not a unique set of foundations). He uses pretty trivial empirical techniques available to most psychologists to substantiate the points.

Where things get really sketchy is when neurobabble is mixed in, discussing amygdalas and disgust reflexes. It is incredibly difficult to map those onto political discourse (and Vox did not find the secret to making those arguments work). Also, I really have seen a lot of counterstudies to the non-neuroscientific points made, which also made it seem poorly informed. Social science really does have a crisis with political bias, and these sorts of studies should be considered the most obvious candidates for skepticism.

But go ahead and assume it was political bias that informed my judgement.

#17 Comment By JonF On December 7, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

David white,

Your posts are usually quite sensible, but comparing knife mishaps to gun accidents is truly molehills to mountains. Anyone who cooks has likely had a slip of the knife. Which usually means washing off the cut and sticking a bandaid on it– but may sometimes involve stitches and a tetanus shot. It would be hard to kill yourself with a knife (cut your own throat maybe?) and even no easy task to kill someone else unless they are unconscious or immobilized. Guns are vastly more dangerous. And if children are going to be about then any guns should be kept unloaded and under lock and key.

#18 Comment By Eamus Catuli On December 7, 2015 @ 8:09 pm

WordPress problem. Second try:

Also, I really have seen a lot of counterstudies to the non-neuroscientific points made, which also made it seem poorly informed. Social science really does have a crisis with political bias, and these sorts of studies should be considered the most obvious candidates for skepticism.

But go ahead and assume it was political bias that informed my judgement.

Michael Guarino, FWIW, I don’t dispute that in general, social scientists are politically left-liberal, and that therefore, perhaps, “Social science really does have a crisis with political bias.” I’m not a social scientist so am not in a position to do anything about this, but there’s no harm in treating what social scientists say with skepticism, especially when they’re writing about politics. That’s a bit different, though, from denouncing a writer making a political argument for saying things he doesn’t say, which is what the OP here was doing.

#19 Comment By dominic1955 On December 7, 2015 @ 8:50 pm

JonF,

You’ve never seen anyone that can even half way handle a knife, have you?

A gun without bullets is just a lump of metal and wood/plastic. Knives are always ready to go.

#20 Comment By Michael Guarino On December 7, 2015 @ 9:22 pm

Michael Guarino, FWIW, I don’t dispute that in general, social scientists are politically left-liberal, and that therefore, perhaps, “Social science really does have a crisis with political bias.” I’m not a social scientist so am not in a position to do anything about this, but there’s no harm in treating what social scientists say with skepticism, especially when they’re writing about politics. That’s a bit different, though, from denouncing a writer making a political argument for saying things he doesn’t say, which is what the OP here was doing.

That was the most limited point I made. The biggest reason to prefer Haidt’s analysis to what Mooney offers is Haidt is simply more sophisticated in his approach to morality. Ethics and morality is properly a linguistic behavior. In many ways it is in fact a sublanguage, as the statements themselves vary significantly in meaning from ordinary declarative claims. Haidt’s analysis is properly linguistic in application (all the foundations are noticeably concepts); was actually pleasantly surprised by this considering that psychologists often botch it in a crude effort to get measurable results.

Neurological approaches are highly reductive and almost always philosophically confused. I don’t have the papers/books on hand, but there are plenty of good Wittgensteinian critiques of them. This is what Mooney leans on the most, differences in amygdala size, disgust reflexes, and the like. It is a very poor approach to the analysis of moral argument.

#21 Comment By VIkingLS On December 7, 2015 @ 9:42 pm

@JonF

While I think it’s reasonable to say that when children are about guns need to be secured under lock and key (I don’t currently have a gun safe so I don’t currently have any guns) don’t trivialize knives.

[8]

This boy was my nephew’s classmate and his family went to church with my sister’s family.

#22 Comment By JonF On December 8, 2015 @ 6:10 am

Hi VikingLS. I don’t think I am trivializing knives. But an accident with a knife is something many of us have experienced and such is far less likely to be deadly than an accident with a gun. Which I suppose sums up my own complaint about guns: they are TOO lethal. Though yes, they certainly can be handled safely, and usually are. I am not a gun-banner, but I do dislike the current wave of “guns everywhere for everyone”. That just increases the chance of deadly mishap.

#23 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 8, 2015 @ 6:42 am

A few years back the myth busters tested the saying “Never bring a knife to a gun fight”. Jamie learned how to throw a Bowie knife and after training was able to draw and accurately throw it faster than Adam could draw and aim a pistol. Their conclusion was that the myth was busted and knives at close range are dangerous, which is kinda obvious in retrospect.

But I do agree with JonF that a gun takes considerably less skill to become a deadly weapon. Ironically a Bowie knife (unlike guns) can actually be made illegal to purchase and carry. Although there are all manner of YouTube videos showing how to forge one, so it probably wouldn’t stop someone from owning one if they wanted.

#24 Comment By TB On December 8, 2015 @ 9:03 am

RD: “…explain deep liberal devotion to defending same-sex marriage rights by analyzing them as mental defectives who are beyond reason, and contending that conservatives need to understand that only “overwhelming political force” will be able to overcome them.”
_____________________________

I think the dividing line between the conservative and the liberal may have a physiological root- amygdala size. There have been several studies correlating the relative sizes to social outlooks. That said…

Same-sex marriage only threatens one’s notion of family social order; a man carrying an assault rifle threatens the lives of anyone within range of his ordnance. One threat is disquieting for some, the other is existential for all those nearby.
If “mental defectives” form a pair bond they might succeed as a couple or break up. If a “mental defective” brings his MAC-10 into a Wal-Mart he might only frighten people but he also might kill them.
Same-sex couples unite because they love each other- a cause beyond reason. Depressed and angry gun toters on the verge of mayhem have their reason blinded by years of anxiety and rage.

“Overwhelming political force” is exactly what has been applied to same-sex coupling in this, and nearly every other society, for millennia. That consensus is slowly changing. As long as human life is valued, “overwhelming political force” will remain a moral option to prevent murder.

The venn diagram of the deranged shooter and the deranged same-sex couple is irrationality. The consequences of the “derangement” is the difference.
(I would argue that same-sex coupling is actually normal and natural, and has been going on under our noses forever. Just because behavior is not majoritarian doesn’t make it pathological.)

#25 Comment By Ken On December 8, 2015 @ 11:44 am

Gun as tool—Sure, a gun is a tool, and I get the point that is being made here. Unlike a poisonous snake, a gun is not going to jump up and shoot someone of its own accord. But there is another side to the tool-ness of guns. What are these tools designed to do? A waffle iron is designed to make waffles. A drill is designed to make holes in wood. A hand-gun is designed to kill people. If the gun murder rate in this country—the African-American male population between the ages of 18 and 30 excluded—is comparable to Belgium as Southern Populist says, and if the homicide rate overall has fallen dramatically along with the crime rate in this country over the past 20 years, then why is it that so many people feel the need to have a tool to do this? Or to many different tools to do this? Or to collect these tools? Maybe fear of guns is irrational. Isn’t the need so many people have to own these tools also irrational?

I have seen it pointed out many times in recent days that the most popular “long gun” in this country by far is the AR-15, which to my untrained eye seems to be an M-16 look-alike. Now, I have heard arguments for the popularity of the gun that focus on aspects of it other than its military look: it is light and has a light recoil, which makes it an easy rifle to shoot, especially for women. I am half persuaded by this. But I can’t really believe that the look of the thing isn’t part of its appeal. The available front grip and v-stand, the protruding clip, the M-16 silhouette… None of these things are essential; you could make a light, high-caliber rifle with a light kick that looks a lot more like the old wooden-stock deer rifle. The look was a very deliberate decision on the part of the manufacturer. We assume that a person’s choice in cars says something about the image of themselves they are looking to project. Does a person’s choice of firearm not do the same? What kind of image are all of these AR-15 owners looking to project? Why are they looking to project it, and with this tool in particular? There is something about this that I don’t trust, and in my gut I think this is connected to the psychology that leads to so much gun violence in this country, including mass shootings.

There is something about the Douthat piece that didn’t ring true to me either. OK, it is fair to ask gun control advocates to deal with the likely impact of the legislation they are calling for. Will it actually work? What will enforcement mean in practice? But I don’t hear him trying sympathetically to explain why some members of his “motley tribe” feel so strongly about gun ownership to his largely liberal NYT audience. This would have been a real service, and an alternative to the bitter clingers narrative in the Vox piece. I don’t hear him trying to defend their sentiments about guns, because I think in his heart he really can’t.

That having been said, I agree with one of the posters above: guns are central enough a part of the world-view of their hard-core devotees that the issue is going to be with us for a generation at least. If Americans are ever going to have the same kind of indifference to these “tools” that Europeans have, it is going to take a cultural change, and cultural change usually means the passing of the generation that holds a particular world view, not the very rare event of someone actually re-examining their core convictions. It is something we are going to have to live with, just as conservatives are going to have to live with legal abortion and gay marriage for the foreseeable.

#26 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 8, 2015 @ 2:04 pm

Perhaps its time for a brief history lesson. In Europe, weapons were pretty much for the titled classes, knights, and squires, and a few lower class enforcers, not for peasants. This became particularly true of firearms. Peasants certainly had a few knives and staves around, and were good at gouging thumbs into each others eyes.

Europe by the 17th century was relatively crowded, and all the land pretty much had someone’s brand on it — you needed permission to stand still, or if you didn’t have it, you were an outlaw. Much of the surplus population was exported in chains to America. Others left on their own ahead of the sheriff.

In America, land was often free, otherwise cheap, except for some experiments with landed tenantry, e.g. in the Hudson Valley, and of course estates worked by enslaved labor. Population was thinly spread, law enforcement spotty, just daily living required a gun or three, and they were also handy for settling disputes. When all the males and not a few of the females were called out to respond to some general threat, Indian, French, red coat, whatever, it was handy to already have a weapon at hand.

All this created a certain ethos that continued to find a raison d’etre as the USA acquired stolen property, took acreage by armed robbery, etc. But by 1900 or so, while many people still lived in rural areas, a growing proportion of the people actually lived in crowded urban environments, did not possess rifles, might well have handguns, as did a lot of criminals who made everyone else want one for self-defense.

The National Rifle Association began for the purpose of developing a general familiarity with the care and use of guns, since the military were encountering an deleterious lack of familiarity among recruits, even more so when conscription was attempted for WW I. Naturally, for the NRA to be hijacked as the vehicle for a political agenda destroyed that function — a lot of people who maybe need to learn the basics won’t join it now.

Much of the real basis for a culture in which everyone had guns is gone now. On the other hand, some of the reasons for restraining the state from infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms still exist. Its true, as M_Young notes, that part of the concept is for a well armed people to be relatively immune to coups d’etat, etc. Self defense on an individual basis is not irrelevant either — there is a well publicized case of a woman (black) with a conceal carry permit who shot a young man trying to rob her, who turned out to have also shot a man through the jaw as he was driving away from another robbery attempt a few days earlier. (All of them were black).

There is a counter-argument that today’s high tech heavily armed military cannot be significantly resisted by a citizen’s militia, even if they do have AR-15’s. Some truth to that, but many have countered that a general contemplating a coup may be thinking about a quick, painless operation after which the country moves forward under his wise leadership… but might think twice if he realizes he’d have to devastate half the cities and a lot of rural areas, leaving productive capacity destroyed and families disrupted, before he established a pyhrric “control.” So it goes round and round.

We’re not going to get rid of private gun ownership, and I don’t believe we should. Restricting carry in crowded urban environments is reasonable. And something must be done about the current practice among urban thugs of having one guy with a concealed carry permit hanging around near the scene of a crime with three “legal” guns on his person who wasn’t personally involved in the shooting just carried out by two felons who could get fifteen years just for being found in possession.