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Violence and Utopia- Realism and Idealism in the age of gun control

March 27, 2017

Evil is hard to accept.  I attended a self-defense training class last week where an expert described how callous and downright evil violent criminals can be. I don’t think I’m a coward, but recognizing evil takes an emotional toll.  I’m not alone in feeling that way. Gun “prohibition” laws give us psychological relief from facing evil.  Projecting evil intent on an inanimate object protects us from having to recognize violence as part of the human condition. By contrast, recognizing evil strips away our innocence and imposes obligations on us.  This psychological dynamic explains a lot about the political dynamics behind gun control.  Gun control continues to appeal to a certain type of person despite its record of failure.

We don’t know what a violent person looks like.  Violence would be so much easier to tolerate if every violent criminal came with a cartoon thought-bubble floating above them that said, “Watch out for this crazy person.”  In fact, criminals defy simple explanation.  Some criminals are poor and some are rich.  They can be crazy or sane.  Some criminals are addicts; others are as sober as the proverbial judge.  Some violent criminals grew up deprived and abused, while others grew up pampered and indulged.  

Violence will not go away despite our efforts to label or rationalize criminals and violent behavior. According to data from the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, between one-out-of-two and one-out-of-three of us will be victims of violent crime in our lifetime.  Your chances vary widely with the local crime rate.  Though not an everyday occurrence, the sad fact is that criminal violence is with us.  It is uncomfortable to feel at risk. It can even be depressing.

This is where each of us faces a choice.  On one hand, we can view the world as imperfect and slightly dangerous.  A realist then takes responsibility for his or her own safety.   On the other hand, we can cling to a utopian view of the world.  Then, an idealist says that it is society’s duty to protect him from violence.

It is easier for the idealist to talk about utopian prohibitions against violence than to face the real day-to-day effort of personal protection. Idealists say it is up to the police to keep us safe.  Realists reply that we are our own first line of defense, and the police are only there to take reports and make arrests.

For the idealist, the benefits of being disarmed are real.  Placing the burden of protection on society allows the idealist to keep human evil at a psychological distance.  For example, ‘Violence is their problem, not mine.’  When someone they know is attacked, the idealist responds by proposing more gun-control laws.  Weapons prohibition is psychic Valium to control the toxic emotional impact of real violence.

The idealist also condemns the realist. The level of psychological projection by idealists is several levels deep.  On the surface, the idealist turns physical objects into a religious fetish.  It is the inanimate objects, the knife or the gun, that are seen as dangerous rather than seeing danger in flesh-and-blood human beings.  At a deeper level, the placebo of firearms prohibition lets the idealist replace concern with complacency.

At a still deeper level, idealists not only blame the gun, but blame gun owners.  The honest person who wants to use a firearm for personal protection disrupts the fantasy that guns are the problem.  Idealists cannot allow themselves to admit that honest citizens often prevent a crime or protect the innocent from violence.  Therefore, the idealist, especially those in the media, feel compelled to shield the public from this disturbing evidence.  That may seem to be a bold claim, but you can see the evidence for yourself.

Look at the typical news cycle after another innocent person is horribly attacked by a violent criminal.  Anti-gun activists and politicians run to the news media to say there is no personal responsibility to protect ourselves.  I’m paraphrasing here:

‘You don’t need to change how you live because we only need a little more gun-control and then everything will be fine.’

In real life, gun prohibition has no effect on criminals.  For example, Maryland imposed strict gun control a few years ago.  They banning the sale of the most popular semi-automatic rifles and limited how many guns can be bought in a month.  Legislation also limited the number of cartridges allowed in a firearm.  Criminals don’t follow gun laws so the results of the Maryland gun prohibitions were entirely predictable.  The crime rate is now at record levels in Baltimore, Maryland (second source here).  Similar stories are repeated again and again in gun-control cities like Chicago and Los Angeles.  

Unfortunately, the idealist doesn’t stop with gun control.  He extends his antipathy beyond guns and knives to include any armed civilian.  Licensed concealed carry holders are the most law abiding segment of society.  They are charged with fewer firearms violations than other segments of society, including the police.  Licensed gun owners are the boy scouts of society.  Idealists say that since they don’t want to carry a firearm, we all should be disarmed.

The idealists say their laws stop crime, but gun laws miss their target the vast majority of the time.  These anti-gun laws really target the law-abiding gun owner.

We have already passed some 23 thousand firearms regulations.  They failed to stop or materially reduce violent crime.  We’ve seen prohibition fail time after time in country after country so this is the rule rather than the rare exception.

“But if criminals obeyed the laws then these gun laws would work.  We just need to pass one more law!”

The antipathy towards gun owners is not based upon stopping violence, but upon reducing the discomfort felt by idealists.  For the idealist, letting society take the burden removes both the duty and the emotional cost of facing an imperfect world.  For the idealist, protecting the fantasy narrative of gun-control is more important than respecting the facts.

In the meantime, the realist faces the daily grind of training and preparation for self-defense.

Which will you choose?

Thank you to William April, Tom Givens, and Anna Valdiserri for inspiring this article.  I received editorial help from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2017 8:46 am

    It all comes down to the rejection of denial and accepting responsibility.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. fsilber permalink
    March 28, 2017 7:12 am

    The theory is that if people who obey the law couldn’t get guns, it would be easier to prevent criminals from getting guns (just like we can prevent them from getting heroin). Or at least we would have less need for a gun if fewer criminals were able to get them.

    I mean, sure, the most recent insane jihadi terrorist in London was able to kill a few people last week without using a gun, including one of England’s famously unarmed police officers who tried to stop him. But at least that unfortunate police officer was able to die without needing a gun to protect himself.


    • March 28, 2017 8:06 am

      And how is that theory working in the real world.. or does it matter?


    • March 28, 2017 5:26 pm

      I have always held to a different theory, that if guns were outlawed it would create a situation much like prohibition in the early thirties, it would create a crime wave as criminal enterprises would rise up around smuggling the now unavailable and illegal weapons as huge money opportunities. Not to mention the wealthy collectors of now illegal weapons. There is one other class of people that would arise, people unwilling to surrender their weapons because they know what is coming and won’t surrender them. this will not be pretty and a horrible mistake.


  3. Rich.... permalink
    March 28, 2017 9:41 am

    The TRUTH about the “supremacy clause” – our Constitution does not delegate to the national government authority to restrict our arms, ammunition, regulate firearms dealers, do background checks, etc. The national government may not lawfully circumvent this restriction by means of a treaty wherein the signatory governments agree to disarm their Citizens or Subjects.


    • March 28, 2017 10:15 am

      Rich, I agree. I don’t see how that has anything to do with this article.


  4. April 8, 2017 10:47 am

    Your comment about how we passed 23,000 gun laws which have had no effect on violent crime sounds profound, but it belies a lack of knowledge about gun laws. Most gun laws aren’t passed to reduce crime. Most gun laws are passed simply top regulate the use of guns. For example, in my town you cannot discharge a gun within 200 feet of a road or 500 feet from another home. And there are laws like this in virtually every community in the U.S. And they are counted by everyone who, like you,are trying to argue that laws don’t have an effect on gun crime. Why don’t you at least try to figure out the number of laws which are passed for the specific purpose of reducing crime? At least you would be making an honest use of the data, right?



  1. Violence and Utopia- Realism and Idealism in the age of gun control | New York City Guns
  2. Defining Problems and Offering Solutions in the Private Citizen Gun Training Industry | Gun Culture 2.0

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